ORONOCO — When you find something you love doing, keep doing it.
Caryl Closner found what he loves doing when he was 10 years old, and he's been doing it, on and off, ever since. He saws wood in intricate patterns and shapes, creating beautiful wooden works of art, both functional and decorative.
"My grandparents and my mother went down to Bily Clocks," Closner said, remembering a trip he took with them to the museum in Spillville, Iowa, at the age of 11. "That's all they have down there. Lot of carving and scroll saw work. I was 11 years old looking at that and said OK. I always wanted to go back to it."
Woodworking started as a family hobby, Closner said, with his parents, particularly his mother, getting him started. But while he initially created outdoor pieces such as cows for the yard similar to what his parents made, he never forgot those clocks.
Eventually, he switched from the hand-held saws to a sabre saw and eventually a scroll saw, which he currently uses. Still, he was not using his tools to create intricate items like he does now. About 10 years ago Closer said he got a woodworking catalog in the mail, and started taking his hobby in a new direction.
"I went through it and probably ordered $200 worth of patterns after milking that night," he said.
The intricate designs, small, exacting and needing some measure of precision, Closner said he finds the work relaxing.
"When I'm farming, it's hot out," he explained. "I don't have air-conditioning, so it's cooler in the basement. When I cut, I can relax where it's cooler, then go back out and work."
Some days, he might work on a project for half an hour after eating his lunch. Other days, he might spend four or five hours cutting patterns for a project. That's how he finished the 9 1/2-foot clock that sits in his display room.
Closner said he has no idea how many hours were involved in the three-tiered clock that comes with six different music boxes that play when you open one of six moving doors. The project took 27 months, but as for hours invested, "I have no idea," he said.
He's also perplexed when people are surprised he finds the hobby relaxing. After all, if he makes a mistake he can either fix it on the spot or just start over.
"So what if you break it," he said. "Just start over. It's just a piece of wood."
He has plenty of wood available.
Closner has his own saw mill set up, and neighbors are always offering him logs from downed trees if he wants them – sometimes for free, sometimes at a small price. He makes his own boards, dries them and has them in storage for when he needs them.
On almost every piece he's done, the colors are the natural variations in the wood. He does apply a clear finish to each completed piece.
His masterpiece, the big clock with the music boxes, uses eight different kinds of wood, six of them locally sourced. Two of the woods he bought at a wood-working show. He goes to shows to meet other woodworkers, see new patterns and the projects some of his fellow woodworkers have completed.
But the goal, he said, isn't to sell his creations, though he does occasionally part with items for a little cash.
For example, he recently sold a matching clock and table along with a fruit bowl he'd made. They were sold to a friend, but the non-friend price might be $900.
When he told another neighbor about the sale, Closner said, that person complained that the price was too low.
"Well, I'm not making a living off it," he said. "It's not a business; it's a hobby."
A hobby he's happy to show off to anyone. A group of women from Mazeppa is coming to look at his work this week. And he'd be happy to show anyone interested how to get into the hobby themselves.
Now that he's stopped farming his 155 acres, and stopped milking cows, Closner said he's got time to be "neighborly" when it comes to his woodworking, whether it's making an iguana cage for a friend or building furniture for dolls for another. If you give him some measurements and a little time, he can make whatever you might need.
While he built a separate room onto his house so he could display his work, someday, he knows, he'll be gone. And his creations will need a new home. Two folks helping him plan his estate will get a clock apiece, but after that, he wants another option.
"Eventually, I'd like to give them to a museum," Closner said. "If I can find the right place."