Dwight Johnson of Hillsboro has a big job (director of the laboratory at Hillsboro Community Hospital), he has a big dog (a St. Bernard named Cooper), he once played for a big football team (as a Sooner at the University of Oklahoma), but he has a special hobby that requires tiny little cuts and great attention to small details.
Johnson is a wood scroll artist. In spare moments of his life, he plans, prepares, cuts, sands, and stains or paints intricately designed projects on 1/8 inch Baltic birch plywood. Though he starts with a computerized pattern, Johnson makes all the cuts freehand, following design marks of a picture he has customized to meet his specifications.
“My grandpa Delk probably is who inspired me to work with wood,” Johnson said. “He always had some projects going on and a lot of my tools came from him.”
Johnson took up wood scrolling about 22 years ago, using a primitive type of saw that required a lot of practice and a bit of luck to get projects to turn out right. Last year for Christmas, his wife, Crystal, got him a professional quality DeWalt scroll saw that made Johnsons work easier and more predictable.
“It’s almost like working on an Etch-a-Sketch,” he said. “It takes a lot of practice, but you get the feel of it, and pretty soon you get to where your hands work in tandem without too much thought.”
While the intricate patterns of wolves, angels, motorcycles, and dragons require hours of scroll saw work, Johnson said he did not think it really required a lot of patience.
“I keep track of my saw time on all my projects, just for the fun of it,” he said. “The Harley took 16 hours and 15 minutes, but I don’t do it all at once. I tell myself I am going down to my shop to do, oh maybe 15 cuts. Then I do that, and sometimes I stay longer.”
Johnson said his time totals did not include the painstaking work of planning the patterns or the finish work of sanding and staining the final project; just the scrolling itself was a time-consuming but satisfying hobby.
“The time I put in really varies with what mood I am in,” he said. “I have a train, called Full Steam Ahead, that took me 11 hours, and the Barton deer, that took me 7 hours and 14 minutes, but I often find myself working harder and faster as the project gets close to the finish. I like to see them completed.”
Johnson said the hardest project he took on was a small clock that was only 2 inches wide and 3 inches tall.
“It was a trade for a friend, but when I was done, I was like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe I made that.’ It turned out pretty cool,” he said.
Johnson said most of his friends and relatives always know what they will be getting from him for Christmas or birthdays.
“I give most of my projects away as gifts,” he said. “This year I am making vases with double-cut pedestals at my wife’s request. This could take a lot more time than I planned.”
Two years ago, Johnson made all his relatives Christmas tree ornaments, last year he perfected collapsing bowl patterns. Projects he currently is working on include a set of dragon heads for his son and his wife.
“When you match the dragons up, they form a heart in the middle,” he said.
Johnson created a wood scroll portrait of his grandparents, Clifford and Evelyn Delk, which led to several other portrait requests from friends, relatives, and co-workers.
“I made a portrait of the first CEO at the hospital here that hung in the lobby for a long time,” he said. “Other people saw it and requested portraits of their parents and grandparents. Those have been fun to do.”
Johnson said his goal is to someday make money with his wood scrolling art, but that is not always easy to do.
“I’ve got some pieces out at Kessler Kreations, and sold some at an art gallery in Oklahoma,” he said. “But it is never enough to live on, just enough to buy more wood and get more patterns.”
Johnson said his best-selling items were often those that took the least amount of work, like simple Santa Claus designs, or school mascot variations.
“The things that I take the most time with and like the most, those seem to stick with me,” he said.
Johnson said that once he gets done with this year’s Christmas gifts, he plans to increase his inventory of specialized patterned pictures so he can have a booth at the Hillsboro Arts and Crafts Fair next year. Until then, he will keep busy making little things.
“I don’t like big projects, like making a bed or shelves or cabinets,” he said. “My relaxation is sitting here at my saw, working with the detailed patterns.”
Johnson and his family have lived in Hillsboro for five years. He said he gets most of his ideas from scroll saw magazines and articles, but is open to working out special requests for customers. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.