HJ/EDEnterprise Dispatch, Feb. 6, 2006

Dassel man's work finds beauty in wood

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

Arnold Ruotsinoja of Dassel enjoys the beauty in a piece of wood in the same way a person enjoys a work of art.

“Sometimes I can just look at wood. It’s like a photograph,” Ruotsinoja said.

He and his wife, Mae, often take walks around Big Swan Lake, where their home is north of Dassel. Ruotsinoja continuously scans the surroundings, looking for interesting pieces of wood.

“The worst looking chunk gives you the most beautiful piece,” he said.

Ruotsinoja, a Kingston native, turns those chunks into vases, bowls, and plates on his wood lathe or into wood carvings.

One of those pieces he completed in January was made from ambrosia maple. Worms had tunneled through it, giving it an interesting pattern. In the beginning, the four pieces of wood that formed the top of the vase were straight and flat, about a quarter-inch thick. Ruotsinoja, who returned to the Dassel area from Minnetonka in 1997, wanted to form the pieces into a curved shape and still keep the interesting worm tunnel pattern, he said.

Ruotsinoja scanned the pieces of wood with his computer scanner and printed the pattern out on paper. He then cut the paper into pieces until he found a way to put the pattern together in an attractive way, he said.

Next, Ruotsinoja turned the ambrosia wood on a lathe to shape it into a curve. He glued the pieces together according to the paper design he had made, and built the rest from Bird’s Eye Maple from northern Michigan and walnut.

This was the most challenging piece Ruotsinoja has made since he started his wood turning hobby, he said.

“I even had to figure out how to hold it while turni ng it,” Ruotsinoja said.

The ambrosia maple came from a woodworking store in Minneapolis. A lot of the most beautiful wood Ruotsinoja uses comes from nearby their home, though.

Ruotsinoja made a decorative plate out of a slice of spalted maple, in which the moisture and minerals in the soil caused it to change colors.

“These are from our own backyard. I think it’s such a pretty piece of wood,” he said.

The edge of the plate still retains the original shape of the tree.

Another vase he made of red cedar came from a neighbor’s tree. When the neighbor cut it down, Ruotsinoja asked him for a chunk. Ruotsinoja has many stumps and chunks of unusual wood set aside in his work shop for turning on a lathe later, he said.

The red cedar vase was challenging too because it was long and narrow. Ruotsinoja put a long iron on the end with a cutter to hollow out the length of the vase, he said.

Another piece of turned wood Ruotsinoja made with local wood was a bowl made of box elder. It had natural red streaks through it, he pointed out.

Sometimes natural flaws in the wood make it more beautiful than if the piece is whole. A box elder wood vase Ruotsinoja was turning on the lathe cracked along a weak spot. He set it aside in his workshop, thinking the vase was a lost cause, he said.

Months later, he took another look at it and realized the cracks made it interesting. Ruotsinoja glued it together and finished the piece. It’s now displayed on the mantle in their home.

Some of the pieces Ruotsinoja turns on the lathe are experimental. He makes them just to see how they turn out. Ruotsinoja glued a piece of ordinary plywood into a plate with a spiral design.

“I turned it off center so it would be a little different,” Ruotsinoja.

He also glued contrasting colors of wood together in symmetrical designs and then turned them on a lathe for fun, Ruotsinoja said.

Ruotsinoja also does wood carving. He carved a Norwegian farmer, a fisherman holding a tiny fishing pole, and an old man his family calls “Oscar,” he said.

In addition he carved a vase of flowers in relief on a wooden tray.

Ruotsinoja dabbled in bronze sculpture too. He took a class in Minneapolis and made a sculpture of a gold miner. However, the bronze process was complicated and expensive. Ruotsinoja said he preferred wood. “It’s available.”

Ruotsinoja has been working with wood his entire life. He built his first lathe himself when he was 15 years old, he said

He graduated to a lathe he bought from Montgomery Ward. Then about 25 years ago, he saw an ad in a newspaper for a heavy duty lathe. It’s sturdy enough to be used often and over a long time. “It will take care of me for the rest of my life,” Ruotsinoja said.

Ruotsinoja worked in the custom commercial architecture mill work industry for about 50 years in Minneapolis. He made cabinets, door frames, railings, special moldings and other trim.

Ruotsinoja worked on the Guthrie Theater, hospitals, many churches, and historical buildings at the capitol in St. Paul.

Ruotsinoja also designed their home on Big Swan Lake, when he built on to their cabin. He built and installed all the doors, railings in the house, window trim and kitchen cabinets.

The Ruotsinojas often attend their home church, Westwood Lutheran, in St. Louis Park. He built about 15 pieces for the church, including a cabinet for the church’s food shelf, kneelers and a pedestal for sculpture, he said.

They have four children, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Most of them are musicians, and take after Mae, who also is a musician, Ruotsinoja said. But an 11-year-old granddaughter has shown the same interest in art as he has, he said.

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