Pontotoc woodworker uses old tools to make new pieces

Feb. 4—PONTOTOC — In 1978, David Rowan built his first piece of furniture. It was a baby cradle for his middle daughter.

"I saw a picture of one in a magazine," Rowan said. "My wife's grandfather had a table saw, and he had a few suggestions for me. I also got some ideas from David Marks, who had a TV show. David Marks was the ultimate woodworker."

Since then, Rowan has made too many pieces to count. He moved onto archery bows for a while, and figures he's made at least 120 of those.

"My cousin got me into building bows," said Rowan, 76. "He made one, and I got him to help me. It takes a long time to build a bow. You always date it, put the poundage on it and the wood used."

The first bow Rowan made was about 5 1/2 feet long with a 28-inch draw and a 55-pound pull and was made out of bodock wood.

"I still have it," he said. "I won't sell that one."

In the mid-1980s, Rowan, a Vietnam veteran, got into making 10- to 12-inch wooden boxes.

"A lot of people bought them to put their baby's birth certificate in and then would put other important things in it along the way," he said. "Then, when the child would turn 18, they'd give it to them."

One box Rowan made — it was more like a small chest — was made from 11 different woods and had 53 pieces of wood in it.

"When I build a box, I like to use at least two different woods in it," he said. "If the bottom is maple, the top will be walnut, or vice versa."

In Rowan's shop in Pontotoc, walls, floors, shelves and tables are cluttered with 56 different species of wood he's collected, from as far away as Central America, New Zealand and Australia, to as close as a couple of miles down the road.

"I've got wood from New Zealand called kauri that's carbon-dated to be between 35,000 and 50,000 years old," he said. "It's the oldest known workable wood there is."

Not all of Rowan's woods are exotic, though. He regularly uses bodock, applewood, cherry, maple, black walnut, honey locust, pine, purple heart, yellow heart, hackberry, white oak, red oak, wormy chestnut, yew, rosewood and ebony.

"I can't quit making things because I've got all this pretty wood," he said. "They say a woodworker will never use some of his prettiest woods because he'll hold it back for a perfect project he'll never get around to."

And while Rowan isn't above using a nail or a screw in a piece, he'd rather use wooden dowels to secure pieces in place.

"I use a lot of hard rock maple dowels," he said. "I've probably got 10,000 of them I got from a piano company. I won't ever have to buy a dowel again."

He also prefers to use old-fashioned tools to craft his pieces.

"I collect hand planes," he said. "I've got one patented in 1867 and one from England made of bronze and rosewood that I use a good bit. I've got 88 hand planes in my collection. Old woodworking tools fascinate me."

Over the years, Rowan branched out and began to make larger pieces of furniture like coffee tables, sofa tables, hall tables, kitchen islands, china cabinets and blanket chests.

"When everybody started hollering for charcuterie boards, I started making those, too," he said.

An assortment of his pieces, including charcuterie boards, wooden boxes, benches and duck decoys, are for sale at the Tanglefoot Market at Ecru, an artisan boutique and vintage market in downtown Ecru.

"I had a wood turning lathe and used to make a lot of bowls, but I got tired of breathing all that sawdust," he said. "Of course, you get sawdust with anything you make, but not as bad as with those bowls."

The hardest piece Rowan has ever built was a tiny casket after one of his daughters lost a baby.

"My daughter said, 'Daddy, it's perfect,' and I said, 'Well, it had to be,'" he said.

Occasionally, Rowan will repair a piece of furniture for someone, but he'd just as soon not.

"You can't justify refinishing or repairing something," he said. "I can build a piece quicker than I can repair it."