Photo by Barry Courter / Ed Lewis used his custom-made lathe by John Nichols to turn this 29-inch platter made of ash and walnut. The inlay pieces are from walnut dowels.

Ed Lewis has always done things his way. Anyway who took chemistry from him while he was a teacher at The McCallie School could tell you that. So could the divers who took lessons from him. He had a reputation in the 1970s as being the best diving coach in town, despite the fact that he never got in a pool in his life.

"That's true," he says.

So it shouldn't surprise anybody surrounded by the bowls, pens, vases and Christmas ornaments that the woodworker has turned that Lewis is firmly serious when he says, "I am not an artist. I am so left brain, my head does this," and then he plops his left ear on his left shoulder.

Later, he says he didn't make all of the beautiful pieces in his open studio sale this weekend "for the show. I did this for my sanity."

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Art for sanity's sake

Wife Elise is showing her kumihimo jewelry pieces during the show as well. Kumihimo is a traditional Japanese technique of braiding strands, often of silk, into cords that can be adapted for various uses.

There are hundreds, maybe thousands of woodworkers in our area, but to give you an idea of how serious Lewis is, he used to fill up his 12- by 12-foot basement room with shavings in their Brainerd home before they went looking for a new home.

"He didn't even look at the house after seeing the workshop," Elise says.

"He said, 'The shop has 12-inch-thick concrete floors in one area and 4 inches in the other. He got in the car and said, 'I'm sure the house is delightful.'"

Want more proof? He flew to Stanfield, Oregon, around 1994 to be fitted for a custom-made 6,000-pound lathe made by John Nichols, whose custom lathes are widely known among woodworkers. The spindle is exactly the same height as his elbow and has telescoping parts that allow him to turn pieces 8 feet long and 58 inches in diameter. The main housing is filled with metal bearings, and it is outfitted with a hoist to allow Lewis to work alone and chuck up to 200-pound pieces of wood. Because of its weight and size, Lewis is able to safely turn pieces that others only dream of.

If you go

* What: Ed Lewis Turnings, Elise Lewis Kumihimo open studio and sale

* Where: 6526 Harrison Pike

* When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, Dec. 7-8

* Admission: Free

* Phone: 423-344-7295

* Online:

"It is a true rarity," he says.

Asked why he wants to turn such large pieces, he seems stunned for a minute.

"I don't know. Why do some men like blondes? [I turn because] I can. I guess that's the point. It's a beautiful machine."

One of the pieces in the show this weekend is a platter made of ash and walnut that is 29 inches in diameter, which is still quite a bit smaller than the lathe's maximum capability.

"It's hard to find wood that big," Lewis says.

He also turns ink pens and wine stoppers on his Powermatic lathe, and says he spends some time just about every day in his shop. He even teaches a free class at 10 a.m. every Saturday for anybody who wants to show up. Just give him a heads-up so he can plan.

"I can come out here to not think about anything. And I don't."

Contact Barry Courter at or 423-757-6354.