It was in shop class in high school in California that Terry Tjader first employed a lathe, turning table legs. His family moved to Minnesota his senior year. He majored in industrial education at the University of Minnesota. He was interested in furniture design and really hoped to become a shop teacher. However, the work he found was in personnel management in Duluth. His mother was from Greene County, Mississippi. When he visited relatives there, it was as if he was coming home. He moved south to the Hattiesburg area in 1979, working first in the insurance business, then for Inland Container. When that company left Forrest County, he stayed. Although his love of woodworking had “been on a back burner from time to time,” it seemed natural to make cabinets and restore furniture now. But that was “too much like work,” he now reports. His thoughts kept returning to how much fun it had been to turn those furniture legs way back in high school.
Terry had built a nice, roomy garage for a venerable Cadillac. This space became his shop, one rather cramped for doing cabinetry. He joined the Magnolia Woodturners and paid rapt attention at meetings for two years before buying a lathe. While he still attends workshops twice a year or so and goes to plenty of shows, he considers himself largely self-taught. He likes many kinds of wood but is especially intrigued by the exciting grain patterns characteristic of burl and of trees that have acquired character due to “turmoil,” the twisting or mutilation reflecting the ravages of wind, age, or insects. He then tries to find out how best to reveal the beauty of the wood, even if that means sacrificing form: “It’s not about me; it’s about the wood . . . How can I best enhance what’s there?” He has gained a reputation for relishing the challenges presented by cracked or oddly-formed pieces: “Here, Terry; you take this one. You like to turn weird stuff!”
An incredible variety of shapes revealed by turning many different kinds of wood fill his shop. There’s a bowl from a post-powder-beetle-infested “popcorn tree” (Chinese tallow) that a 91-year-old woman asked club members to take down, another from lumber from Belize, where a tree’s trunk and root complex were dug up by Indians whom the burl complex dwarfed, and so forth. One chunk from a black walnut tree brought down by Hurricane Katrina provided almost too much excitement. He started to clean it up in the shop, and suddenly carpenter ants were running all over his band saw. He sucked them up into his Shopvac and tried again. Again, ants were flying everywhere within seconds. He finally soaked the chunk in a barrel of water for a few weeks. It’s a lovely bowl today, one made up as much of holes as surface.
Terry’s plans for a piece of interesting wood are never set in stone: “You look at a chunk of wood, and as you start turning it, you see stuff.” His fans appreciate that. One conversation regarding the fate of a mysterious chunk of wood can stand for many: “What’s it going to be?” “I don’t know!” “As soon as you get it finished, let me know.”