Freeman’s time in workshop creates art and helps foster his personal faith

Local artisan Ronnie Freeman, a former insurance representative in Richton, is shown starting on a new woodworking project in his shop in the Piave Community near Sand Hill. The raw piece of wood will eventually become a functional and decorative dough bowl. The process of making the bowl is more than just a hobby to Freeman, who says he uses his time in the workshop to reflect on his life, his faith and his relationship with Christ.
Photo by Annette Harvison – Dispatch Staff

By ANNETTE HARVISON
Dispatch Staff
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Active members of the community do not always live in that area, but their work and a proximity make them a part of it all the same. As work and life change, so can connections to a certain community. But those memories and bonds will remain within the hearts of many.

Sand Hill resident Ronnie Freeman was an active member of the Richton community for many years before life led him into retirement. Freeman worked with South Group Insurance and Farm Bureau in Richton, and when he retired, he began spending his days at home and a good bit of time in his woodworking workshop.

In his retirement, Freeman has discovered a passion and a hobby that has given him a new lease on life, for pleasure, for spirituality and for himself. He has found he has a knack for carving wood, and in particular, hand-carving dough bowls.

Freeman said he got a lathe in February of 2019 and began turning wooden bowls. He said it was an exciting new tool, and he enjoyed the thrill of carving away the wood to make something. While searching internet videos for ideas, a video about hand-carved dough bowls caught his attention, putting him on a mission to try it.

He had to get a few new tools, but that was the easy part. Carving the primitive wooden bowls takes time. Learning to shape the wood, inside and outside, takes patience and trial and error on a few bowls. Freeman said it has been a learning process, and he has learned a few things about how the wood dries and cracks. He said the whole process takes about five weeks, from carving to drying to someone’s centerpiece or a functional kitchen item.

“I love to do it,” Freeman said. “Each piece of wood has a different grain and different knots.”
What started as an interest has turned into a freelance crafting business (though it’s still more for personal satisfaction). Freeman said they shared a photo of his first bowls and was overwhelmed with the response.

“In two days, I had 25 orders,” Freeman said. “It was just a hobby. I had to take that (Facebook post) down.”

The tools it takes to carve and shape the bowls are primitive tools. Freeman said he has a chainsaw, an axe, a hewing hatchet and a hand tool he ordered from Bulgaria called an adze. The adze is a hand tool with a rounded blade, and he has a few different size adzes. He uses the axe to carve away the bark and give the outside of the block its round shape. The adze is used to carve out the hollow of the bowl. Freeman said he has had quite a few skinned knuckles, but it hasn’t slowed him from working. He said he will finish several bowls at a time so when he lets people know about them, he has several on hand to fill requests. He has also done a few custom orders.

“Soft woods work best for making the dough bowls,” Freeman said.

He prefers sweet gum, and said poplar, black gum or cherry work well for the carving. Each type of wood offers its own unique beauty. The age of the wood as well as if it has been on the ground and how dry it is can affect the final outcome of the bowls.

Freeman said he would estimate about 30 percent of folks that have gotten a dough bowl from him said they intend to use it to make dough. He said he protects the wood with a food-safe mineral oil, and it needs to be reapplied every three months to protect the wood. Some people have asked that the wood be stained, however that type of finish will render the bowl unsafe for food.

Working in his shop on his lathe and using his primitive tools to shape a block of wood into something new brings accomplishment and joy. What started out as a desire to make rocking chairs took an unexpected turn along the way, and while he does have a complete rocking chair, he has found more joy in making other things such as bowls, candlestick holders and even a few Christmas ornaments.

“I really like making vases,” Freeman said. “I like sassafras wood and maple, but maple is not as easy to find around here.”

Staying in the house is not something Freeman likes to do. He enjoys a few holes on the green with a few fellow retirees. Freeman often runs with his wife and friends as well, and he and his wife are active members of the Petal YMCA. The couple has participated in many marathons and charity runs and they plan to keep active as long as the Lord allows, they said.

Freeman said woodworking is more than just a hobby. Woodworking is a connection to his faith and good place to talk to the Lord.

“I get my tools, turn on K-Love and have a good time with God,” Freeman said. “And it gives me time to communicate with myself.”

Working in his shop brings more than a feeling of satisfaction. Freeman said it brings reflection and peace and connects him to memories of his past, such as the dough bowl his grandmother used. Woodworking brings him closer to long-lost traditions and gives him a way to share them with future generations.

      

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