Woodworker, Jeff Walsma, Knows His Trees & How to Shape Them into Art
Updated: Feb 16
Meet Geneva, IL resident and dedicated woodworker, JEFF WALSMA, posing here with a chunk of tree that will soon become a decorative bowl....Scroll down for photos of his work.
Geneva, IL resident, Jeff Walsma, and his artful fascination with trees are happily rooted together. From his former career working in the Forest Service to the exceptional wood-working items he produces today - bowls to furniture -- he’s definitely found his niche.
While still a high school student, shop class was a favorite. His undergraduate degree in Natural Resources propelled his understanding of the nature of trees as he studied forest ecology, how trees grow, and learned about tree species. Later in the off-seasons of his full-time job working on a fire crew assigned to the Angeles National Forest in southern California, he expanded upon his knowledge of tools by learning how to make cabinets and helping build houses.
Because he fears woodworking is destined to become a lost art, he posts “How To” YouTube videos with hopes of appealing and inspiring younger viewers. He also networks with established woodworkers through two local clubs -- The Wind City Woodturners based in Lisle, IL and the Fox Valley Woodworkers Club in Batavia, IL.
“I look forward to seeing members’ projects during Show & Tell time,” Jeff says. “Their talent, along with their ambitious work, really motivates me. Plus, I like to learn more about tools others use – that’s very helpful. It’s an important part of the creative process to always be learning new things.”
Before beginning a project, he researches the wood first.
“Knowing the tree species is important,” Jeff says. “You can tell what the weather was where the tree grew by looking at its rings. Rings are skinnier from trees that grew in a wet climate and wider in trees from a drier climate. When making a bowl you want to make it as pretty as possible by really bringing out that grain of the wood.”
Because some of the wood he purchases is very expensive, he doesn’t want to make a costly mistake. He might practice making a piece first by using pine, which he doesn’t use for his finished pieces because it’s too soft.
His favorite woods for projects include old growth oak which he says is hard to find and Osage. Osage, he explains, was brought out here by settlers from back East who used it locally for fence rows.
He notes that bygone ship builders who built Ironsides and the tall narrow ships of the past used wood from oak trees like Live Oak or English Oak.
“Live Oak is like concrete -- cannon balls could bounce off the sides of ships built with it,” he says.
Jeff scouts for the wood he uses from area saw mills or home chain stores. He’s often contacted by individuals asking him if he’d like old flooring from houses slated for demolition. Once he even accepted an old piano because the wood in it was more valuable than the instrument.
Creating bowls, trays, and other decorative items is usually done with a lathe along with chisels, saws and sandpaper.
“Using a lathe, for me, is addicting,” he says. “I really like working with my hands and have dabbled in everything from fixing cars and learning blacksmithing to stained glass and pottery making. Guess you could call me a Jack-of-all-trades but master of none.”
However, one look at the outstanding decorative wood items Jeff creates, and we would argue that he has indeed achieved mastery. Now that he’s retired, he says he still has a lot more he wants to learn – including arc welding – that he’s adding to his Bucket List. Who knows what he will be creating next!
Contact him about custom work or view more of his projects at:
Depending on the expense of the wood, smaller projects, like the ones seen below, might range in price anywhere from $15 to $100.