Mercer employee finds beauty, joy and God in wood turning

a man stands next to a bookcase with objects he turned out of wood and prize ribbons
Ben Andrews, assistant director of Auxiliary Services, has been turning wood since 2015. Photo by Matt Smith

When Ben Andrews looks at a block of wood, he doesn’t see just a block of wood. He sees its full potential. Maybe it’s a pen, small bowl or flower vase. Or maybe it’s a bottle stopper, salt cellar or ornament.

Using his hands and lathe, he transforms wood and other materials, including deer antlers, pinecones and sweetgum balls, into something new.

“I am blessed by God to be able to do this, so I use things that he created,” said Andrews, assistant director of Auxiliary Services at Mercer University. He calls what he does “Humble Turnings.”

For 24 years Andrews has served the University, where he oversees alarm systems and restaurant equipment repair. In 2015, he decided to let go of a small alarm company that he ran on the side.

He wanted to find something that would fill his spare time but not take away from his family. Prayer brought him to wood turning.

A chance sale of something he didn’t use anymore and overtime pay gave him the exact amount of money he needed to get started. He went to wood turning clubs, took classes and taught himself by watching YouTube videos. He bought tools at estate sales and received gift cards from family at Christmas to spend on his hobby.

He started making pens, and, as his skills and tools improved, expanded his repertoire. He rarely adds color to his projects but lets the beauty of the wood speak for itself. Flaming boxelder gives his work streaks of red and pink. For orange and black, he turns to padauk and ebony.

A pen made to look like a cigar sits atop an ashtray. a blue ribbon is behind it
Ben Andrews, assistant director of Auxiliary Services, won first place at the Georgia National Fair for this cigar pen and ashtray. Photo by Matt Smith

He often gives his creations as gifts and sells some through word of mouth. His birthday gift of a cigar-shaped pen and ashtray to colleague Jay Bonney, assistant director of Auxiliary Services, won first place at the Georgia National Fair.

“It was a piece of koa from Hawaii, and then I put the label on it, and then I used resin and some paint, and I made some ash on the end of it, so it looks like a burning cigar,” Andrews said. “You can unscrew it, and that’s the pen in there.”

black chess pieces on the left and white chess pieces on the right
Ben Andrews, assistant director of Auxiliary Services, used walnut to make the dark chess pieces and maple to make the light. Photo courtesy Ben Andrews

His favorite and most challenging project was a walnut and maple chess set he made to give to his son for his high school graduation. J.T. Andrews is now a sophomore at Mercer.

“It took me nine months of mental preparation and research,” he said. “Turning it took a little over three months to make the chess pieces, and my neighbor helped me make the board and the box.”

Duplicating the chess pieces was demanding work. One wrong move of the hand could change the entire shape. Andrews said that’s an area in which he’s trying to advance his skills. Learning is part of what he likes about wood turning, and he wants to teach others how to do it someday.

“It’s like life. It’s never ending,” he said. “As long as you never quit, you’ll keep growing. It’s the one thing in life that I finally found that I wanted to continue learning and doing.”

a blue, purple and green pen
Ben Andrews, assistant director of Auxiliary Services, made this pen using sweetgum balls and resin. Photo courtesy Ben Andrews


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Jennifer Falk
Jennifer Falk is director of digital communications at Mercer. She edits and writes feature stories for The Den and examines web data and analytics to drive content decisions. She also creates and supervises the creation of content for primary University web pages and e-newsletters.