Updated: May 17, 2013 at 4:45 pm
The basement of Steve Gurnett, the president of the Pikes Peak Whittlers, is a fanciful den of wood gone wild.
In a small corner studio, finished and half-finished wood projects lurk. There are the Christmas ornaments waiting to be painted by his daughter - he gives her $10 for finishing each one. A mini bookcase is filled with wooden orbs carved to look like golf balls with caricatured faces. A couple of Craftsman tool carts are stuffed with shiny knives, gouges and other woodcarving gizmos.
In the rec room a few steps away, a slightly dusty, amber-colored wood skeleton (life-size) wearing a pirate's hat sits in a chair by the bar. Gurnett, 55, carved it years ago. The mantel is filled with more woodcarvings, including an octopus, fish, egg-shaped carvings of a Harley-Davidson biker gang and a diorama-like woodcarving of an old-time saloon, with cowboys and horses bellying up to the bar.
"The spouse of a carver is an absolute saint," Gurnett said. "There are wood chips everywhere."
"Even on the cat," chimes in Jon Nelson from across the table. He's a professional woodcarver who makes a living at the art form. He travels the country, hitting several hundred arts and crafts fairs and teaching classes as he goes.
The two men are active members of the Pikes Peak Whittlers, a club founded in 1982 as a place for carvers and whittlers to gather and discuss their art.
Once a year, the 60-member club has their big event: the Woodcarving and Woodworking Show and Competition. This year's event will have 50 tables and about 1,000 pieces of art. It's a chance for novice and experienced woodcarvers to buy a table, display their wares and be judged by a nationally known woodcarver. Marty Dolphens will be the guest judge this year. The show takes place Saturday and Sunday at the Shrine Club.
Carvings are judged in more than 40 categories, including animal caricature, birds of prey, humans realistic and caricature, walking sticks and canes, Santas and miniatures.
The Pikes Peak Whittlers meet once a month for presentations by locals, such as sculptor Sean O'Meallie and Adam Leech, a hobo nickel carver. They also gather every Wednesday for a coffee klatch of sorts, sitting and whittling a few hours away at Woodcraft, a store that caters to woodworkers.
"At the end, you can see who was carving and who was talking," Gurnett said. "Carvers have a pile of chips underneath them."
"It's a social hobby. It's not as solitary as you might think."
Is there a difference between carving and whittling?
"Most people think of an old geezer on a front porch with a stick," Nelson said. "He knows he's finished when there's nothing left of the stick. That's whittling."
"Whittling is one knife and no other tools. If you start using other tools, you're carving."
Gurnett, who has carved for 45 years, was inspired by a fifth-grade schoolmate, who brought one of her dad's carvings to class.
"I was the classic kid with a pocketknife and a stick," he said. His first creation was a scuba diver.
So what's the appeal of sitting down with a piece of bass wood - a carver's preferred canvas - and a knife?
"A lot of us just like wood," said John Armstrong, who joined the Whittlers in 2008. "It has texture to it, a shape, a grain. It's not plastic. It's a quiet hobby. You can get lost in it."
Nelson said: "It's the most therapeutic thing I've ever had and turned into a job.
Gurnett's carving spills out into his garage, where yet more carving tools and projects wait. He's doing a few repairs on some friends' wood art.
"It's good to know a carver," he said.
Jennifer Mulson can be reached at 636-0270.
30th ANNUAL WOODCARVING AND WOODWORKING SHOW AND COMPETITION
When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Where: Shrine Club, 6 S. 33rd St.
Tickets: $3, $2 ages 65 and older and military, free kids 11 and younger with adult and Scouts in uniform; 481-8776 or look for Pikes Peak Whittlers on Facebook.
Something else: Pikes Peak Whittlers meet 9 a.m.-noon on second Saturdays monthly, Colorado Springs Senior Center, 1514 N. Hancock Ave.
Another thing: Wednesday open carving sessions, 9 a.m.-noon Wednesdays, Woodcraft, 750 W. Garden of the Gods Road