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Looking Inside a Piece of Wood

Libertyville auto parts store owner turns firewood into everyday objects.

Growing up on a farm in Pennsylvania, working with wood was a way of life for Libertyville resident John Doss. Now the owner of an auto parts company on Milwaukee Avenue, Doss enjoys turning wood into bowls, nativity scenes, picture frames, candles holders, and other objects on his basement lathe.

“I’ve been doing something or another with wood as far back as I can remember,” Doss explains. “But I remember there was a black walnut tree that had fallen in my family’s yard. That’s just firewood to them. When I was in my early teens, I asked if I could cut off some slices of the wood.”

He remembers not being sure what he wanted to do with the wood, but he knew it could become something else.

“Wood is meaningful to people,” he says. “So it got me thinking that I could make something that’s more lasting.”

When Doss’ good friend Charley Colette, a fellow woodworker and owner of in Libertyville, had a surplus of unused wood, he offered it to Doss who used the wood to make small wooden bowls.

“I just started cranking them out, and Charley offered to put them in his store,” says Doss. “I figured it would cover the expenses of sandpaper, but then we sold three of them in a few months, and I said, ‘Yeah I guess they can sell.’”

Though their popularity was encouraging, he admits he still has a hard time calling what he does art.

“I just like seeing what’s inside a piece of wood and seeing the grains,” Doss says. “I just stop when I see it taking shape, when you see the dimples, the wormholes, the cracks, that’s when it has character ...  I’m very grateful for the translation I have from my mind to my hands. I’m beginning to believe that the finished product is art. But it’s hard to call myself an artist, so I probably won’t.”

Although his wooden bowls have drawn positive attention at Parkview Gourmet, he claims that filling store shelves while working full time would be impossible.

“Each bowl takes about three to four hours to make,” Doss says. “But the sealing and drying takes the most time.”

He believes his craft is more of a hobby and remembers when his children were young, they would spend time in his workshop making things out of wood.

“I also started with my kids,” Doss says. “We made Christmas presents for people. My daughter loved being down here. We would make pasta forks out of maple, bookmarks out of maple. We cut out different patterns. It was fun.”

Doss has been making wooden nativity sets for the past few years for the auction at First Presbyterian Church in Libertyville. He also crafts a wooden box to hold the nativity pieces. His current set is made out of wood reclaimed from a storage palette from his store.

“I look at a piece of wood and I say, ‘Hey, that can be this,’” Doss says. “And I try to do that.”

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