Story and Photos by JOYANNA LOVE
Peach trees are a mainstay of the Chilton County landscape, but even a healthy tree has to be pruned and eventually cut down to make room for new trees to keep peach production high.
Chilton County resident Gerald Smitherman saw potential in the larger peach branches and stumps that were being discarded from his son’s orchard as a new source of wood for small projects.
“I got to looking at all of the wasted wood that was thrown away every year,” Smitherman said. “I said, ‘I think I could do something with that.’”
Pruning and cutting down of exhausted trees keeps peach farmers busy in the winter months.
“The trees only live about 12-15 years,” Smitherman said.
Some of the peach wood that Smitherman salvages is used to create pens.
Each project starts by cutting the stumps with a chain or band saw to get pieces that are the right size. After a rectangular piece of wood is cut to the correct size, Smitherman drills a hole through the center lengthwise. A brass tube is inserted.
Next, a lathe is used to shape the wood to a comfortable size for a pen.
Hardware purchased for the pen determines how wide Smitherman needs to shave the wood to.
“The bushings on either side of the pen blank are the correct size, and you purchase the bushings to go with the hardware,” Smitherman said.
Each pen is then sanded until it is smooth. The actual pen component, such as the ink and the tip, are purchased as a kit. The exterior clip and tip come in a variety of colors.
Refills can be used in any of the pens to change the color of the ink or for when it runs out.
Each peach wood pen still carries the faint scent of peaches even after it is finished.
“I started doing pens about seven or eight years ago,” Smitherman said. “It was just an extension of my other wood working, just something different that I wanted to do. It uses a lot of scraps left over from bigger projects.”
Pens are finished off with a sealant to keep everything smooth.
“It’s kind of a unique item for Chilton County,” Smitherman said.
Smitherman also makes small decorative dishes and door stops from peach wood.
He said peach trees are in the same family as cherry trees and have “similar characteristics of cherry, except being smaller trees and faster growing.”
He said peach wood “tends to shrink and crack a lot, so it is difficult to get large pieces” of the wood.
Smitherman has given away many of his pens as gifts, but the pens are also for sale at Rustique Relics in Clanton.
“You can make a pen with anything that you can drill and turn on a lathe,” Smitherman said.
For Smitherman, this has included plastic and deer antler.
The deer antlers come from a friend of his who is a taxidermist.
He said he uses a band saw to rough cut it usable pieces before putting it on the lathe to shape.
“The only problem is it does stink,” Smitherman said.
The blanks for the plastic pens come from a supply store in Pelham and offer a variety of color options.
Wood working has been a part of Smitherman’s life for many years.
“I grew up in a family of woodworkers and carpenters,” Smitherman said.
Smitherman has lived the majority of his life in Chilton County.
He taught agriculture and shop for 30 years and developed his home shop during that time. He first built his current shop in 2002 and has been adding on ever since.
“I kind of enjoy the smaller things,” Smitherman said. “It is kind of fun to be able to finish a project in a short amount of time.”
Bowls, rolling pins and cutting boards are just a few of the other wood projects that Smitherman enjoys.