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Honing his craft

FD man creates unique wood carvings

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Gene Van Grevenhof, of Fort Dodge, holds one of the many decorative wood pieces he has made at his shop. This particular piece pays homage to U.S. military veterans. Van Grevenhof is a U.S. Army veteran who served in Vietnam. He makes and sells wood items ranging from a dog or a bird to a Tyrannosaurus rex.

Maybe it will become a dog or a raccoon. Maybe it will become a Clydesdale horse or even a Tyrannosaurus rex.

Every time Gene Van Grevenhof, of Fort Dodge, picks up a piece of wood in his shop, he imagines what that piece could become. And then he creates it.

Van Grevenhof has been crafting decorative wood carvings since 2009 after a slip on the ice forced him to quit working. He had been working for Blue Ribbon Pelham Waters.

One day a friend of his brought him something that he thought might help occupy his time.

“He brought over an old scroll saw,” Van Grevenhof said. “A 16-incher.”

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
A collection of decorative wood pieces is on display at Gene Van Grevenhof’s Fort Dodge shop.

In years prior, Van Grevenhof had made things like military plaques and clocks from wood. But he hadn’t done carvings like the ones he makes today.

“A friend of mine did this kind of stuff,” he said. “I was scared to do it. I didn’t think I could do it, but I decided to try.”

His first piece was a pair of pandas that he still has in his shop.

“It wasn’t the best in the world, but it was a start. I got hooked on it and I am hooked on it,” Van Grevenhof said. “It’s like a craving. I can’t stop. I like taking different types of wood and looking at them and thinking what can I make out of it.”

Van Grevenhof, a native of Minnesota, has lived in Fort Dodge since 1992. He is a U.S. Army veteran who served in Vietnam.

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Gene Van Grevenhof starts each project with a pattern. Each piece has a number. Grevenhof said he rarely sticks to the pattern throughout the project.

“I came back and started driving truck,” he said. “That was my home for 23 years.”

His new home is his shop.

Van Grevenhof works in it about 8 hours a day. He sips on green tea as his black Labrador, Charlie, watches him work.

“He’s the boss of the shop,” Van Grevenhof said.

Bob Gibb, of Fort Dodge, will stop by to chat and provide feedback. The two met each other at a woodworker’s club.

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
A German Shepherd with his tongue hanging out is a recent piece created by Gene Van Grevenhof.

“Bob is my devil’s advocate,” Van Grevenhof said. “If it doesn’t look good, he’ll tell me the flat out truth. Between the two of us he will help me figure it out.”

Gibb has photographed almost all of Grevenhof’s work.

“Pretty close,” Gibb said. “I might have missed one or two.”

The carvings take a lot of time and effort.

“This eagle took me a week or more to do,” he said. “Those chickadees took me two days.”

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
A happy raccoon enjoying an acorn is depicted in this piece by Gene Van Grevenhof.

Van Grevenhof gets his wood from all over the world.

“I got wood from Brazil, South America, Central America, Africa and the local saw mill,” he said.

Van Grevenhof starts each piece with a pattern.

“I use the pattern and have a certain number of pieces,” he said. “I make copies for the different areas.”

But he rarely keeps the exact pattern he starts with.

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Gene Van Grevenhof, of Fort Dodge, holds a bald eagle piece he created from wood.

“I get patterns but I change them,” he said. “I change the color. I want my stuff to be one of a kind. That’s my main goal is to make stuff one of a kind. I very seldom follow a pattern.”

Next, Van Grevenhof makes the necessary cuts.

He shapes the wood and sands it before he adds a dye to get the color.

He finishes the piece with several coats of lacquer.

“It’s something not everyone can do,” he said. “I am not sure if there’s anyone else in town that does this.”

Van Grevenhof sells his carvings at the Webster County Fairgrounds when he visits there about once a month. He goes to other craft fairs in the fall.

He also drives a truck for a farmer during harvest time.

“I tell people I got to get a job to rest up for my retirement,” Grevenhof said in jest.

Van Grevenhof’s carvings range in price from about $40 to $300.

“Depends on the piece and the type of wood,” he said.

Dogs are a favorite.

“I make dog heads for people,” Van Grevenhof said. “People bring me a picture of their dog and I make the head for it.”

One of his toughest pieces was a cross with a rose in the center.

“Ash is really tough,” he said. “It’s hard cutting, it’s hard shaping. It’s all the way around hard. But the grain on those roses turned out beautiful.”

Van Grevenhof said the wood itself gets his creative juices flowing.

“To take a piece of mahogany and look at it and think what can I make out of this?” he said.

To contact Van Grevenhof, call 515-571-1315 or email charliegvg@gmail.com

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Each of this pheasant’s tail feathers are a different piece of wood.

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Gene Van Grevenhof holds a Siberian Husky he made out of wood. Grevenhof’s other dog, Charlie, a real creature, is visible lying on the shop floor at the bottom of the frame. Grevenhof said Charlie is the boss of the shop.

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
This yellow rose is cut from ash wood.

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