NEWHALL — In his small workshop off the garage, Don Kerker slips a piece of wood over the saw blade, tightens the blade and scrolls away. He turns the wood this way and that, around the oscillating blade, to create a small intricate cutout that in the scope of a project helps to tell a story.
It could be a cross, whether it depicts religious symbols or the windmills, animals and activities of a farm blessed by good fortune.
It could be a United State military logo for a veteran of the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marine Corps.
It could be actual words in script form, such as those for "Footprints," a famous poem that was the favorite of a daughter who died of cancer at age 25.
Don, 82, first ran across a scroll saw while growing up in Davenport. His father took him to see a friend, a co-owner of the Coliseum Ballroom, who had one and let him have a go at it.
"I really enjoyed scroll sawing," Don says. "I needed something to do in retirement."
That came in 1988 after a lifetime of work that took him around Iowa as a teacher and coach (Newhall, Titonka, Brooklyn) and around the United States and world as a civilian in training and development for the Army.
"I went out and bought the cheapest scroll saw I could find at Sears," Don says, adding that it’s long been worn out. He’s gone through a handful of saws leading to his present machine, a Hegner, one of the better German-made scroll saws.
At first, Don used mostly walnut wood. "Over the years," he says, "it seems like people’s interests have gravitated to oak."
That means Don uses thinner wood because of the increased hardness. While he had walnut cut 3/4-inch thick by the private supplier of his wood, he went to 5/8th-inch oak and quarter-inch cherry.
Although Don and his wife, Darlene, first retired to Bettendorf, they moved to Newhall, her hometown, in 2001. For, it was here in 1955 that Don coached Darlene in girls’ basketball his rookie season, although they didn’t date until after her graduation.
As Don’s scroll sawing hobby took off, the work became an additional partnership. Darlene would help with the underside finish work, the sanding, staining, mounting. For years they sold their works through craft shows and Creative Colony in Amana where he’d demonstrate the scroll saw.
Women would say, "Oh, I could never do that," to which he’d reply, "Can you run a sewing machine? Then you can do this."
They skipped crafts shows last year, but may hit the circuit again this summer."We’ve got so much inventory and you can’t give it all away," Don jokes. "You get tired of seeing things on the walls."