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From heavy metal to hardwood
August 9, 2017

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SHERMAN - When Walt Covert is outside, building new stock or checking on his display inventory, large trucks often pass by his house at 209 Park St. There is a county public works garage up the block, and agricultural products are stored in a building next door, so the rumble of diesel engines is frequent.

Covert spent 45 years fixing and maintaining compression-ignition engines. He looks at a few of the rigs and wonders if Caterpillar, Cummins or Detroit engines are under their cowls. But then he remembers all the electronics fitted to modern engines and believes he's better off working with wood.

"Some of these trucks, they say it takes three computers to run them down the road," Covert said recently, watching a straight truck jerk along Park Street in Sherman.

He was standing in his driveway, next to a rectangular construction taking shape atop two sawhorses.

"This is going to be an arbor, and then I'll put a swing on it," he said. "Price: $250."

Covert, 73, is the owner of Walt's Woodworking, a business he started in 2013 to help pass the time, bring in a few dollars, assist in his recovery from assorted health issues and maintain the feelings of elation he experiences with every new construction. Besides arbors, he makes wishing wells, lighthouses, Adirondack chairs, octagon picnic tables, toys, birdhouses, planters, baskets and even pens.

"Ninety-five percent of the stuff I build is made out of larch," Covert said. Friends with pickup trucks take him to lumberyards when it's time to purchase new wood. "It's in the pine family, but once it gets dry you can't drive a nail in it. It's real dense."

Even with the durability of larch, Covert applies three coats of urethane to the wood before it leaves the premises. On a warm Saturday in July, the smell of the finish was strong as it dried on the arms of a tall plant hanger that he was putting together in the driveway.

"I enjoy doing this," he said. "If somebody stops, I build something."

Covert considers himself to be retired but does not look at Walt's Woodworking as a hobby. When he launched the business, he bought a table saw, a chop saw, two routers and some planers. He put an addition onto the house and his workshop occupies two adjoining areas - an existing room and the garage-like addition.

His diesel shop was in Forestville. After suffering a heart attack, Covert's doctors told him to give up working with heavy engines. He turned his attention to wood.

Pens, the newest product, were added to the catalog because Covert had stomach problems and was told the recovery from an operation would restrict him to light duty for half a year. He dreaded spending 150 days in front of a television.

"I wanted something just to do with my hands," Covert recalled. He buys the pen internals, but makes the barrels from pieces of wood that are imported from overseas. It takes him about 90 minutes to drill and turn a new barrel, and he sells the pens for $15.

Most of Covert's designs are of his own creation or have been freely adapted from other sources. A $250 unit that combines two seats opposite a table, which resembles a small booth in a restaurant, was constructed after a customer showed Covert a photograph and asked if he could manufacture one like it.

"I don't go out and push," he said, explaining his way of prospecting sales.

He opened a door on his white minivan and removed a long piece of cardboard that had been folded lengthwise into thirds. On the face he had affixed photographs of his previous work. It gets placed on tables at farm and home shows, and serves as a prop for when the woodworker talks to potential customers.

"I work too cheap," Covert said. "Everybody says I should double my prices."

As he stood near the edge of his lawn and showed a visitor the Adirondack chair, the American flag artwork made from a shipping pallet, the table-chairs combo unit and plant hanger he had on display, Covert watched a car slow down on Park Street. Most of his customers are people that see his wares from the road. A woman in the passenger seat of the Buick pointed at something in the yard but then the car continued on, towards Sherman.

"I'm not here to make a million dollars," Covert said. "I'd rather take my time. And if it takes me 10 days to build it, okay."

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