St. Paul Woodturner Reconstructs Roman Ionic Column

Not completely sure how he would accomplish it, Tom Guelcher took on the job of recreating a 23-foot- high column and transporting it to its new location outside Kelly Hall at Pillsbury College in Owatonna. Guelcher, owner of The Turning Point Woodworks, a small woodworking company in St. Paul, specializes in woodturning as well as architectural replication and repair.

Kelly Hall originally had four fluted columns on the building facade, but one had to be removed because of deterioration and rot. Guelcher had never reconstructed a column of this size, but after he inspected the remaining columns in July 2016, he decided he was up to the challenge. He began researching how to create a column that not only looked like the others, but lasted as long as they did.

Guelcher was unsure he would be able to find a lathe—a machine used for shaping wood—that would be large enough to complete the job. However, upon a closer look at the images he took of the other columns, he discovered that the width of the groove was the same from top to bottom, which meant that it was constructed without the use of a lathe. Instead, the columns were constructed by beveling so each column’s diameter was decreased at the top. At the bottom, each column was 3½ inches, while the top was 3 inches.

Each column was constructed with different sizes of lumber that were staggered at different intervals. Luckily, Guelcher was able to get the No.1 Cedar that was essential to completing the task from a lumber company that usually only sold to other lumber yards. Any other kind of wood would have been too heavy and would have required the use of a crane to put it back into place at Kelly Hall. After completing the main column—fluting the wood, beveling, and creating the boards and inner support circles—he constructed the Roman Ionic Capital, which required intricate carving to replicate the scrolls on either side.

When the column and capital were finished, Guelcher and his nephew transported his reproduction to Owatonna, where it was erected using a boom lift. With a new coat of paint, it was indistinguishable from the rest of the columns. “It was a huge endeavor from start to finish and probably one I would not be too keen on doing again,” Guelcher says. But if a similar challenge should arise, he says, “I’m going to insist I have one to copy in the shop with me.”


by Catherine Guden


Personal Designer

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