Leader Blues

Friday, July 24, 2009

TOP STORY > >Sherwood woodworker plies trade

Leader senior staff writer

Lewis Neidhardt’s life is not about the hundreds or thousands of cutting boards he’s made and sold over the years, but his workshop sure is.

A former machinist, Neidhardt, 60, came from California to visit his brother in 1973 and never really achieved escape velocity.

With a heavy-duty tablesaw and planer wedged into all available spaces in the garage behind his Sherwood home, Neidhardt and his assistants mass produce the cutting boards he sells on Saturdays at the Farmers’ Market at the River Market and through his Web site, www.ltn-woodworks.com.

His walnut, cherry and maple cutting boards are handsome and well crafted with double tongue-and-grove joints along the glue lines.

The smaller cheese board is $30 and the larger utility boards are $40. Wood moves around, he said. “The forces are hydraulic and powerful and they’ll just tear things up, but that’s not a defect, it’s a difference.”

He appreciates the close tolerances of metal work — to .00002 of an inch — and he went to work for Timex in North Little Rock, where he repaired machinery. From there he went into business as a knife maker. At the end of about two years, he had subsidized that business “as much as he could” and had to get a paying job.

“My wife (the former Sherry Kittle of North Little Rock) got pregnant and I went and got a job at the Graduate Institute of Technology.”

“I ran a machine shop and did a lot of research,” he remembers. “We had to build the stuff to do research — like a laser, Doppler velocity meter and biomechanical things for studying human stress,” he said.

He began cobbling together computers in about 1978, after about 10 years full time in the machine shop.

Later, he began programming computers and also teaching subjects such as Lotus 1-2-3 and beginning database.

He was promoted out of the machine shop to do computer support and teaching.

Later, he got a contract to write recycling software for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

He did that until 1999, when he came down with throat cancer.

“For two years I was a sick puppy,” he says, stroking a long, unruly beard. “I didn’t eat by mouth while I had chemotherapy and radiation.

“I couldn’t work and lost everything,” he remembers. “Thankfully, my wife was employed.”

She died about two years ago, he said.

He generally has someone helping in the shop, learning the skills he has.

Neidhardt does custom work for folks — a walnut countertop, period furniture like triangular end tables or bow-front tables, and for $3,000 he’ll make you a copy of the $25,000 rocking chair designed by studio furniture maker Sam Maloof. “He’s the bomb,” Neidhardt says. He aspires to that sort of design and craftsmanship, but having started woodworking relatively late in life, he says he has more realistic expectations.

“I don’t aspire to anything other than making some pretty things I’d like to put my stamp on,” he said.

Neidhardt is taking a furniture design class this fall at UALR, however.

He says Maloof and George Nakashima are “my two muses. I like their philosophies and their work.”