MARION—From a career as a machinist and then in computer programming for some of the biggest names in aerospace to a retiree living lakeside at Marion, Dustan Schoenthaler has been honing his craft, moonlighting as a woodworker and owner of Dusty’s Woodcarving.
A portion of his work is currently on display at Marion City Library.
Schoenthaler began his woodcarving endeavors in the 1980s through a basic woodcarving class his new wife, Barbara, told him about. The eight-week course introduced him to the fundamentals of carving and the tools needed for the craft.
Over the next several years, Schoenthaler turned his hobby into a side-business and invested in his own Swiss-made gouges and even began forging some of his own custom knives to suit his needs. He also began painting his creations to bring them to life.
From hyper-realistic centerpieces to one-off caricatures to custom signs and chip carving, Schoenthaler has tried his hand at it all.
“I started doing the caricatures. They’re humorous, and there’s no wrong way to do something like that. It’s your own rendition of it; you can make them fun. I think that’s what kept me involved in that,” he said.
For many years, Schoenthaler donated his talents to his church, creating pieces to be auctioned off.
While traditional woodcarving requires a specific set of tools, Schoenthaler also works in chip carvings.
“You hold the knife at a 45-degree angle, keep that same angle and you cut out three points to pop out that chunk of wood,” he said.
For most of his projects, he prefers basswood for its fine grain.
“It’s more predictable to carve,” he said.
Beyond carving his pieces, Schoenthaler built his own woodburner, to add more details to his creations. On a true-to-life crappie, he burnt in each individual scale before painting the piece. Having dabbled in taxidermy, Schoenthaler had a stash of glass eyes to add more realism to his carvings.
Schoenthaler even added a Tole Painting class to his list of adventures to add to his woodcarving tool kit.
Through the years, Schoenthaler’s daughters have taken an interest in their father’s work. He said a particular chip carved cross was a highly sought-after piece for both of them.
“The cross I’m doing right now for my daughter; she wanted something she could keep. And I think knowing that this is going to a good home, I’m honored,” he said.
Another piece Schoenthaler is in the process of carving, and a first for him as an artist, is a dragon for his granddaughter.
“She really likes dragons right now. My daughter asked if I could do one for her,” he said.
His reference and inspiration for the piece comes from a crayon drawing of a bright blue dragon by his granddaughter, hanging on the side of his refrigerator.
However, woodcarving does not run the family. On a trip to see his parents in Missouri, Schoenthaler introduced his father to his new hobby.
“He was on the front porch in a new pair of jeans cutting away. I said, ‘Make sure you’re slicing away, those knives are sharp, and make sure your fingers aren’t in the path of that knife.’ He’s making sure his finger is out of the way, but his new jeans just had a beautiful slit right across the leg. He didn’t get cut, but he threw everything down, and that was it,” Schoenthaler said.
Schoenthaler said when it came to his own fingers, “I am very good at knowing how to use butterfly stitches. I’ve cut myself so many times […] I keep up on my tetanus shots and my knives clean.”
In his retirement, Schoenthaler said the family’s miniature poodle likes to curl up between his feet on the couch while he works on projects. Partially wrapped in an old sheet, Schoenthaler does a lot of his carving kicked back on the sofa.
“The chips are flying, but they hit the sheet, and when I’m done, I just roll it up and take it out back, shake it out, and I’m good for next time,” he said.
Now that he has hung up his carving-on-commission tool belt, Schoenthaler said working on pieces at his own pace is a relaxing way to spend time on the couch.
And there are no shortages of projects for him, either. Having moved to Marion Lake six years ago, Schoenthaler prepared before giving up his large shop by cutting several rough blanks.
“I knew we were retiring. In my mind, I was thinking I’d be sitting on the chair carving all the time. Turns out, there’s no such thing as retirement. We’re always busy with something,” he said.
However, two projects Schoenthaler is looking forward to sinking his carving tools into are a snowy owl, religious reliefs and a mantel clock.
“There are several I have that I think would be really nice pieces, if I ever get the time to do them,” he said.