'Turning' to a new creative outlet

Feb 8, 2024 • 4 min. read | By Meghan Corbett

Woodturner Kirk “Doc” Brown is shown at his woodworking shop. (Photo by Logan Burke) 


University of North Carolina Wilmington professor Kirk Brown has been encouraging his students to do their best for the past 23 years. From 2000 to 2018, he was also the program director for athletic training education. Now, he focuses his teaching at the UNCW School of Health and Applied Sciences as an associate professor. 


But he doesn’t stop there.


After losing his father to cancer, Brown inherited his woodshop tools including his wood lathe, a tool that rotates a wooden piece on an axis allowing a cutting tool to shape the piece into the desired design. While he had a little experience in making pens, he decided to utilize his inherited tools by turning his two-car garage into a functional workshop.


“After organizing my tools, I began teaching myself how to use the wood lathe to turn pens,” Brown said. “There have been a lot of learning curves and many mistakes and frustrations. I kept at it, and, after a year of practice, I started seeing all of that time paying off. After purchasing all the necessary tools and supplies required to make the pen, it became evident that I needed to devise a plan to finance this hobby.


“It was only after a year that my wife and I started to explore ways to sustain this hobby, which had significant overhead expenses.”


Woodturning is an art that takes dedication and perseverance, but the results can be timeless pieces that are passed on for generations. 


“Woodturners can generally be divided into two groups: bowl turners and spindle turners,” Brown said. “As a spindle turner, I focus on crafting pens and handles for a range of items, such as pizza cutters, bottle openers and ice cream scoops. What I love about woodturning is the ability to transform an unremarkable piece of wood into a beautiful pen that can be cherished for a lifetime. There are also the technical and detailed aspects of woodturning that appeal to me, such as matching wood grain when gluing two pieces together or matching wood texture with the appropriate wood finish.”


Those who know “Doc” Brown know the attention to detail he puts into his work whether as a woodturner or as an instructor. He is proud of his creations and how they are viewed by those around him.


“I have a few pens that I am especially proud of,” he said. “The very first one I ever made was for Dr. Bennet Omalu, who was giving a lecture at the UNCW campus. Since Dr. Omalu originally came from Nigeria, I decided to source some wood from that region to create the pen. I presented it to him during a lunch event in front of the university’s deans and chancellor. After receiving the pen, Dr. Omalu told me that he would display it alongside the pen that President Barack Obama had given him! I also had the pleasure of making a pen for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a former Lakers player. 


“I once made a pen out of 34 segments of wood. I wasn’t sure if it would hold together while I was turning it on the lathe. However, once I completed it, it turned out to be stunning. One of our good friends bought the pen and now keeps it in his office as a display piece.” 


Brown, whose Facebook page is here, showcases and sells his creations at craft fairs in the area throughout the year. He will be at the UNCW School of Social Work Fundraiser at Bowstrings, Burgers and Brews, 1002 Princess St., on March 16 from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. as well as the Historic Downtown Wilmington Marketplace, which takes place on Sundays between April 14 and Oct. 27 from 10 a.m.-3 p.m.

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