Tom Mumper: Wood Turner with CMT

Tom Mumper
Tom Mumper, 80, revels in shaping wood into “functional art

Twenty years and 4,600 artfully crafted pieces later, Tom Mumper has no plans to slow down with his unique woodturning avocation.

Mumper, 80, uses a combination of chain saw, bandsaw, lathe and disc sander to turn raw hunks of wood into functional art, as in bowls, vases, lamps and platters. His specialty is what’s called natural edge, meaning that he retains a 1-inch rim of the natural bark of trees on the upper edge of his finished creations.

Twenty years ago, not coincidentally, was when Mumper learned he has Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) disease. He figured it was a good time to retire from his management job at a large gunpowder manufacturing firm, and to fine-tune his wood crafting skills.

Mumper's washing machine-powered lathe
Mumper's washing machine-powered lathe.

He had a bandsaw. His wife told him, “Now you need a lathe.” He found an old one for sale, strapped it to the motor from a defunct washing machine, and the rest is history.

Mumper sells about 200 of his pieces a year. He’s worked with more than 100 varieties of wood available near his Wilmington, Del., home, among them oak, maple, cherry, locust, beech, birch, sycamore, big leaf aspen, holly, red cedar, osage orange and dogwood.

“A few years ago we went to Australia to look for exotic woods — came back with 80 pounds of it in our luggage,” he recalls. “But I’ve come to realize we’ve got woods that are just as nicely figured here.”

The biggest piece he’s cranked out was cut from a 65-pound mass of oak. It yielded a bowl 15½ inches in diameter and 10 inches deep. He doesn’t mess with the little stuff because CMT has affected his ability to move his fingers and thumbs in small increments.

Mumper’s works have won top honors at museums and shows. He sells them via consignment at local galleries, and he’s given lots to three daughters and three daughters-in-law.

And there’s his wife, Patric. She has 110 of his best pieces in the house. “She gets dibs,” he says. “She says she’s not going to be like the shoemaker’s wife who goes barefoot.”

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