Good Life

Shaker-style boxes

Steve Strouse, of Bellefonte, makes Shaker boxes from local salvaged wood.  CDT/Nabil K. Mark
Steve Strouse, of Bellefonte, makes Shaker boxes from local salvaged wood. CDT/Nabil K. Mark

Steve Strouse does more than make Shaker-style boxes in the workshop behind his Benner Township home.

He tells stories.

For most of his boxes, the 47-year-old craftsman uses local and regional wood salvaged from storm-damaged or removed trees. Each of his pieces includes a card that shares the wood’s past.

An American elm box? Heavy snows ravaged some of Penn State’s historic trees beyond saving. White oak? Termite damage felled a 214-year-old sentinel along Puddintown Road. Silver maple? The tree shaded one of Bellefonte’s famous Victorian homes for a century.

Whether he’s crafting boxes, restoring vintage motorcycles or displaying his grandfather’s antique farm tools, the history appeals to Strouse as much as the object.

“Each thing I collect has a story behind it, and that’s what I’ve tried to do with the boxes — give them extra meaning,” he said.

Raised in Walker Township, Strouse began woodworking while in high school, making furniture part time. A career in the electronics industry followed before a 1993 layoff brought him back to wood.

After a brief foray into custom furniture, he discovered the Shaker boxes and was hooked by their simple elegance. Since then, he has made a living by embellishing the basic oval form with distinctive grain patterns — feathery, curly, even the alligator-skin web of Australian lacewood.

All his wood he planes himself with his bandsaw mill. Band planks are soaked in 180-degree water for 45 minutes, then wrapped around molds to dry for four days and fastened together with copper tacks.

His boxes cost from $31 for small pieces to $165 for a large sewing box, and are available at local gift stores. He also displays at the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts.

Thousands of boxes after his first, Strouse isn’t bored yet. Raw wood still harbors mystery.

“Each one is fascinating,” he said, “and you never know what the grain is going to be until you cut the piece.”