Coupeville woodworker turns salvaged wood into creative art

Jim Short enjoys retreating to his workshop in Coupeville to work on his art pieces, and tries not track too many shavings indoors.   - Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times
Jim Short enjoys retreating to his workshop in Coupeville to work on his art pieces, and tries not track too many shavings indoors.
— image credit: Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times

Jim Short can create a lot of things with his hands.

Just not miracles.

He figures he’ll make a dent, but doesn’t expect to move mountains as he prepares to unveil the workshop where he performs his woodturning magic.

He’s one of 31 artists participating in the Whidbey Working Artists Summer Art Studio Tour, which runs on back-to-back weekends beginning Aug. 24-25.

Short’s workshop is the single-car garage at his home in Coupeville. He jokes that the current state of his cluttered garage is “chaotic” and “near dangerous,” serving as part workshop and part storage unit with wood shavings to boot.

“Somebody the other day said that cleaning up your shop is for people who are too lazy to go look for stuff,” Short said. “That’s kind of my situation.”

Short, a career carpenter, has held a lifelong fascination with wood. He works with wood in his trade, building custom cabinets or fixing furniture or other repairs. And he plays with wood as a hobby, using a lathe to turn it while he applies a bowl gouge.

The finished product is often an art piece shaped as a bowl or vase. He also makes boxes and other containers with lids.

Short, 64, said woodturning can turn into an obsession.

“That happens to woodturners a lot,” he said. “It’s really engaging to take a piece of a tree and cut it open and discover all the different patterns and designs and things. The whole process of turning is almost addictive. It’s almost an immediate result in what you do. The process is very attractive.”

The process includes hunting for the right type of wood.

Short is always on the lookout for salvageable wood. He likes working with green madrona.

“I like how it shrinks up and contorts,” he said.

He’ll work with hardwood and fruitwood. He said he enjoys wood from Garry Oaks and Yews.

Instead of jumping in his van to look for wood, he relies on other senses.

The ring of a phone might mean an opportunity someone wants to tell him about. And there are other sounds he listens for.

“When you hear a chainsaw running, you say, ‘What’s up?’” Short said, “and you just keep your eyes open. Wood is laying around all over, more than you can really deal with. It’s pretty exciting.”

Short’s art is laying around all over, too. He said he has about 20 bowls drying in his garage and another 40 stored elsewhere.

He said he only started selling his art pieces about six or seven years ago and considers it more of a hobby than a money-making venture.

His pieces may be seen at the Penn Cove Gallery on Front Street in downtown Coupeville, or viewed online at

Woodturning is a passion, and he’s appreciative that his wife, Judy Moore, is supportive. Moore, who teaches nursing at Skagit Valley College’s Oak Harbor campus, is a creative artist herself, involved with fiber arts.

“She’s quite encouraging,” Short said. “She’s very tolerant of all the wood chips that get tracked into the house and all the debris outside.”

Short’s workshop will be open to the public during both weekends of the self-guided free artists’ studio tour. The second weekend, which covers more of Central and North Whidbey, is Aug. 31-Sept. 2. The tours are from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Initially apprehensive, Short said he has come to enjoy sharing his love for wood with visitors and showing them how he makes his art pieces. He is a member of the Mount Vernon-based Northwest Washington Woodturners, a chapter of the American Association of Woodturners.

Plus, there are other benefits of the tour.

Short is forced to tidy up his workshop.

“Last year was the first time I had it at my place,” he said. “There were horizontal surfaces exposed in the garage that had never been seen before. There were vast expanses of the floor with nothing on them. It was just amazing.”


• Whidbey artists studio tour

The Whidbey Working Artists Summer Art Studio Tour will be taking place on two consecutive weekends starting Aug. 24-25. The free self-guided tour features 21 working studios with 31 artists from Oak Harbor to Freeland. High gloss print brochures detailing the sites may be found at the Pacific Northwest Art School in Coupeville and Coupeville and Oak Harbor chambers of commerce and also is available online at




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