Harry Hodges of Bellville, Georgia, stopped by the Tattnall County Archives recently to demonstrate items he has created from the wood of longleaf pine. Few of us can imagine making our own cup or serving spoon, but this is commonplace for Hodges.
As a farm boy raised in the 1940s, Hodges grew up playing in the woods and camping on the banks of the Canoochee River.
“I have stayed in the woods all my life, as enjoyment,” he says. He learned as a young man how to work with wood, apprenticing for a number of years with a local carpenter whose motto was, “You either do it right or you don’t do it at all.”
After a stint in Vietnam, Hodges spent 22 years working in the poultry industry, then at Hunter Airfield, then doing land-clearing for the public. Now, Harry owns the farm that once belonged to his great-grandfather, Dr. Seaborn Hodges. This was land that Harry rambled as a child.
After Harry inherited the land, he began to replant it with longleaf pine. The first year, 2009, he planted 3,000 seedlings with a dibble. Every fall after that, he planted 1,000 more trees.
Ancient longleaf pine has a resinous inner wood called heart pine. Most old-growth stumps and knots are heart pine, or lightard, as it is also called, and these are packed with resins. Therefore, they are heavy, more hard than soft, and long-lasting. They are also deeply lustrous when sanded, of a rich red color.
Hodges walks his woods, picking up remnants of heart pine. From these “found pieces” he has created a number of traditions. One is that he makes a belt buckle each year out of heart pine. He wears that one belt throughout the year, and by the time December 31 rolls around, he has fashioned a new belt. On the morning of January 1, he retires the old belt and puts on the new one.
He does the same with a writing pen. Each year, he carves a new writing pen out of a longleaf branch. Often, these branches are marked with darker dots where pine needles emerged from them. Hodges inserts a ballpoint refill into the wooden tube and burns the year, as in 2022, onto the pen. This pen, he carries in his breast pocket for the entire year, using it as needed and careful not to lose it. On December 31, this pen, too, is retired into his pen collection.
He has experimented with making pens out of the inner core of longleaf pine cones, which turn out to be extremely hard and durable. Another long-lasting pencil, he made from a dog fennel weed.
In addition, Hodges carves his favorite wood into other useful items, including dishes. He hollowed out a length of heart pine and turned it into a cup. He also has a favorite longleaf bowl from which he eats breakfast cereal, and a small longleaf spoon he calls his sugar spoon.
These items are not decorative; they are functional. His homemade rolling pin, made of cypress, is the one he uses in his kitchen today. In addition, he uses a homemade charcuterie board and cutting board. He has carved spoons and spatulas by hand. He’s made his own wooden rulers, including one out of mature poplar, which has a greenish hue.
The tools Hodges uses are mostly hand tools, including a hatchet, chisel, hammer, handsaw, draw-knife, and sanding paper. He does not use a lathe.
Hodges has two daughters and three grandchildren. He is also the caregiver for his sister, Sarah, checking on her every day. Both are members of the Evans County Senior Citizens. Harry’s motto is “do for others.” At the moment, he is caring for a baby squirrel, which was a rescue. He has four dogs, also all rescues. He will be 80 in February 2023.