Water tupelo, red gum, sycamore, cypress, chinaberry, sweet gum, black walnut, pecan, river birch—this is the stuff of Carroll Lawrimore’s dreams. The fulfillment of those dreams is realized each time he turns a piece of wood into a dough bowl, tray or other tangible work of art through the business he owns with his wife, Cindy. From Trunks to Trays is the name of the enterprise, and crafting heirloom-quality pieces from the discarded trunks of felled trees is Carroll’s specialty, one he learned after inheriting his family’s dough bowl.
While minor imperfections usually lend distinction to vintage treasures, the imperfection of this particular bowl proved problematic: It had a hole in it. So, Carroll consulted Buddy Davis, a local longtime creator of dough bowls. When the woodcarver could not repair it, he offered Carroll the next best thing to a fix: He would teach him how to carve a dough bowl replacement. Though “Mr. Buddy” was getting up in years, he happily took his old friend on as an apprentice and in August 2015, Carroll held his first finished dough bowl in his hands.
“I just loved doing it,” Carroll said. “It didn’t feel like work at all.”
What started as a means to an end became the beginning of a new way of life. After farming his family’s Hemingway land for 38 years, Carroll had envisioned a retirement in which hours spent fishing stretched endlessly before him. But even a favorite activity gets old pretty fast when you have too much time on your hands. Taking up woodcarving was the perfect answer to the age-old question running through Carroll’s mind: “What do I do next?”
One dough bowl turned into two (and so on and so forth) until Carroll amassed a collection. Charcuterie trays and massive platters big enough to hold a whole smoked hog or Lowcountry boil for a crowd were soon added. Friends and family loved receiving the items as gifts on holidays and special occasions. As Carroll’s creations gained admirers, orders began pouring in and his wife, Cindy, jumped in to lend a hand. Now, the couple’s property is outfitted with outbuildings and a lovely showroom in which their finished vessels are displayed and sold.
The process of taking a tree trunk and turning it into a household item that is as utilitarian as it is beautiful is a drawn-out process. Carroll sources wood from storm-damaged trees or tree butts left over from the harvests of logging operations in the Pee Dee. Once he hauls it to his property, a mobile lumber saw slices the giant piece into slabs. The slabs are stacked in a seasoning shed where they will spend between two and four years drying out.
Once they reach the proper moisture level, Carroll moves them to his woodcarving shed. He draws his design on each slab, then scores and chisels until it has the desired concave. Then, he cuts away the excess and turns the piece over to Cindy, who sands it smooth before saturating it in food-grade mineral oil. After the dry wood is quenched, it gets the finishing touch of beeswax oil, which enhances water resistance and gives it shine.
“The most exciting thing about oiling is that you finally get to see the color and grain,” Cindy said. “No two pieces are the same, even if they are carved from the same type of wood.”
Whether used for making biscuits, tossing a salad, arranging charcuterie or simply as an accent piece, the Lawrimores' creations, with proper care, will be prized for many years to come. For more information and to see current inventory, visit the website of From Trunks to Trays.