Reuben Palmer says that ever since childhood, “I just had a passion for wood.” That interest led him to become a master in multiple fields of wood-working, including carpentry, furniture making, and wood-turning. Except for a carpentry class that he attended in the 1990s—by which time he had already been constructing buildings and making fine furniture for years—Palmer has never had any formal training. His earliest lessons were learned by observing his father, Charlie Palmer.
The Palmers lived on a tobacco, cotton, and cucumber farm, where there was always something that needed fixing or building. The elder Palmer built all the sheds and other dependencies on the property, including his own first log cabin home at the age of 18. He made tools, and when the handle of a hoe would break, he would turn a new one. He also knew how to make baskets from white-oak splints. Charlie showed young Reuben how to choose and cut a tree, shave the wood into splints, and soak the wood just long enough for it to become pliable for weaving.
With the knowledge gained from his father, as well as his own considerable skills and much practice, Reuben Palmer built a career. He taught building for Vance-Granville Community College for years, and it was there that he first became intrigued by the lathe. After looking longingly at the machine for some days, Palmer finally tried it out. “I just fell in love with that lathe,” he says. As with the other wood arts he learned, Palmer soon became expert in wood-turning.
Today Reuben Palmer turns wood at his home workshop on the land that his family farmed when he was growing up. He crafts beautiful bowls, vases, and plates, both solid and segmented, and sands the surfaces to a fine, silken finish that emphasizes the unique beauties of each piece of wood.
In 2010, Palmer took home the Best in Show award from the Warren County Fair for his 8½ inch-tall and 10 inch-wide vase made from 700 pieces of walnut, oak, purple heart, and holly. The win vaulted him into competition at the state level, and in late October of that year, Palmer was awarded the Best in Show prize at the North Carolina State Fair.