Steve Bunck’s woodworking skills have served him well — whether in Southeast Asia or the Midwest.
Now, the musician, gardener and former college chemistry instructor plans to teach a woodworking class.
The event is set from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 14 near the log cabin at May Museum. Cost is $25 per person. Class size is limited to five or six, but if the class goes well, Bunck said he’ll probably offer another.
During the class, participants will have the opportunity to make common types of joints using non-electric tools.
“It’s going to be the kinds of things you’ll see on the PBS program, ‘The Woodwright’s Shop,’” said Bunck, adding that it will be geared toward furniture construction.
Attendees will create a small piece with several types of joints. Participants need not bring tools nor have woodworking experience. Those who want to join the class may call Bunck at 402-317-4447 to sign up or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bunck opted to teach a class after several people came by his shop while he was using old tools to repair or create something.
They almost always were interested in the tools and how they’re used and often surprised at how quickly he can create items without using electrical power tools.
When Bunck asked if they’d be interested in attending a woodworking class — taught by him — they always said yes.
“So we’ll see,” he said, smiling.
Bunck traces his own interest in woodworking to the farm near Hiawatha, Kansas, where he lived with his dad and mom, Warren and Marjorie.
“My parents were both woodworkers on the farm,” Bunck said. “My father was good at designing and building things.”
Bunck’s dad built feed bunks and some furniture. His mom was good at finishing the furniture.
“That’s how I got started,” he said.
Bunck would hone his skills after he went to Laos with the International Voluntary Services in 1969. He and his wife, Renee, married in 1970 and she joined him there. They taught math and science at the only university in Laos, which was a teacher training school.
While in Laos, they lived in a small village with no electricity.
But Bunck had access to hand tools, which he used to create tables and shelves.
“My skill level for using the old hand tools really flourished,” he said.
The Buncks returned to the United States in 1973 and he went to graduate school.
“At that time, you could find very fine woodworking hand tools at garage sales for practically nothing. That’s changed,” he said.
Bunck began acquiring chisels, planes and saws. He started building furniture. Or he’d repair and restore furniture he found at garage sales or antique shops.
He went to graduate school for four years and earned a doctorate in chemistry in 1977.
That year, he began teaching chemistry at what’s now called Midland University. He’d teach there for 23 years.
“My special interest was theoretical chemistry, which is essentially applied math,” he said.
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Bunck went to work at Valmont Industries as an applied mathematician and computer programmer in 2000.
After 18 years at Valmont, he retired in May 2018.
He now is a woodworking instructor at the Masonic-Eastern Star Home for Children.
“The woodworking has been a constant in my life for most of my life,” he said. “I love the creative process and for reasons I don’t necessarily understand I enjoy the sounds and smells of working wood with a sharp blade — be that in a chisel, a plane or a saw. It’s something for me that’s a very satisfying experience. I enjoy the process more than the final product.”
Bunck said he does cheat — he owns an electric table saw. An electric surface planer allows him to bring wood to the desired thickness, particularly if he’s using recycled wood.
“However, I use hand planes a great deal in shaping and truing the surfaces of wood products,” he said.
Bunck has made bookcases, tables and other household furniture items. He’s repaired lots of antiques, including some at May Museum.
“The most difficult task for me when repairing an antique is to match the color of the finish to a degree that no one can tell that it’s been repaired,” he said.
When repairing a piece of furniture that’s a museum artifact, he must use materials that would have been appropriate for a given time period. For instance, if a piece is made of African mahogany, the new wood must be of the same type. The finish and glue also must be the same as what was used many years ago.
Bunck’s restoration efforts have proven successful.
He cites the time he patched an oak door on a standing desk that had belonged to his grandparents. He searched for wood with the same grain pattern as the door.
“I stained it until it matched perfectly and put it in place,” he said.
Years later, when his father was visiting, he tried to find the patch.
He couldn’t find it.
“Sometimes, you really get lucky and a repair turns out better than you could have imagined,” he said. “We spent a lot of time laughing, trying to find that patch. We did eventually find it, but it took a while.”
Bunck is proud of a complex sculpture created in a figurative-abstract style that is in the Anderson Complex on the Midland University campus.
“When people look at it and are moved by it that’s very rewarding,” he said.
Besides woodworking, he’s involved in other endeavors. He plays classical jazz guitar and works with the Spanish Mass at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church. He’s performed at coffeehouses and private parties. He enjoys cross-country skiing and gardening.
And he’s passing his love of woodworking on to his children.
The Buncks’ son, Craig, is interested in woodworking. Their daughter, Christina Shields, majored in technical theater in college and is a set designer and builder.
“She worked with me in the shop when she was about 4 years old,” he said. “I handed her a tape measure and taught her how to read the numbers and by the time she was 5 or 6 she could read to the half and quarter inch.”
Craig lives in Dallas and Shields in Leeds, England. The Buncks also have four grandchildren.
Looking ahead, Steve Bunck sees woodworking in his own future.
“I enjoy teaching and will do it as long as I can,” he said. “My father lived until he was 95 and he was still woodworking.”