By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

This has changed my life

The vehicles, which Williams painstakingly designs, cuts out and assembles, are made from wood. And not just any wood — wood he has recycled from old pallets and used or forgotten lumber.

He loves every bit of what he’s doing — recycling wood, working in his shop, making models other people enjoy.

“This has changed my life,” said Williams, who learned to work with wood and use sophisticated technology in woodshop over the past three years.

“It’s something I’m so excited about, and I see the effect it’s having on me in other areas, like the way I talk to people,” he said. “It’s made things better.”

Williams grew up in Sandy. He commuted to Willamina Lumber for way too long before finally moving to Yamhill County.

His parents moved west, too, and he now makes his home with them in Ballston. His dad, Dean Williams, is known as “The Bike Guy,” because he collects old and broken bikes, fixes them up and finds new homes for them through Recology Western Oregon.

For a while, Williams wasn’t much interested in his father’s vocation — or much of anything else. After breaking his back in a car wreck, he became hooked on prescription pain killers, then other drugs.

Three years ago, he went through detox. He was off drugs and doing well — except, he said, “I wasn’t doing anything.” Days passed, one after another, and “I was not sprouting,” he said.

One day, that all changed.

Williams asked his dad to show him the CNC router he had built in his shop. The machine is hooked to a computer, which guides the router blade in cutting a pattern into a slab of wood.

“As soon as I got on it, it was all over,” Williams recalled. “From then on, it was my machine.”

Immediately passionate about the equipment, he learned to use drafting programs, cleared out the rest of the shop and set to work making things. And his father was only too happy to help.

He had once made a wooden car, cutting out the pieces freehand and gluing them together. “It was horrid, all crooked,” he said.

But using the computer-aided drafting program, he realized, he could make a version of the same car and keep it straight. “I knew what that machine could do,” he said.

He made the car, then several pieces of heavy equipment, as an homage of sorts to his logging days. He was happy with what he was doing.

Then Fred Stemmler of Recology dropped by to see Williams’ father about the bike recycling project. Stemmler raved about the wooden vehicles and asked if he could buy one.

“I realized people like what I’m doing,” Williams said. “I realized I could make money.”

He quickly sold more than a dozen pieces and gave others as gifts. “It makes me feel wonderful to be able to give things away,” he said.

Several businesses have offered to display his work, including the new Waste Zero shop at Third and Ford streets.

His work fits in perfectly at Waste Zero, since it’s made from recycled materials.

He believes in making the most of things, especially wood. “That wood should be used,” he said. “I could go out and buy the lumber, sure, but I’d be letting stuff that could be used go to waste.”

Wasting things isn’t right, he said. “I’m a born-again Christian. The Lord gave us this, and we’re supposed to be good stewards,” he explained.

He said his father also influenced his views. “Working with him on his bike recycling, recycling really got into my blood,” he said.

Like his dad, Williams finds many of his materials at the recycling center. He fished out a few old speakers, for instance. They yielded a metallic mesh that he uses to make the exhaust pipes and grilles for his models.

He really loves finding wooden pallets to reuse.

“They’re made of oak, hickory and other hardwoods,” he said. “Gorgeous wood.”

He slices boards into 22-inch pieces and planes them smooth. Then he secures them on the plate of the CNC machine, ready for cutting.

Before the machine’s router blade comes down, Williams draws out his pattern on the computer — maybe the shape of a fender or a side-view of a Cat track, for instance.

“I tell the computer what bit to use and how deep to cut,” he said. “Then the computer runs the saw.”

For some projects, such as alien heads he made for the recent UFO festival, or cutting boards he’s designed for wineries, the trip through the CNC machine may represent the final cut. All he has left is the finishing work.

But for other things, such as parts of vehicles, the CNC router merely sketches out a pattern. He moves the piece to a band saw to cut out the final shape.

He may use a drill and a Dremel tool, as well, for fine details. Then he sands each piece.

With country music playing in the background, Williams assembles the pieces into a 3-D model.

He gives the whole thing a coat of clear lacquer to protect the wood and bring out the grain. He adds a few final details, such as the metal pipes or grilles, tiny barrels or fuel takes he’s made on a lathe, logs or other cargo, and the model is ready for display.

Each one is different, even if he has cut duplicates of the parts, since each piece is hand finished and assembled separately. Williams said he likes that. He prefers a unique look, so you know it didn’t come off an assembly line.

Williams is learning a lot about marketing and networking as he builds a business around his wooden model work.

He recently approached several wineries about his 100 percent “green” cutting boards, which he can customize with business logos or vineyard images. He’s hoping to get pieces into Made in Oregon stores, as well.

He’s also expanding his range of vehicles. So far he’s made both old-fashioned and modern garbage trucks, a dump truck with a lifting bed, a track hoe, a vintage fire truck and other equipment, plus various cars and trucks, including a Ford Bronco.

“It looks real, doesn’t it?” he asked, showing off the Bronco.

He pointed out some of the fine front-end details. “Getting that grille exact took me forever!” he exclaimed.

He starts by finding pictures of the real vehicles and figuring out the dimensions — the relative width of the tracks compared to the cab and bucket of a backhoe, for instance. And he works out how to create a model with a small number of pieces, but with enough realistic detail on the exterior to be pleasing to the eye.

“When I get something right, I’m jumping up and down. I can’t wait to show it,” he said.

A fairly simple vehicle may take four hours to complete. For something more complex, such as a track hoe, he may spend 12 to 16 hours in the workshop.

“I really like to make the first one” of each type, he said. “That’s the most challenging. I have to think every little thing through.”

The first in a series usually has some mistakes, he said; the second is perfect. But the first is always his favorite, for sentimental reasons.

He’s also learning to part with his creations. “I was really attached to the first few I made,” he said, “but I have to get past that.”

It’s easier to say goodbye when he knows they’re being purchased by people who really appreciate his work, he said.

Williams can be reached at 503-843-3218 or

Starla Pointer, who is convinced everyone has an interesting story to tell, has been writing the weekly “Stopping By” column since 1996. She’s always looking for suggestions. Contact her at 503-687-1263 or

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