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Clarkfield man at home in his workshop

In Janus Waller’s own words he is not a whittler, he isn’t a wood worker, and he is not a carver; however, he is a crafter. “I used to be a contractor and a woodworker, but since I retired at age 64, I consider myself a crafter,” said the 88-year-old Waller.

“I have always liked building and making things, but I prefer to do smaller things now. I have done my share of big buildings and large projects, but now I like the little things I can hold in my hands and give attention to the small details. I did build my workshop five years before I retired just to have some place to putz around in,” said Waller. “I spend a lot of time here in my shop since I lost my wonderful wife, Betty, two and a half years ago. She helped me like crazy all through my working years; she was the perfect partner for 60 years.

I met her when I was going to Dunwoody Industrial School, that is where I study building. She was enrolled in a women’s college. There were five of us guys living together in a house, and we decided we were going on a picnic but needed some girls to keep us company and of course bring some food. I drove a black Plymouth coupe. When we asked the girls to go, Betty said if she was going she was going to go with a guy who drove a black car and that was the beginning. We went to Lake Harriet for a picnic. The girls made a pretty good lunch too.

For 42 years we lived in the metro area, but I really didn’t like all the Minneapolis traffic all the time. When we lived there I worked for 14 months on the metro airport. The building we were putting up was so tall we had to have material dropped in with helicopters, that was quite an experience. It was a good feeling to see it completed. When we moved to this area, rural Clarkfield, another guy and I got a dealership and began putting up Chief steel bins. We did that for 20 some years. We got to be pretty fast at it. One summer we put up over 40 bins; we did a lot of big bins around Hazel Run. It was kind of fun. We would come on a place, and two or three days later we would be done and move onto the next one. It was satisfying work. We had a good crew, and we all worked hard,” said Waller.


Janus Waller, age 88, used to build big buildings. Now he is content making smaller wooden items from his shop in rural Clarkfield. Photo by Ida Kesteloot

Now Waller’s days are spent in his workshop surrounded by the smell of sawdust and the tools he loves, some of which he built himself, including the homemade sander and band plainer. Every piece he makes may have several types of wood in it since he uses 13 different kinds of wood for his projects. Walnut is one of his favorites, along with maple, oak, birch, cedar, pine, mahogany and ash just to name some.

“I love everything about working with wood and have done it so long but guess I must be good at it. I still have all my fingers, although I do still have a scar from the one time the saw split one,” said Waller.

The home he shares with his son, James and his wife, is a show place for the many classic pieces of furniture and wall hangings, which includes the Waller family shield.

“When I started making toys I decided to imbed a penny in each piece with the year I made it. My daughter-in-law knows someone she can get new pennies from. So whatever year the piece was made, it will display a penny made that same year. I don’t do as many toys now, but kids and grownups all like them, especially the toy train. When I take the train along to craft shows, they just can’t keep their hands off it, just something about it. Now I make a lot of jewelry and memento boxes and quite a few cremation boxes too. Cremation seems to be gaining in popularity, and people want a nice box for the ashes. I put a penny in everything I make. They start as pretty plain boxes but are covered with wood in-lays when I get done. They are full of detail. I leave all the wood in its natural color, that is just part of the beauty of each piece. Each kind of wood adds to the design of the piece. Each box gets coats of lacquer to finish it. I give them three coats on top and front and two coats on the rest. The lacquer protects the wood and brings out the color and grain; it really makes a nice finish, with all natural colors.

I take my pieces to craft shows all over. Watertown is one of my favorites. It can take two and a half days to get everything packed up and loaded, but it is a lot of fun. I keep quite a few boxes on hand because once in awhile someone will pull into the yard, and they have driven for hours to get here, and they all want several boxes for wedding gifts or whatever. They look them all over and make their selections and fill up the trunk before they leave,” said Waller.

Waller does have a few other interests like music, dancing and playing the accordion. “I played the big accordion for years but as I aged it just got to be too heavy, so I kind of let it go. Then one day my son asked me why I had quit, and when I told him it was too hard to hold, he suggested I get a smaller one, so that is what I did. I practice almost every day. It helps keep my fingers limbered up. Just last week I went to play for the folks at the Clarkfield Care Center. Most of them look like they would like to jump up and start dancing. Their toes are tapping along to the music, and they are all smiles. It is lots of fun,” said Waller.

“For awhile I was afraid I might not be able to continue working with the wood or doing some of the other things I enjoy so much. I developed tennis elbow in both arms, and it was awful. I couldn’t work in the shop very long and had to be very careful when I did. It felt just awful. Now I do shake a little so have started doing less toys and more boxes but still enjoy all of it, and every piece has a penny in it. I just love the feel of the wood in my hands,” said Waller.

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