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Woodwork of art: Fargo man creates intricate pieces with a scroll saw and plywood

Don Nettum uses a storage closet in his apartment as his woodworking shop where he uses his scroll saw to intricately cut designs into wood. Dave Wallis / The Forum2 / 5
A Ferris Wheel spins around through the addition of a small motor placed on Don Nettum's creation. Dave Wallis / The Forum3 / 5
Don Nettum applies a paper pattern to thin pieces of wood before using his scroll saw to cut out the design. For each opening in the wood, he must first drill a hole and then remove the thin saw blade from the saw so it can be threaded through the wood and then reattached to the saw to make the cut. Dave Wallis / The Forum4 / 5
Don Nettum used a scroll saw to cut The Lord’s Prayer out of wood. Dave Wallis / The Forum5 / 5

FARGO—In Don Nettum's south Fargo apartment, a plywood Ferris wheel, carved with the intricate detail of delicate lace, spins on a shelf.

Nettum has worked with wood for most of his life. His wife bought him his first woodworking machine for Christmas one of the first years they were married.

The now 85-year-old used to sell lumber in Fargo, and he built a lot of furniture for his family.

But over the past 20 years or so, his woodworking has become more intricate.

Using a scroll saw, Nettum turns plywood into beautifully detailed works of art.

He started out making wall hangings of The Lord's Prayer and has since made one for each of his 21 grandchildren.

To make the pieces, he cuts a hole into the wood and cuts out the letters. He had to cut more than 400 holes into each of The Lord's Prayer carvings. Each carving took him about 40 hours to complete. And if he made a mistake at the end of the project, he would have to start all over.

"He's kind of a perfectionist," said his wife of more than 60 years, Julaine.

The Nettums live in Fargo part of the year and on Round Lake, Minn., in the summer.

Don does his woodworking in a large storage closet in their apartment, where he spends hours working on his pieces.

"He loves it," Julaine said. "I jokingly tell him he comes out of the closet once in a while to have coffee with me."

Don Nettum created this cathedral clock. Dave Wallis / The ForumDon has also made elaborate urns, decorative shelves and a clock set into a cathedral, complete with doors that open and close.

The cathedral took Don all of last winter to complete. The pattern for the project said if he could complete it, he would be considered a master scroller.

Not only did he complete it but instead of leaving the back side flat, as the pattern instructed, he built it out so the back is as detailed as the front.

"I was rather amazed," Julaine said of seeing the finished cathedral.

She helps her husband with sanding and offers suggestions on his pieces. She loves all of his pieces, but said the cathedral, ferris wheel and The Lord's Prayer carvings are her favorites.

Don, who served in the Navy Reserve, Army and Central Intelligence Agency, also has wood carvings he made commemorating each of those services hanging on his wall.

He is currently working on a carousel. When he's finished, the animals will move up and down and around the piece.

Despite the intricate detail, Don said he feels relaxed when he works.

"I've got to be doing something," he said. "I can't just sit."

Don Nettum’s wall art includes wooden emblems of the three branches of his military experience. Dave Wallis / The ForumLooking at his finished pieces, he said, gives him a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction.

He took some of his pieces to woodcarvers show in Fargo in April where he said they were well-received.

"There was lots of interest," Julaine said. "They all stopped and couldn't believe how intricate it was."

Tracy Frank

Tracy Frank is a SheSays, Variety, and Farmer's Forum reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to

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