'Tree' surgeon

By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal

When Terry Pinson was a high school senior in Hattiesburg, he envied the wood carvings some of the boys in his class were making.
“Back then, everyone rode the bus and all the cool guys had the things they made in shop,” said Pinson, a general surgeon at North Mississippi Medical Center. “I’d go home and look stuff up and try to duplicate it myself.”
Pinson got so good at his craft that by the time he was in college at the University of Southern Mississippi, he had the opportunity to represent Hattiesburg and Mississippi in woodcarving at the 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans.
Wooden decoys were popular then and a lot of what he made, he sold to help pay college expenses.
“I probably have only 10 to 15 percent of the carvings I’ve ever made left,” said Pinson. “I either sold them or gave them away.”
Woodcarving soon gave way to woodworking and Pinson’s Tupelo home is a testament to that. Almost every door in the home has his name written all over it.
“I like to mix different woods,” he said. “The front door is white oak trimmed out in black walnut. Hinged doors going into my 3-year-old’s room are black walnut trimmed in black cherry. I love using black walnut, but I like using a combination of things. I like different woods for their different properties.”
The house where he and his wife, Sondra, live was built in the late 1960s. Somewhere around 2000, they practically gutted the interior of the house and started over.
“We pretty much tore it down, cut the middle of the house out, took some brick out,” he said.
Now, the two-story house gleams with Pinson’s handiwork, including polished wood paneling, doors, furniture – even the staircase.
“I put cypress beams on the staircase and did the rails and spindles in black walnut,” Pinson said. “I didn’t make the stair treads, which are birch.”
He gathers his wood from a variety of sources. Some comes from cabinet makers and some he orders online. Friends give him pieces they think he might be interested in. Sometimes, he just finds a piece himself.
Pinson turns some of these pieces into animal woodcarvings, such as lions, squirrels, birds, weasels, frogs, horses – even a USM eagle.
“I call it twiddling,” he said. “I can’t tell you how long a piece takes to make. We work tremendously long hours at the hospital – all the surgeons do – so the time I have to work on wood projects is hit or miss. Some pieces take hundreds of hours to make.”
A way to relax
Pinson has also made a lot of the tables and cabinets in the house.
A coffee table in the family room is made of cherry and black walnut and has what he calls “bread boards” at either end – a device woodworkers use that allows wood to move during different times of the year without cracking.
“The kids have beat on it and jumped on it and it can take it,” he said of his sons, Luke and Evan. “That’s what it was made for.”
He’s also handcrafted a long dining room table, a train table for the kids, a sofa table in the living room and storage cabinets in various bedrooms and bathrooms.
He also enjoys crafting handmade wooden boxes, using different woods and deer horns for intricate inlays and dove-tailing, to give as gifts.
“The boxes are a lot of fun to make and people seem to appreciate them,” he said.
Pinson demonstrated some of his woodworking skills in a shop adjacent to the house. There’s a carving bench and drawers of knives and chisels along with a Japanese backsaw, a table saw, a router, a joiner, a compound miter saw, a circular saw, a portable bandsaw and various clamps and drills.
“I don’t have a lathe,” he said. “At least, not yet.”
Pinson said working with wood is a way for him to relax after a grueling day of surgery.
“Sometimes, I just need to go to the shop,” he said.
Pinson said sometimes having a surgeon’s eye helps him in his woodcarving.
“I look at some pieces and I can tell you every fault in every one of them,” he said. “At some point, you’ve just got to stop. It’s the same way in surgery. As a surgeon, we’re visual people – we see things. Maybe that makes it a little bit easier to stop working on a piece when it’s finished.”
ginna.parsons@journalinc.com