Francis Wells has been making wooden animal banks, jewelry boxes, Christmas ornaments and other items since his early 20s, and he shows no signs of slowing down now, in his retirement years.

Francis Wells has been making wooden animal banks, jewelry boxes, Christmas ornaments and other items since his early 20s, and he shows no signs of slowing down now, in his retirement years.

Among his favorites are animal banks and Christmas ornaments. “They are the big things people give me orders for,” he said.

“I make a lot of Christmas ornaments and give a lot away,” Wells said. “I have 200 different designs - crosses, birds, nativity scenes and Christmas scenes.

“I like to give crosses to patients in the hospital and nursing homes.” He makes them with a scroll saw.

“For the banks, I have made a lot of different designs,” he continued. “I am making a whale now for a couple. And I have made roosters, owls and football helmets.”

He no longer goes to shows, he said, “but a few years ago I was in craft shows, and the banks were good sellers.”

Some of his animal banks and other woodworks were donated for the Hannibal Nutrition Center’s auction on Feb. 8.

His jewelry box with a penny in the bottom showing the year it was made was said to be the most popular item in the “blind” auction.

The idea of putting a penny in each piece to show the year it was made came from a show he attended in Illinois. “I used to go to the Illinois St. Louis Woodworks Show,” Wells said. “A man demonstrated making things, and it was his suggestion to put a penny with the year he made it.”

Wells does this with jewelry boxes, banks, bowls and baskets. He joked, “when I put a penny in it, it will always be worth something.’

Animal banks and bowls were also donated for the Nutrition Center’s silent auction. His favorite banks are the owl and a ball helmet.

One unique vehicle he donated for the auction was a front-end loader, and now Wells is planning another new vehicle. “I’m kickin’ around a ready-mix cement truck. I’m thinking about getting that pattern.”

Wells, a retired postal clerk, and his wife, Marie, live on West Ely Road, where his workshop is in the basement.

Although he has been doing woodworking since his 20s, he explained he had no training. He is self-taught, “through trial and error.”

His patterns come from magazines, he said. “I take several woodworking magazines.”

An earlier item he made for children was Gaylord the dog with wheels for feet, which was popular in days gone by.

Wells buys his wood locally, explaining, “walnut is my favorite, and I use quite a bit of oak. Right now I have some cherry.”

He finishes them with varnish or spray lacquer and said, “I think the varnish is a little tougher than lacquer.”


Made special

items for HLGU


Wells has made special items – both large and small - for Hannibal-LaGrange University, explaining, “Some of my proudest work is the (ceremonial) mace they carry at the college.” It is used at occasions such as graduation.

“And I made a prayer bench and a ‘cross’ podium they stand behind. … I felt honored to be asked to make things for them.”

A typical day in Wells’ life includes other activities, he reported. “I go to coffee with a group and have western movies I watch around noon.

“And in the afternoon I spend four to five hours every day (in his workshop). … I could go down and spend all day.”

He has a young fan, his 7-year-old grandson, Thad, whose family lives in Edwardsville, Ill.

Whenever he visits, Wells said, “I have to take him down and cut out something on the scroll saw.

“This is a little saw with a little blade. It uses 5-inch blades.”

As Thad grows older, Wells plans to pass along his woodworking skills.

Although he has probably made more Christmas ornaments than anything else, Wells also makes large pieces of furniture.

Among his favorites are coat racks decorated with mallard ducks.

He has made china cabinets for his son, Chris, and daughter, Jeana.

Some of his larger pieces are in his home. “I made our coffee table and end tables,” he said.

“And for my wife, I made a walnut china cabinet. I made one, and she wanted a smaller one, so I made her an oak one. They are two of her favorite things, and her jewelry box.”

Wells has no plans to “retire” from his woodshop, because he enjoys his hobby.

A fellow woodworker once told him, “I try to keep busy all year, and if I make enough to buy another piece of wood, I’m happy.” Wells agrees.