Greg Gianas – The Veteran Woodworker

Greg Gianas - The Veteran Woodworker

Greg Gianas

War Veteran, teacher, and writer Greg Gianas never thought his life would involve woodworking of any kind; in fact, he despised woodwork shop when he was in grade school. Now, Greg is a woodworker with the skills and ability to take a fallen log and turn it into something beautiful.

In his early teens, Greg Gianas knew he wanted to care for people. His hope was to become a medical missionary, similar to Dr. Tom Dooley who served as a Navy Doctor in Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Dr. Dooley’s inspiring humanitarian efforts led Greg to enlist as a Special Forces Medic in the US Army. It was the late 1960s, and Greg’s ambitions had sent him far from home, to the East, and the Vietnam War.

The Army’s need was not for medics at the time, instead Greg was sent to Artillery Officer Candidate School and then on to Vietnam where he became an Artillery Forward Observer with paratrooper infantry soldiers from the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. Greg said it was the best experience of his life, “because admirable people depended on me, and we served honourably.”

Greg returned to the USA and finished his college degree at St. John College in Annapolis, Maryland and George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and completed a Master’s degree in literature at Arizona State University. Greg then taught writing, literature, humanities and psychology at various colleges, universities, and prisons, as well as working as a newspaper and magazine reporter in Arizona, Washington, D.C., Maryland, California, and Washington.

With his two daughters out on their own, in 1998 Greg revisited the country where he once fought, Vietnam, and lived in Hanoi, Hue, and Saigon. There, he helped to rebuild places he destroyed, provide medical care for families in villages where he fought, and fund education scholarships for orphans, all of which he said was a very “healing experience.”

Woodworker, Greg Gianas made this Natural Edge Blessing Bowl.

Madrona Natural Edge Blessing Bowl

When Greg went back to the USA, he was approached by a major publication and was hired to write a series of articles about his return to Vietnam. Then, only one year after his return, Greg suffered six heart attacks and underwent major surgery, in addition to 18 angioplasties.

Due to his bout of ill health, Greg was concerned for his future, so he asked his wife Ann, what heirlooms she wanted him to make. Much to his dismay, she said she wanted bowls and plates made out of wood! Nothing had changed since his loathed years of woodworking shop in grade school, yet Greg set to it and started turning.

Woodworker Greg Gianas made this stunning bowl of Spalted Birch cut with his Peterson Sawmill.

The stunning grain of Spalted Birch

Access to wood wasn’t a problem, as local arborists were discarding thousands of dollars of hardwood daily, and paying landfills to dump it! So Greg offered to take wood off their hands. Now they gladly donate their maple, black locust, apple, oak, fir, madrona, walnut, cherry, and birch trees to this veteran woodworker.

In the early part of his new hobby, Greg was using an Alaskan chainsaw mill to make dimensional lumber, to ensure that all the logs he was given were not wasted. “I used to not be able to sleep, thinking that so many good trees were being buried in the city dump,” he said.

He was collecting so many trees that he needed a faster and more efficient way of milling lumber. Greg visited people who owned many different brands of portable sawmills before he found the one he wanted, and when he did, he knew straight away. “One look at the Peterson indicated that it was built better than the others”, Greg said.

A Peterson Sawmill being demonstrated.

A Peterson WPF being demonstrated by Daron Kereama in New Zealand

Peterson Portable Sawmills have been a major player in the portable sawmill industry for the last 10 years with a total history spanning 30 years. Being the original inventors of the commercial swingblade portable sawmill, Petersons are known worldwide as being innovators in their field and they give a lot of credit to their customers for that.

“We really listen to our customers,” said Mill Specialist and Designer Chris Browne. “Each miller has their own requirements, which is why we custom build our mills to suit the buyer’s needs”.

Greg Gianas can attest to Peterson’s value of customer feedback. “The support staff don’t make me feel stupid when I ask questions or ask for help. I’ve communicated with several of the staff, who all had the same characteristics; honesty, humility, detail oriented, and open to other people’s thoughts and opinions.”

The Peterson Sawmill at home between Woodworker Greg Gianas' house & his neighbours.

The WPF between Greg and his neighbour’s homes

Greg now owns a Peterson 8” 24hp Winch Production Frame (WPF) sawmill and runs it at his suburban property in a nine-foot wide space between his neighbour’s house and Greg’s storage shed. “People in my neighbourhood see the Peterson mill and think it’s a rig for a hot air balloon and ask me if they can go for a ride, seriously!”

The WPF comes standard with a Lo/Lo track set-up, meaning the logs are loaded over the top of the track.

When WPF owners upgrade to Hi/Lo tracks, they have the same ability, but they are also able to load logs under a raised track that is ideal for fixed site milling. Never one to follow the crowd though, Greg loads his logs through one end of the mill using log arches and a portable winch – he has to – he has no room either side!

Greg Gianas's wood storage shed.

Greg’s Wood Barn (and cat!)

The carriage of the WPF can be raised or lowered using one manual winch, or with the touch of a button as Greg does with his optional Electric Winch. “I like the mill because I can take it anywhere I want, and do all of the work myself. Having the electric winch saves a lot of unneeded walking, which is a concern because of a bad leg.”

Being in such close proximity to his neighbours, one would think he would have people complaining about the 24hp petrol mill but Greg says, “I give my neighbours bowls and firewood and only cut when they’re not home, so they’re glad I have the mill.”

With the 8” blade’s ability to easily double cut to a 16” wide board, Greg can cut the large pieces he needs for turning his plates and bowls. Having the versatility to cut almost any dimension he wants, Greg has recently built two decks and roofs from lumber cut with his mill, while getting ready to make tables for commercial use and flooring for his home.

Maple Bowl made by Greg Gianas.

Beautiful Figured Maple Bowl

When asked if he was happy with his experience with the New Zealand based company, woodworker Greg stated, “The only thing I’m disappointed about, is that everyone who doesn’t want to waste trees, doesn’t have a Peterson mill.”

Greg’s business ‘Sacred Woods’ is based in Redmond, WA, and all profits from the sale of his handmade bowls (pictured throughout article), boxes, lamps and tables go toward providing vocational tools for war victims in Vietnam and American veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

2 comments shared

  1. Lori West says:

    Wow! Greg! ! I never saw this article! Your work is amazing! Where can I order a bowl? I’ll look at the rest of article and hopefully you are still making them! I never heard you mention this work you do! You get more amazing every day! And your wife must be the steam in your engine!!! ??

    I love you brother!

    • Liam Dijk says:

      Hi Lori, Greg is an amazing man with many talents that’s for sure. He has sold his Peterson sawmill since this article was made but i’m sure if you got in touch with him, he may still be woodworking? Good luck, Liam.

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