Joey Corrado is a renaissance man. He’s not the sort one might find attending local community theatre productions or pontificating at open mic night. Rather, he’s a unique breed of polymath who splits his time between saving lives and working in his studio to transform reclaimed wood into graceful furniture and kitchenware. In other words, he’s a craftsman in the mold of Ron Swanson.
As a member of St. Johns County Fire Rescue, Corrado’s days consist of emergency response preparation, marine drills, and medical training. When I met up with Corrado, he was just finishing up a course to qualify for his marine rescue specialist certification.
“It was a ropes class. So essentially I was learning ways to repel down the sides of buildings in an emergency situation,” Corrado explains. “After this, I’ll have the highest level of marine rescue certification that I can receive.”
I can’t help but pause in disbelief. One minute, he’s climbing out of windows to save lives, the next he’s whittling elegant bowls from chunks of raw wood. Like I said: renaissance man.
“It started when my brother Matt gave me a lathe two years ago for Christmas,” Corrado explains. “There has definitely been a learning curve. We are self taught, teaching each other, and learning from our mistakes.”
Corrado and his older brother Matt work together as Two Bros Woodturning, manipulating wood upcycled from fallen trees and debris using hand tools and a powerful lathe. The machine is reminiscent of a pottery wheel, working to rotate a centered piece of material so that cutting tools can be used to create a symmetrical form.
“Each of the bowls we make has a hidden history, we collect wood from all over the world, and a lot from St. Johns County,” Corrado said. “We have an eye for wood with a story. If it looks rough, it will probably make a beautiful bowl.”
Following Corrado through his brother’s home to their backyard, outdoor studio, we come across some of the fruits of the pair’s labor. Refined, polished forms scatter the family dining table, showcasing a spectrum of warm-colored woods. Picking up a piece adorned with undulating swirls of white and turquoise inside the base of the bowl. I run my hands against its smooth surface, surprised at the lightness of the form.
“That one has sand from Vilano beach mixed in with the resin,” Corrado explains with a smile. “We really respect the wood we turn. It comes with its own natural beauty that we just accentuate.”
Upon entering the Two Bros Woodturning studio, we’re met with a still heat and the organic scent of fresh cut wood. A fine layer of sawdust covers the surface of Corrado’s tools, settling atop a pile of cut tree stumps and branches resting in the corner of the room. It’s difficult to imagine that the artwork I was just holding in my hands emerged from the sort of detritus I was now seeing.
“I guess I’ll be good and put some safety goggles on,” Corrado says, approaching his lathe. “Watch out: there’s going to be some wood flying.”
With that, the machine jumps to life, spinning a chunk of material pieced together from glued slabs of a variety of woods. Corrado grips a metal chisel in his hand, touching it to the rotating surface, sending wood chips sailing into the air like sparks erupting from a sputtering firework. Bits of material are worked away, slowly revealing a circular form budding under the surface. It appears to be a painstaking process.
“Since both Matt and I are full time firefighters, we use this to be creative, and develop our skills,” Corrado said. “Our unit responds to marine emergency calls, so whether I’m at work or have time off, you can usually find me on the water. It’s nice to have something to do to slow things down.”
In the future, Corrado hopes to continue to pursue a balance between his high-intensity profession and his calming hobby breathing new life into discarded materials. For now, Two Bros Woodturning creations are available for purchase in St. Augustine at The Amp’s Tuesday Night Farmers Market.
“I was hooked after seeing the transformation of a fallen tree log turned into a piece of art,” Corrado said. “From this point, we’ll just keep doing what makes us happy and testing the limits.”