Woodworker displays life-size troops on lawn
By Dave Thompson - The Associated Press
Posted : Wednesday Nov 7, 2007 6:11:47 EST

LYNCHBURG, Va. — Phillip Smoot flies a Marine Corps flag from the deck of his Campbell County house. A former Marine, he has hobbies he now has the time to indulge. Old cars and gardening with his wife Shirley near the top of his list. But what sets Smoot apart is another hobby: woodworking. Furthermore, how he carves and what he carves differ from the usual.

He doesn’t carve with knives and chisels. Rather, his tools of choice are jigsaws and detail saws, sandpaper and paint, as he cranks out life-sized cutouts to display on his lawn.

His latest eye-catchers? U.S. servicemen representing the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. Smoot said he has not done a cutout yet for the Coast Guard.

“The people come by, and they just stop their cars and look,” Smoot said. “Sometimes they get out in the driveway and come over and look, which I like.”

His respect for the military, and a desire to honor his country’s servicemen and women, motivated Smoot to take a departure from his usual holiday decorations.

“I got to thinking about, you know, the situation the world’s in,” said Smoot, “and I felt like with Veterans Day coming up that it would be appropriate to do something out there that would inspire people to come by and see it.”

The figures stand nearly 6 feet tall, and feature full-color uniforms and a flag representing the service to which each one belongs. The flags, 2-feet-by-3-feet each, had to be specially ordered off the Internet.

Smoot drew the inspiration for his first military cutout from the famous picture of Marines raising the U.S. flag on the island of Iwo Jima during World War II.

His wife said she thought her husband was only going to make the one, “but we kept on going and we made them all.”

“I wanted to get the rest of the services in, too,” her husband said, “so I went ahead and I did those other three.”

His second military creation took the form of a soldier praying over the grave of a fallen friend. It was inspired by a similar figure displayed at Lynchburg’s Marine Corps League on Lakeside Drive.

A lifelong Lynchburg-area resident, Smoot worked for 22 years in the city’s Inspections Department. His wife taught in Lynchburg City Schools, after moving to the area from North Carolina.

There was little time to work on their projects before they retired, in 2003.

“When I was working, of course I could only work on it piecemeal,” he said. But in the years since retirement, the Smoots have kicked into high gear, dedicating one of their sheds to nothing but the cutouts.

“We get out here where nobody can bother us, and we just saw up a storm,” said his wife.

The process of creating just one figure, Smoot said, takes anywhere from two weeks to a month.

The creation process takes even longer because of all the different colors of paint he uses.

The sawing process, he said, takes several days, but is nothing compared with the later work.

The sanding, Smoot said, consumes quite a bit of time. More patience is required for the painting.

“I put the first coat on, which is the primer coat,” he said. “Then that sits for several days, then I put another coat on, then I put another coat on, then another coat, then another coat. It’s a real slow process, painting.”

The Smoots got their start with holiday decorations. Christmas, they said, is their favorite.

For Phillip Smoot, all he needs to keep cranking out his carvings is the admiration of friends and passersby.

“I have had comments on my various displays out here, and that’s what I strive for,” he said. “I’ve never had a negative report. A lot of them want me to make them similar things.”

Though he can’t make everything requested by admirers, Smoot extended his gratitude for all the compliments he receives.

“In people coming by and noticing it, and stopping, slowing down and looking at it, I appreciate things like that.”

Overall, though, the reason he makes the decorations is simply because he likes to.

“It’s for my own satisfaction,” he said.