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Hagerstown man carves his niche out of wood

August 26, 2008|By JANET HEIM

HAGERSTOWN -- As you drive past Bill Cianelli's Redwood Drive home in Hagerstown, it's not hard to figure out what he does in his spare time. The lighted miniature wooden houses in his yard are products of a retirement hobby that started after he put the finishing touches on a sunroom in the back of his home.

He started with a ShopSmith, a combination saw/lathe/drill press/jigsaw/band saw, then gradually bought the tools individually as he used them more.

Cianelli, 73, retired as manager of the Social Security office in Staunton, Va., in 1994, after 38 years of federal service. The Washington County native graduated from Hagerstown High School in 1953.

Wooden napkin rings were Cianelli's first project. After three trees in his front yard were cut down, he built miniature houses to decorate the stumps, then electrified them so they would light up at night.

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Cianelli even used some of the smaller limbs from the trees to make a miniature log cabin.

"I don't have any patterns. They come out of my head," he said.

From a southern plantation house made for his wife, Jenni, to honor her Virginia roots to Victorians to bird houses, Cianelli's designs run from elaborate to simple, but all are filled with detail.

The couple met during their junior year of high school after Jenni's family moved here from Front Royal, Va. They got married in 1955, then Bill joined the U.S. Marine Corps. After he finished his service, they both earned undergraduate degrees from Shepherd College (now Shepherd University) - Bill in business administration/economics with a minor in marketing/advertising, and Jenni in education.

Jenni Cianelli also got a master's degree in education from Shippensburg (Pa.) University. She taught elementary school in Washington County Public Schools for about 33 years.

They moved to Hagerstown in 1967.

The couple has two sons and one granddaughter.

"When I make things, I make them in threes," Cianelli said.

He said people have asked if they can buy his creations, but he prefers to make his houses for his family, not for profit.

Some of his other creations include a computer desk and a microwave/TV cart for Jenni, a wooden bench and three gliders.

"If I just say what I want, he can pretty much make it," Jenni Cianelli said.

His current project is rehabilitating one of the houses from the front yard, which he said takes longer than building a new house. After eight to 10 years outside, the weather takes a toll and they need to be rebuilt, he said.

Cianelli has used his woodworking skills to fix up some rental properties he owns, as well as to help a neighbor put a deck on his house. He also helps three or four older neighbors with mowing, trimming and plumbing projects, and cooks breakfast and gives a neighbor his medicine daily.

He also likes to help his sons, who live in Roanoke, Va., and Hedgesville, W.Va., with projects.

Cianelli is a member of the Funkstown Lions Club, attends Maranatha Brethren Church and used to lead services at the Union Rescue Mission quarterly.

"Really, I always have something to do," Cianelli said.

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