Alex Lewis’ hands are instrumental in his line of work. As a rookie who has shifted between starting at left guard and left tackle for the Ravens, Lewis uses his hands to stop defensive linemen and linebackers to open lanes for running back Terrance West or set up a pocket for quarterback Joe Flacco.
Those same hands have been used for a different purpose: turning cords of wood into bed frames, bottle opener catches and cutting boards.
On game days, Lewis – a fourth-round draft pick by the Ravens this year – is a 6-foot-6, 315-pound behemoth who wants to mash his opponents into submission. On off days and some nights, he is an avid woodworker who operates in a shop he set up in the garage of his home near the team’s training facility in Owings Mills.
“I enjoy it,” Lewis said. “I just like being outside and being in the shop with my (two rescue) dogs, and sitting down and going to work.”
In his workshop, Lewis has several varieties of saw, a steel sawhorse and a workbench. There’s fishing and boating equipment hanging on the walls, but on Tuesday, Lewis devoted his time to making a Murphy cabinet for an empty wall.
Lewis, who took about four hours to finish the cabinet, equated building a wood product to playing offensive line.
“I like precision, and being an offensive lineman, everything is about technique and fundamentals,” he said.
Few teammates and coaches know about Lewis’ off-field hobby. Coach John Harbaugh expressed surprise when informed of it.
Guard John Urschel, Lewis’ mentor on the team, said he got a hint of the rookie’s mechanical skills when he visited his home recently and found him swapping out parts for his truck.
“He likes to do things with his hands,” Urschel said. “It’s good to have something outside of football that you can do that just takes your mind away from it.”
Lewis’ passion for woodworking can be traced to several members of his family. His paternal grandfather, Terry Lewis, worked in the construction business, and his maternal grandfather, Walt Broer, is a contractor. Both men, who worked frequently with wood, took Lewis to job sites to get a taste of what they did during his adolescent years.
Others also helped fuel Lewis’ artistic ability. His mother, Kimberly, founded the Phoenix Suns’ dance team, and his uncle, Kurt Broer, owns a steel mill. But Alex Lewis credits his grandfathers for his passion.
“Both of my grandfathers were huge into woodworking and with them being contractors, growing up it just rubbed off on me,” he said.
Terry Lewis, who died last year, built a nightstand/drawer set for his then-8-year-old grandson that has withstood time and multiple moves, from Arizona to the University of Colorado to the University of Nebraska to Maryland. He also carved wooden pens that Alex Lewis still has at his home.
Walt Broer – who lives in Lincoln, Neb., with his wife Joy, an interior designer – said his grandson’s artistic talent surfaced at an early age.
“There were indications because he always liked to draw,” Broer said, noting that Alex Lewis took apart a broken-down motorcycle several years ago and reassembled it so that it ran again. “He did a lot with paint. We have several of his paintings that I would call collector’s items. He’s very artistically talented, and his sister (Taylor) also. His mom has a dance studio. So he’s been around the arts for a while.”
Kimberly Lewis recalled that her son was named the top overall artist in middle school. She said she still keeps her son’s artwork on her wall and keeps several of his woodworking pieces.
Kimberly Lewis said people who assume that Alex thinks, eats and sleeps football are startled to hear about her son’s artistic background.
“He didn’t play football until he was older,” she said. “He trained in dance. He’d go to art shows, he was around the theater. Yeah, I think they’re very surprised, but that’s what makes him who he is. He’s dedicated and has such a passion for the game of football and is so focused at it. But he also has a side of him that is very involved in the arts. He loves going to concerts, he loves going to art shows, has gone to a lot of different art exhibits. He’s just well-rounded as a human being.”
Alex Lewis said he is working on a wooden bed frame for his home, and a few pieces for his wall. He has visited area stores to collect unused pieces of wood and bring them back to his shop, which houses a variety of saws and other tools.
Lewis said one of the biggest pitfalls about woodworking is giving in to frustration.
“When you rush a project and take a corner off or it’s not aligned properly or you didn’t sand an edge or cut it just right so that it’s off by an eighth of an inch, that can throw off the whole balance of a piece,” he said. “I’m still a young guy, so I still make mistakes. You try to be a perfectionist.”
Lewis’ use of sharp objects might raise eyebrows with the Ravens, but his mother said her son has always been diligent about safety.
The football season has cut down on Lewis’ opportunities to work in his shop at home. But he said he tries to spend as much as time as he can in the shop because it’s an escape from his daily responsibilities.
“Working with wood and steel is really therapeutic,” he said. “Steel, it’s a little more forgiving, believe it or not, than it is with wood. Steel, you can bend all different types of ways. Steel is a lot of fun to work with. It’s very therapeutic because what you see in your head, you can make. With wood, it’s less malleable. But it does help my nerves. It calms me down.”
Lewis, who usually works during the daylight hours so that the noise from his power tools doesn’t disturb his neighbors, said he has been inspired by pieces he has seen on Pinterest, and hopes to one day run his own woodworking blog.
“I want to teach people and show them what they can do with wood,” he said. “And it just shows that NFL players are more than just athletes. And a lot of people, when they hear woodworking, they think, ‘Oh, furniture.’ But there’s a lot more to it. It helps you appreciate what’s around you.”
Lewis said he can envision himself becoming a carpenter after his NFL career has ended. He already knows that working a 9-to-5 job is not for him.
“I don’t see myself sitting in an office in a suit and tie,” Lewis said. “I see myself in jeans and a flannel.”