Why I Turn
I’ve now been turning for almost two decades. I love the creative process. I find it personally rewarding, relaxing and challenging.
Looking back, I think there were three main factors that led me to take up woodturning. The first was my reverence for wood, which has been part of me for as long as I can remember. The second was my respect for the skills of fine woodworkers, something I had admired from a distance for many years. Lastly, woodturning seemed accessible, something I could learn if I put in the time and practice.
Following early retirement, woodturning has helped me comfortably transition to a new stage of life. I sometimes say that I’ve moved “from the fast lane to the turning lane”. I’m grateful for this opportunity to slow down, do what I enjoy, indulge myself, and create woodturnings that give me and others pleasure.
Much of the enchantment of woodturning for me is connected to the process itself. I usually start with green wood that I’ve chain sawed and shaped from a log. Discovering what resides within a fallen tree and taking advantage of the unique grain and figure patterns is part of the creative process. It’s a voyage of discovery because I never fully know what will emerge inside until I begin working with the wood.
I then rough turn the wood blank on my lathe. Working with green wet wood feeds your senses. Most trees, for example, emit a distinct aroma that I love to smell. At this stage, long thin spiral shavings fly off the bevel of my tools as the wood spins on the lathe. The thin translucent shavings are momentarily suspended in air before they float to the floor and pile up around me. It takes good tool control to achieve this, but once this is mastered, the outcome is exhilarating and beautiful, and the work proceeds almost effortlessly.
Fairly quickly, a form that was in my mind’s eye begins to emerge. This is when I make important design decisions, as each piece of work is unique. I use my eyes and hands and high-speed steel tools to help make these decisions. The form is then hollowed and thinned to an appropriate thickness before it is stacked and air dried for many months in my shop. With my larger turnings, the drying process takes a full year. Then I will refine, thin and finish the work.
I find the whole process fascinating. Never bored, I’m always comfortably stretching myself, trying to improve my technique, or to learn something new. Listening to my favourite music as I turn is another bonus.
Woodturning also feels like a natural fit with who I am, and what I’ve experienced. I’ve always loved the look, feel and warmth of wood. Since childhood I’ve worked with wood whenever I had the opportunity. Being close to nature and trees is also something that has always fed my soul. Woodturning provides me another link to Mother Nature, another way of showing respect for our natural environment.
I’m also a product of the 1960s. My attachment to woodturning has something to do with values and interests that I acquired during that formative period of my life. My love of folklore and traditional crafts and my interest in being close to the land and living in cooperative, sharing ways are reflected in what I create and how I live my turning life.
Woodturning has gone through a dramatic evolution during the past few decades. From a craft reborn during the social and cultural upheaval of the 1960s, it is now a recognized art. There is a critical mass of turners who show their work, teach, share, meet at symposiums, participate in clubs, and make up a growing and evolving international woodturning community. Hobbyists and professionals, beginners and advanced turners are part of this community. It feels good to be part of it. It has taught me a lot and has introduced me to new people from many walks of life.