A lifelong woodworker, I began with a boatbuilding apprenticeship in the East of England which I completed just in time to see almost the whole wooden boat industry swept away with the introduction of fiberglass hulls. Fiberglass is a wonderful material so far as durability and strength is concerned but I found it a disagreeable material to work with. Toxic, smelly, and a strong skin irritant. Not my cup of tea.
Eventually I found my way to house restoration in Texas, where there are many houses from the Victorian architectural period. I began turning periodically during that time, mostly in self-defense. It was often necessary to reproduce turned elements in these houses … stair balusters, “gingerbread” decoration and the like … and in the late 70’s and early 80’s woodturning had not yet enjoyed the revival we see today, so it was not easy to find people willing to take on such tasks.
I moved to Colorado in the early 90’s and switched to building energy efficient houses and also furniture, turning only occasionally but always enjoying it enormously. Upon moving to our present location in the mountains I returned to turning regularly.
My approach is fairly simple in many ways … I use wood that I manage to find locally almost exclusively. It’s true there are many beautiful woods available from all over the world – there is a big industry devoted to importing them – but I prefer to work with wood I harvest myself both because it gives me more control over the process and also because the wood often comes with a story attached …
The hundred year old apricot tree that provided picnic shade and taught two or three generations of kids to climb … finally blown over by a freak wind gust. A sad event, but one which gives a chance for the wood to live on, inside the home now, as a favorite container for mashed potatoes or whatever.
It becomes personal very quickly, a valued aspect of the work that would be absent with wood from who-knows-where and harvested under unknown conditions.
I hope to create a series of articles here on the this site showing how this work is done. The first installment of a simple bowl can be found under “process” in the menu. You may find it interesting, or not so interesting – either way I hope you do enjoy the work itself. My personal style is to keep the pieces visually fairly simple, especially for the utility wares, I rarely use complex decorative elements.
This is a personal choice that both simplifies and yet complicates the process. Simple forms are more difficult to achieve successfully – there is no frippery to hide behind.
It’s all been done before too, by woodworkers and potters over thousands of years … it’s next to impossible to “invent” a new form … so the task is to create work that looks comfortable in its own skin, work that wants to be picked up and handled, to be enjoyed, to be used.
Simple enough in principle, but in practice, well, let’s just say it’s a good thing we heat the house with a woodstove.