As ordered…

I’ve been working on what I’ve been calling “captive hollowforms” for want of a better description. A face-plate turned decorative/sculptural form which has hollow-vessel type voids which exit to the rear allowing for light to pass into, and out of, the form from behind.

The following picture is the first (succesfull!) of them, and is turned from a piece of Yew skin board. The Yew has a very sandy colour, which has always suggested the beach to me…hence the stone-skimming-on-the-sea suggestion and the shells embedded into the form.

I’m sorry the picture is not that good, but as it sold today and is on it’s way to Goa in the morning, I can’t re-take it.

I’ve moved on to much larger versions now, and there is a further element of surprise in the new versions…but that will have to wait for now.

enjoy…or not


War & Peace…part two

Prompted by comments from another Blogger, I agree that perhaps my stance requires some clarification in respect of the Retrograde Step post, and, perhaps, others. I will always be happy to expand on posts I make, as I am more aware than perhaps the reader is that they are often typed in haste, and whilst clear in my mind, they may not be as clear to the reader. So here goes…

Firstly, I am not proposing that we all step back in time and use old traditional tools to produce old traditional objects.  Far from it. It is true to say that I like old traditional tools, why wouldn’t I, they are often better made, better quality, and after many, many years of development are perfect for the job to hand. And that isn’t to say that traditional tools have no place in a modern workshop, and that they cannot be used in new and interesting ways. Imagine, for instance, the textures which could be applied to a piece with a curved spoke-shave, in-shave, or adze.  

And from a purely parsimonious standpoint, think of the saving in power bills if you can use hand tools over powered. In France there are now “red electricity” days in many regions, when the price of electricity goes up to a frightening level for that day, and many, many people choose now to use no electricity at all as a result. How long will it be before EDF (A French company, of course, and owner of the bulk of the UK electricity market) bring in a similar energy saving tariff here? And what do you do if this progresses to more than one day a week? Stop working altogether? A brace and bit might prove a boon under such circumstances.

But it is more than this, it’s about using old skills and techniques in a contemporary manner, and in a contemporary context. Hewing a log and using the beautiful hewn surface as the rim of a bowl for instance. You cannot effectively replicate the surface texture so achieved by any other means. And as a texture it’s a winner. I believe there will be a myriad of techniques and applications as yet not even considered, but without some exposure to the greenwood crafts, how are you to know what is out there to experiment with? When all is said and done, an expensive electric reciprocating carver is only a contemporary version of a traditional carving gouge for the bone idle.

Just this last week I saw some photographs of some contemporary woodturning which were something of a shock (I won’t name the turner, but then in all probability you wouldn’t know the name anyway). The pieces in question were turned multi-media pieces, and in their own way attractive enough, but nothing earth shattering. But what got me was the surface. Clearly a textured surface…of sorts, but to my mind the texture was the result of extremely poor tool use rather than a conscious effort to create a designed-in contrast. How can this rightfully be called “design”? Design is not haphazard, design is considered and applied.

A contrast can be seen in the work of any proficient pole lathe bowl turner’s work. The surface texture is random to a degree, certainly un-abraded, but the turner will use delicate tool control to ensure that the tool marks which remain are consistent in depth, separation, and form, and attractive, rather than simply what results from poor tool use. And the resulting texture is in itself, to my eye at least, one worthy of further experimentation in a contemporary context.

I am not the originator of this idea, I suspect it’s been around for several decades, and can be seen in many woodtured objects which have that skew-chisel-tip-achieved texture, itself attractive, but a poor second to the marks left by an accomplished pole turner.

And as for my poor plum bowl and spoon, what’s to be said…

They are a utility set, turned, carved, and intended for daily use, not for a high-end gallery market, and as a turner of wood I make no apology for making them or displaying them with a sense of pride. I do not believe that doing so is a retrograde step. Anybody who has seen my own work, either at the workshop or elsewhere, will know that most of what I do is, to quote a recent visitor, “a little out there”. And I do not think he meant the description kindly. In his eyes my work was valueless because it has moved away from the norm. And that’s fine, he has the right to his opinion. As do I.

A last comment should be made in respect of the following sentences from the post in question…

It’s simply clumsy and ugly to my eye, and has been the staple output of far too many turners for far too many years. And to my (PERSONAL!) view, has blighted craft events for a few decades to the wider detriment of woodturning as a whole.

I was remiss in writing this and allowing my intent to be so unclear.

The objects I find so distasteful are those which are poorly conceived and poorly turned. It is not the traditional which offends the eye, but the poor quality, and even here I would further qualify the statement to exclude the output of those new to the craft.

As much as any turner has the right to do what they will with what they make, they should also, if they care about their craft, feel some compulsion to better the lot of turning as a whole by working to achieve better quality work. The poorly designed and achieved reflects on the craft as a whole. If all you wish to turn are “traditional” objects, then why not do so with some care, and produce a carefully crafted object, designed with function and aesthetic considerations in mind? And perhaps even, when the pride in a well achieved object kicks in, try to change the tired old designs and make something old from a fresh viewpoint? Imagine the extended market you might reach.

You cannot re-interpret another makers influences; only their work. And this is possibly the most counter-progressive act we can be guilty of. Whilst I can see that the turner new to the craft, and yet to develop the creative muscles which will hopefully drive their own signature work, may well seek solace in the act of copying the work of other, more experienced, makers, I would hope that once techniques and abilities improve, there would be a natural inclination to branch out and explore, and in doing so contribute to the progression of the craft. But progression requires more than simply learning how to use the tools safely and efficiently; it requires the maker to find influences, develop an understanding, learn new skills not directly related to the mechanics of the craft, and, to use a terribly art-house term, develop a language with which to express the ideas generated.

I for one am still sadly lacking that bi-lingual ability; but it is that very struggle to develop this second language which is at the heart of everything I do and strive for. If you don’t like what I do, that’s fine. If you don’t like what I say, that’s fine. If you don’t like what I post here, that is also fine. But unless you are willing to back up your own, contrary opinions, publicly, then frankly I have no time for them. My own opinions are based on working full time at this for the past two years, being in daily contact with the public, and observing the growing trend for something “different”. So my viewpoint is far from retrograde, it’s actually quite evangelically forward-looking, and the fact that I choose to use old tools and techniques in the process is as irrelevant as using a carbon steel gouge in preference to an HSS one.

Now if you are offended by any of this, please, please, do tell me!

And for those of you who do wish to push your boundaries, but lack inspiration, take at look at the Blog and website of one of my most ardent detractors (who, I should add, always has the decency to be open about it, even if we disagree strongly on certain issues).

Even if you don’t find anything else of use there, which I doubt, you will at least be able to view a contrary opinion, which itself may prove helpful somehow.



Something new under the sun?

Is there really anything new under the sun? In fact, is there really a sun? It hasn’t been seen in Suffolk for a while…anyway, back the new. An idea had been toying with me for weeks, and either I’ve avoided it, or else I really didn’t have the time or inclination to battle with it. And then yesterday, whilst looking for something, I happened to move a large slab of very dry Oak, and the thought occured to me that whilst not a perfect blank of wood, it would suit a trial run of the idea. So whatever it was I had been going to do was forgotten and the blank was trimmed, marked up, and mounted on the lathe.

It was difficult to do what I had in mind, but with patience, and some of lightest cuts I’ve ever made, I got there, and can’t wait to go to an actual full version.

But, is it a new idea? I have no recollection of having seen anything similar, at least not the main turned aspect, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t? I could have, and the idea simply lodged without attribution. So is there anything new?

Bowl Saver From Hell…

I wonder how many readers core blanks to produce nested sets of bowls?

I’ve been coring pretty much all my larger blanks for a few years now, and have a pile of bowls drying out in rotation. When I started, I used the Stewart slicer to core…Deja Vu!…I’ve prattled about this before…never mind this is different…

So I used the Stewart system, and whilst you can core with it, it’s limited by being a straight bar. So I now use either the Woodcut bowl saver, which is superb, or else the McNaughton system, which is also superb, but requires a little more of the user, but is also more adaptable.

I love coring bowls, you save wood, waste, and produce an attractive nested set from one blank of wood. So far so good. And then I found this on YouTube…(It won’t embed so you have to watch it via the link)…

Now this is interesting to turners for obvious reasons…bandsaw envy, rip-saw envy, log envy…a whole list of reasons to be jealous, but it also raises a few questions and points of genuine interest.

Steaming for a few hours and then only a month to dry! And I think we can assume the problem of warping and splitting is minimal otherwise they would surely look to other methods. And what about the base? Flat-cut off! No concave base line in case of later movement. Perhaps they don’t care, but I doubt it. But it does give food for thought.

And as for the lathe and cutters!

And could they claim they were hand-made? I wonder.

I’ll stick to hand turning, but I wouldn’t mind their waste blocks after removing three blanks!

Have a look and see what you think…

Retrograde Step?

An email filled with enthusiastic bile arrived from a commenter with the backbone of a whelk; “I do not wish for my comments to be published, or have my name mentioned”, they state. Tosser.

The email was basically a tirade against the “simplistic and artless objects displayed” in my last post. Well now I’m told! The email also claimed that turning (and carving I assume) such things were a “retrograde step unlikely to further the interests of wood turning”.

Even if the commenter were correct – which I would dispute – so what?

It seems that some people are incapable of reading anything I write as anything other than a statement of national intention, a declaration of the feelings and thoughts of the National body I am on the committee of.  What is wrong with you?

This Blog, and my website, are mine. Personal.  And the thoughts expressed here, and there, are likewise personal.  If I have comment to make which is intended to reflect the thoughts of the Association it would be made via the Association’s website, Newsletter, or Forum. Not here.

I do hope those morons previously incapable of accepting the difference are now better equipped to do so in the future. And if you’re not, then please take your green biro and write to the Daily Mail instead. I’m sure they’d be only too happy to read your drivel. And not publish your name and address.

And on to the specific complaint…

Firstly, the complaint seems to indicate that I have a duty to only publish items which will push woodturning forward into new areas. Why? And who imposed this restriction on my actions? And with what authority? Nobody of course. Accept in the mind of Name and Address Withheld.

I have never claimed to be anything other than a woodturner. I’m neither wholly a traditional, nor a contemporary woodturner. I just turn what I feel like turning on the day. Commissions notwithstanding.

It is true to say, and I have never hidden the fact, that there is a type of woodturning which leaves me entirely cold, and because it has been prevalent for such a long time it is often referred to, erroneously, and even by myself, as being “traditional”, but in fact is not. It’s simply clumsy and ugly to my eye, and has been the staple output of far too many turners for far too many years. And to my (PERSONAL!) view, has blighted craft events for a few decades to the wider detriment of woodturning as a whole.

However, there are facets of woodturning which can rightly be called “traditional” in its wider, national, and historical sense, and many of these I find very appealing and interesting, and make no apology for doing so.

The simple utility bowl, intended for daily use, and by close association the hand-carved spoon, would fall easily into this category.

To my eye many of these early objects, and their contemporarily-made counterparts, have a simplicity and honesty about them which is, or perhaps should be, timeless. A well-made item is a well-made item, and if you admire craftsmanship, the date it was made is immaterial. It is what it is regardless. And a well-made object can always teach you something about technique, form, shape, proportion, and if you examine it, execution. If you can carry those things into the work you do now then you have a benefit.

An example…take a simple turned item, a bowl. Not an arty bowl, a simple bowl. One perhaps that is intended for fruit or nuts, or a bowl for eating from.

Look at photographs of old utility bowls, or go and view them in a museum, and the shape will have appeal, and it will be fit for function; It will be stable when empty or loaded, and will be shaped in such a manner as to be of use as a vessel.

Look at a selection of recently produced bowls, not ART bowls or experimental pieces, but bowls turned as bowls, and you will not see the same things in them. Often their shape is dictated by the angle of the bevel of the tool rather than the intention of the turner. Many are lumpen and unappealing; many are simply not fit for purpose, being unstable when empty and loaded. In short, they seem to lack any appreciation of design and/or  suitability for purpose. In my opinion, many are simply what resulted from poking a piece of wood with a gouge for a while and then sanding the result down to 400 grit.

So how is it that these old turners managed, with little formal education or training, to achieve what many of their well-educated, and certainly better equipped, contemporaries fail to do?

The answers are, I feel, simple. Firstly, they had an understanding of the intended use of the item. Secondly, they needed to produce an item which was suitable for purpose of they would probably starve through lack of orders. The prospect of starvation would be a good reason to perfect your product. And thirdly, they may well have served what amounts to an apprenticeship. And of course they had an intimate knowledge and understanding of their material and tools.

I am sure that the very first turners made many mistakes, and produced many items unfit for purpose. But I suspect the impetus for getting it right was more of an imperative then than now, and that mistakes were learned from and lessons learned very quickly.

So there’s nothing to lose for the modern turner in at least looking at these objects, or even trying to emulate a few to see how and why they worked. Maybe if more turners tried this approach we would see more attention to form and shape, more understanding of basic design, and a sounder basis upon which to take these ideas forward within contemporary pieces?

Carving a simple wooden spoon by hand can teach you as much about the properties of wood: short grain, long grain, how to cut cleanly, how to use the inherent strength of the wood where you need it, how to impart strength by careful selection and preparation of the blank, than almost any other method I know of except perhaps being taught one-to-one by an expert.

Anybody can shape a piece of wood on a lathe. Anybody. And anybody can produce a bowl. The difference is in the items produced. There a good bowls, and bad bowls. Attractive bowls, and unattractive bowls. The differences are in the understanding of the material, wood, the tools and their function, and the intentions of the maker. And these old traditional items have as much to teach us as any modern book on the subject.  And besides all this, they are fun to make, enjoyable to use, and satisfying in many respects.

I am not for one minute suggesting that we all revert to old ways, and neither am I saying that only the old ways are correct, what I am saying is that I, for one, am quite happy to accept that there are lessons to be learnt in past practice, and I am happy to attempt to grasp them. If in the process I produce something “retrograde” in the common opinion, then so be it. My ultimate aim is to use these experiences and lessons in what I do today, not to set myself up making replicas of ancient objects day in and day out.

Name And Address Supplied seemed to imply that woodturning should be forced forward, and that everything of the old is wrong (retrograde), and from this I infer a preference for the modern, contemporary, so called “artistic woodturning”( which I’ve previously spoken about many times in this Blog), and that’s fine. I like much of what is often termed “artistic woodturning”, and also believe that woodturning needs to change in order to survive. But I do not necessarily believe that we all need to become “artistic” Woodturners for this to happen.

If we did, then surely woodturning would not survive? The process of turning as a tool of the artist would, but not woodturning. In order for woodturning to survive, markets have to be developed, appreciation fostered, and in order to achieve this end, wood turned objects need to become desirable to the consumer. So how could this be achieved?

This is not news, and not my idea, but by looking at what kind of objects are desirable and building some of the design concepts used to produce them into your woodturning. The old standbys of glass, ceramics, jewellery Etc., are obvious choices as research tools, though not exclusively, and the internet is a good resource, offering many sources of inspiration and tutelage. And there are other avenues you might explore…design courses, art courses, art appreciation course, in fact many avenues which could bolster your arsenal of ideas. But without a basic understanding of how to achieve the ends you envisage how will you achieve this? If you cannot produce a simple item, like a bowl for the sake of argument, which fulfils its brief, then how will you ever produce an item with some ethereal and artistic intent?

I firmly believe that work in the realms of the “artistic” is where the future truly lies for woodturning, and by this I mean work which has new and exciting elements, work which had evolved and is “different” enough from what is commonly available to make it desirable to a previously woodturning-resistant customer, but doesn’t mean we all have to be artists. It simply means that we will need to be more aware of design, be it shape, form, colour, texture, added and combined media. But I also believe quite strongly that there could be resurgence in more traditional objects if only they could be turned with more attention to detail, with some flair, and with an eye to the “designed object” as opposed to the “resulting object”.

So maybe there will develop two distinct strains, and maybe one of them will become so wildly divergent that it becomes something other than woodturning in the truest sense. But again, so what? There is room for both avenues to be explored.

I suspect that woodturners will remain woodturners and artists will remain artists, and those who wish to combine the two disciplines will become something else entirely. Whatever happens, the truth remains that for woodturning to survive, and prosper, it needs to change. If it doesn’t it will simply survive as another Past Times historical artefact ,whilst the new vanguard forges onwards towards a greater and more appreciative audience.

This last month or so has been a difficult period, and one during which I have wondered whether putting yourself out there is at all worthwhile. I have no axe to grind with anybody, and keep the Blog and website as what I hope are interesting diversions for others interested in woodturning. The fact that it is read would seem to support the assumption, which should be cause to continue. But I wonder if it is lately, and am considering putting a stop to it all. I don’t have all (if any!) of the answers, but have hoped that in posing the questions, and offering my own thoughts such as they are, that the discussion may prove helpful. Or at least interesting.  I am beginning to think that my judgement was flawed, and am becoming convinced that the only approach is to stop Blogging, publishing the website, and taking any active role in woodturning. Locking the door to the woodturning public , both here and at the workshop, stopping demonstrating and all other active involvements, and simply turning.

I wonder if it’s too late to make a New Year resolution?

Wild Plum…

As promised a picture of the Wild Plum bowl and spoons…

these are roughed and drying and will be finished once dry…

wildplumsetIt’s not the best of pictures, taken in a hurry on the way out to collect my daughter from school, but should give an indication of the colouring. I can’t wait to complete them and see them with a coat of oil.

Gifts of Wood…

Woodturners are often gifted wood by friends, and I’m no different. Often though these gifts turn out to be more trouble than they’re worth…the wood is unsuitable, the “enormous” tree you’re offered is not anything like enormous, the Ash tree turns out to be a Silver Birch…and tiny at that (it happened!), or the felling invloved requires a team of dedicated and professional fellers in order to fell it without killing somebody or destroying property. But just once in a while…

A car pulls up in front of the workshop and out of the back comes something exciting. And so it did the other day. The Jeweller, Rosie, at the craft centre had asked hubby to drop off some wood they had felled in nearby Southwold. It is Wild Cherry, Prunus Domestica, and has wonderful colouration between the heart and sap wood. This variety is the Mirabelle type – there are several varieties having different sized and coloured fruits.

I hadn’t heard of the Mirabelle name before and asked over at and received some help which has enabled identification. So thanks to the bodgers group.

I very quickly axed out a spoon blank and carved a rather nice (for me!) spoon from it, and then turned a couple of bowls today which are now drying out. It’s wonderful wood to work, both by hand and on the lathe, but I still fear it may twist, split, and warp like Cherry and Holly. Time will tell. So in the meantime I’ll rough out all the logs I have and hope for the best. But it is pretty with its amber heart wood and cream sapwood, and the purple streaks that run throughout.

It makes up for the Tree of Heaven before Christmas!

I’ll take a picture of it tomorrow and post it here…