A little sunshine…

One of my regular students is severely disabled, and has great difficulty doing anything at the lathe for any length of time. This, obviously, makes life difficult for him, and sometimes his frustrations are palpable.

Today he arrived in a gloomy mood, convinced he was never going to progress. “I’ll make a mess of this next part,” he insisted. I urged him on, and he began to cut the wood.

Three cuts in and I was convinced he’d been playing me, and had been practicing the cuts. He assured me he hadn’t, and when I asked him to compare the fresh cuts to some previously made cuts his smile brought a little sunshine to a dull and overcast day.

Even minuscule steps can seem huge in the correct context.

Post drought…

The apparent post drought is due to a number of things…

Firstly, it is more than galling to have what you write misrepresented, quoted out of context, and with a clear lack of comprehension of what was actually written. It does make you wonder why you bother at all.

Secondly, there are a number of things I would normally have commented on, but concern about some, if not all, of the above force me to leave well alone.

Thirdly, it’s been a very dull week or so.

In fact the only highlight was a demonstration at the weekend. A long-time anti wood colourist said he was converted and would “give it a go”. This may sound insignificant, but isn’t. Once people begin to experiment and play with colour and texture, the doors can open to other things, and suddenly you have the world to play with.

And a note for those who were at the demonstration…the problem was the marine ply. It is effectively “sealed”, and requires heavy abrading prior to marking out the backboard. This provides for the glue to seep into the marine ply and form an effective bond. My error. And my apologies.

Off cuts…what do you do with them?

There are those who feel (strongly) that offcuts, especially those with faults, have no place on the lathe. I do understand the opinion, and to some extent have sympathy with it, but cannot bring myself to throw every off-cut out. Some are simply too pretty, too interesting, or an off-cut from an expensive plank, and therefore seem to have value, if only in monetary terms.

But that do you you do with them besides cut pen blanks, wine bottle stopper blanks Etc.?

I tend to put them on one side until I need some play time, and then they can at least serve as a diversion even if nothing comes of them. If something does, then all the better; you’ve saved a nice piece of wood from the ignominy of the wood burner.

Here are couple of such turning from the weekend…

maple off-cut...18" by 9"


Black Walnut off-cut...19" by 15"

Black Walnut off-cut...19" by 15"

What the…

Unusually, this evening, I started, and finished, and very nice bottle of wine. You have no idea how tempted I was to post an uncensored piece!

Constantly weighing the pros and cons comes very unnaturally to me, but certain things force such an approach.

Now if those other “things” were removed from the equation think what reign I would have to vent my spleen!

Hey Ho. Another day tomorrow. Another piece of wood to butcher. And another raft of odd, beguiling, and unfathomable emails to peruse.

A question chisels away…

Why cannot people read and understand simple text?

I don’t write in Latin, or an obscure Amazonian tongue; I write in (all be it occasionally brain to finger) English. So if you read here,   please take the time to at least try to understand before you change your font text to green. And bold capitals.

I do have an idea you may wish to consider…


If you don’t like it, and you haven’t the chestnuts to say so openly and with an attributable address…don’t read it.

It’s a simple proposition. I’ll give you an example…

I am truly omnivorous; I’ll eat almost anything. Almost. I can’t eat macaroni cheese.

So I don’t.

And the weather brought peace & quiet…

So how have you all fared in the terrible wind and rain? Okay I trust.

Well, an unusual result of the weather was a tumbleweed feel at the craft centre today. Not a soul about.

This is, of course, a bad thing in a general sense, but proved to be the opposite for me today. I had a virtually interruption-free day of play at the lathe, and finished a triptych in a single day!

I finished early with a sense of achievement and an aching back. Time for a long hot bath and a few chapters of my book.

Thinking about the progression of woodturning…

… It’s a given that a large percentage of enthusiastic Woodturners would like to see the craft progress; and evidence of this can be found all over the place, books, magazines, newsletters, websites, seminars Etc., and as one of those enthusiastic Woodturners, it’s a problem that concerns me, and is always on my mind.

But before my thoughts, some others.

Firstly, the first sentence above requires a few comments.

It is also a given that another large percentage of Woodturners are quite content to continue doing whatever it is they do, without any concern about the progression of the craft, and they have that right, and having that that right does not make them in any way wrong. Just different.

So I am simplistically breaking the whole of the woodturning fraternity into two groups. I know there are more. It’s just easier this way.

So, firstly, what do we mean by progression? In real terms I believe it comes down to money.

Unhappy with that? Then argue your case. I believe it is ultimately about money.

In recent years the call seems to have been for woodturning to be viewed as an art form, rather than a lowly craft, but I won’t go into that question again here; I think I’ve done that one to death on this Blog. The problem with this desire is that not all woodturning is what might reasonably be termed “artistic”. So it can never be a broad-stroke redefining of what we do; at best it will be a re-shading of some areas of what we do. But having said that, why would those whose work falls into that area wish for a re-defining of what they do? My contention is that the answer is “money”.

This is already beginning to sound derogatory, but absolutely isn’t intended to be!

There are of course other reasons why a creator of “artistic woodturning” might wish for a re-defining of what they do: personal satisfaction, a desire to be viewed as serious, considered, thoughtful and thought provoking, a maker with a voice and a message. And maybe there are those who would like to distance themselves from the now hackneyed and often maligned description of “craftsman”. It may also be true that some such practitioners are in fact artists who just happen to use the lathe in the making process, and are simply intent on distancing themselves from the tool of their trade and returning to the title of “artist”. But I believe there are a large number who see the quite obvious monetary advantages of having their work viewed as art, as opposed to craft. And I believe that this is a very good thing for the craft at foundation level.

It is another given that making a living from woodturning is a difficult thing to achieve. There are fewer and fewer opportunities for the hand turner to earn a living, fewer and fewer contracts for hand-turned goods, and apparently reducing markets in the conventional outlets for turned wares. And these factors result in virtually no opportunities for apprenticeships in woodturning in the UK.

A young person having been inspired by the craft of what we do, having pursued it, perhaps, to the point of high competence, is unlikely to then go on to try and make a living at it, and will probably leave the craft until many years later, when time allows for it to be re-kindled as a quiet, low-cost, hobby. And so the cycle of decline is propagated.

Imagine a situation where woodturning has been successfully re-defined, where some Woodturners are considered as artists, as makers of art, where their work is sought out by collectors, displayed in high-end retail galleries, exhibited in public galleries in “serious” exhibitions, and sold for figures commensurate with artwork from other disciplines, in other mediums, and by other “artists”. What would then happen to woodturning? What effect would this have on woodturning at foundation level?

My assertion is that it would naturally progress. It could not fail to.

Woodturning would become an attractive set of skills to acquire. Woodturning would become “cool” in the same sense that graffiti became cool after Banksy re-defined it from the socially unacceptable activity of the vandal to an activity of a socially aware commentator. Taggers no longer just bought spray cans, but nipped into the local art shop and bought canvases as well.

A young person beginning on the woodturning journey might just see woodturning as a possible career choice if the market was extended to include the art-buying crowd. It might also serve as an avenue of exploration for those young turners with an artistic bent, who had previously not settled on a methodology or medium. If a market already exists then people will exploit it quite naturally.

And this exploitation would filter down to the very foundations of the craft. A hobby watercolourist is always referred to as being an “artist”, and a certain weight is implied by the description, regardless of their particular ability set, or the degree of aptitude they display. The point is that what they do has a particular place in the public perception. What they do has value because art has value. Craft, sadly, is not always viewed in the same way. Craft is people beavering away in sheds and conservatories, on kitchen tables, and in the back bedrooms vacated by children long-since fledged. Craft is a time-filler. Art is a vocation. Craft is a little extra pocket money. Art is a living.

So if the public perception of at least one area of the craft is raised to that of art, then the appreciation will filter down. Raised perceptions will naturally result in the possibility of elevated prices, elevated income, and elevated levels of respect for practitioners.

And the point of this diatribe?

No matter what your personal opinion on the “artistic” in woodturning is, it is in all of our interests for the “artistic” in woodturning to prosper. It could well be that without the growth of the artistic and the implicit advantages this would bring, that woodturning will fail to progress. And if it does fail to progress, it may well die out, and if not exactly die out, it could certainly slump to the low take-up levels where tool manufacturers, magazines and book publishers, instructional DVD makers, and event organisers begin to view the market as being so small that it is no longer a viable market, and that itself would be a very bad thing for woodturning and its practitioners.

So even if you don’t like the “artistic” work being done by many turners, support their right to pursue it, support their work, support their desire to re-define it, support the possibilities this may bring, and enjoy the positive knock-on effects of their success when your work is viewed in a far better light at the next local craft fair you attend.

Subverting forms…

So where do you go when you have turned all the commonly turned items, and then become bored and wish for something new to turn? This was the question I used as the basis for a competition brief on the AWGB forum this month, and it seems to have caused some concern.

Today I should have been at Ally Pally for the International Woodworking Show, but I was sadly poleaxed with a stomach bug, and forced to stay away. But boredom is not something I enjoy, and I decided to try and make a quick piece to illustrate how you might subvert a form, as this seems to be the problem most people are having with the brief.

The intention of the brief was to try and get turners to think differently about what they turn. I have often found that this can lead to interesting diversions from the norm, and many of my favourite pieces have resulted from such an approach.

So what to do…

Well, not feeling 100%, it had to be quick. I had some small bowls rough-turned in Holly that were ready for final turning, so I picked one of these, and decided to do something in the line of one of Mark Hancock’s sycamore carved forms. The problem was that I didn’t have hours and hours to cut, carve, and abrade, and besides, if all I did was copy a Hancock piece, what was the point. So I used part of an idea I’d been thinking about for some time.

It was re-turned to bring it to true, and then the outer wall of the bowl was marked off at 10mm intervals, and then each section parted off with a 2mm parting tool. The resulting base section was jam-chucked and the foot turned off. The resulting “rings” were each drilled at a single point with a 2mm bit, and a piece of copper wire used to “sew” them back together, providing a swivel point about which the rings could rotate through a flat plane.

This isn’t a finished piece, but hopefully gives some idea of how you might subvert a form. It’s not even an terribly exciting result, but it was a quick job, and offers many possibilities for future experimentation.

I do hope that people have a try, even if they feel a little uncertain. Once you begin to play in this manner, it can become quite habit forming, and once in a while something interesting comes out of the process.

Now all I have to do is wait for the almost inevitable email stating, “It’s very nice…but what would you do with it?”