Meet the Artist...
Getting this involved with turning was completely accidental. I originally started turning because, in my regular woodworking projects, I was forever frustrated with trying to find just the right knobs and pulls for things like cabinetry. To resolve this frustration I purchased a small "Midi" lathe so that could turn my own knobs and pulls in a style of my choosing and in any species of wood available. Well knobs and pulls soon lead to pens and bearing tops, which lead to tool handles and bowls, which lead to goblets and platters, and so on.
After coming into possession of the first felled tree, an unusually large Callery Pear tree, I soon after realized that I had just tapped into a source of lumber to turn into useful and beautiful stuff, lumber that would have otherwise ended up in fireplaces or buried at a dump. Now that I am in the know, I am amazed, even shocked, at the pieces of wood that are destined for the trash. Some of these woods would even bring top dollar at a lumberyard.
There is something magical about starting with a raw log, and seeing it all the way through to a finished useful and/or decorative item. In regular woodworking, where I and most folks purchase wood that has already been cut up and dried, we are aware that this stuff comes from trees, but the whole fact is rather removed from the process of making furniture. I did woodworking for years without even knowing what the trees looked like whence came the lumber I was using. Now that I am in touch with the entire process, I find that I have a deeper appreciation of this medium we call wood.
About my turnings...
The human race has a love affair with trees. Whether it is to provide shade or windbreak, provide fruits or nuts, add aesthetic beauty to landscape and urban areas, or provide us with materials with which to build houses and fine furniture. Simply stated, we like having trees around. Now I have no objection to felling trees for human consumption, but often trees are felled for other reasons: they may get old and represent a hazard, they may get blown over in a storm, they may have to be removed due to hazard, disease, or nusance, and some times they are simply no longer desired where the are growing. Most of these trees, unfortunately, end up at the dump or in fireplaces. This is unfortunate because the wood provided by such trees is still very useful, and often quite spectacular aesthetically. If only they knew just what they were chucking and burning.
This is where I come in. Nearly all of my turnings are made from locally felled woods or large enough trimmings. There are occasions where I will use wood that I have purchqsed from a lumber supplier, usually because I am looking for a certain look in a piece and have no local wood that provides the effect, or because I have leftover scraps from my regular furniture making project. Unless otherwise noted, all the turnings in my gallery are from wood that I harvested from locally felled trees (or trimmings).
The Flora of California
On of my favorite things about living in California is being surrounded by a rich and varied flora. This is especially true when it comes to trees. There are many species of trees that are native to California. Sometimes these species are exclusive to California, and in other cases are only found in a few other places outside of California. Hinds (Claro) Walnut, California Sycamore, Live Oak, California Bay Laurel, White Alder, Madrone, California Redbud, Monterey Cypress, Redwood, come to mind, just to name a few. As well, the climate here in California is well suited for importing many species thought to be exclusive to other parts of the country and even the world: Jacaranda, Callery Pear, Manzanita, Magnolia, Lilac, Peppertree, Crape Myrtle, etc. And then there are the Eucalyptuses: Red Ironbark, Redbox Gum, River Red Gum, Lemon-scented Gum.
I am blessed to have such a variety of species available to me, and I although I do like some species more than others—and I do have my favorites—I find it difficult to find a species that I do not like. There is not much I can do about a trees being felled, whether by natural or man-made motivation. My part, I feel, is to prolong and preserve nature's beauty in the form of decorative and useful items.
Harvesting Local Trees
Most of my turnings start out with my acquisition of a felled tree. (I also sometimes take large, branches from pruning as well.) I have never cut down a tree to make turnings out of it and do not plan to, if for no other reason because there is no need to. There are plenty of trees already being felled in my local area for whatever reason, so there is no point in cutting down more trees.
When I happen upon a felled tree, it has usually already been cut up into logs by a tree service. Upon receiving a set of such logs, the first order of business is to get them cut up into "blanks" as soon as possible. Depending on the species of tree, waiting even one day could result in the logs cracking, and becoming useful only for firewood. That is because as soon as a tree is cut down, it begins to lose water at a rapid rate, and this loss of water causes a lot of stresses that can result in cracking. Cutting the logs into blanks releases a lot of the stress, and buys me time to go onto the next step: Rough turning.
The Turning Process
Over the next day or two, after receiving new wood, I turn the blanks into rough form, leaving the rough turning about four times thicker that its ultimate thickness. This is an extremely enjoyable process, as this is the point in the process that the morphing from log to form takes place. Here is where I take advice from Michelangelo, who, in his sculpting, believed that the form was already imprisoned in the stone, and that his job was to release what was already there. I find that the same is true of a turning blank (but perhaps in a less mystical sense), that the grain, the shape, the irregularities the path of the bark will determine its form; I just have to listen.
Roughing out the blanks into rough turnings also further release stresses and allows the blank to dry much faster than it would have before it was roughed out. After being roughed out, the rough turnings are set aside to completely dry.
Once the rough turning is completely dry, it gets remounted onto the lathe. The rough bowl at this point will be quite distorted from drying, and will need to be trued before continuing on to the final shape. Then it gets turned to it final shape, sanded, and then gets a coat of finish.