"Art is born of the observation and investigation of nature." ~ Cicero (106 BC - 43 BC)

Process: Wood Turning

I prefer to begin my wood turning projects from timber I hunt and gather myself. Motorcycle jaunts through the countryside are the preferred scouting method but there is an ever vigil eye for new stock during any travels. Locating a new timber source, I return with truck, trailer and chainsaw to harvest the find. I cut manageable chunks of the trunk to get a hand truck on it and loaded into the trailer for transportation to the woodshop. Once off loaded back at the wood shop, I begin the process of analyzing and further chain sawing the timber to a more manageable size. If I cannot immediately get to the further dissecting the log at the shop, the ends are sealed and it is stored for future use.

Each log is studied to determine the best cut that will reveal the best possible wooden vessel taking into account length-to-width ratios, dimensions, number of blanks obtainable, pith, grain direction, limbs, crotches, burls, bark, defects or any other interesting feature presented. Once an approach has been determined, the log is chain sawed into rough blanks. After a little more design analysis, an outline of the vessel to be turned is drawn onto the rough blank. It is then taken to the band saw for further refinement and made adaptable to the lathe. Several blanks will be processed at one time so rough turning can be continuous process.

I store my inventory of fresh wood blanks in cardboard boxes until they can be turned. If it will be sometime before I can turn them I will coat each blank with a wax based sealer that helps retain moisture by slowing down the drying process. This reduces or hopefully eliminates any splitting or cracking. I much prefer to turn green timber as it cuts much easier, creates no dust and is much more fun to send long shavings 8-10 feet through the air. There is something very satisfying about that.

Each green blank is rough turned and then returned to the cardboard box for further slow drying to about 10 percent moisture content. A rough turned vessel installs the general form of the piece and is left at least 10 percent thicker than the finished piece. This allows the wood to more evenly move, warp or crack during drying. After curing for 3-4 months it can be returned to the lather for re-turning. This second turning removes any warping and hopefully any small cracks that have occurred during drying. The final form and wall thickness is determined and implemented. The piece is “trued-up”, sanded and finished.

The above approach to wood turning is broken down into four major processes that are performed independent of each other but in linear fashion. Wood gathering, blank making, rough turning and finish turning are all performed in stages. Once timber is located, it may take several months to a year before a finished product is realized. I thought ceramics a lengthy process! It is clear to me why a wooden bowl commands higher prices over a similar sized ceramic bowl. Not only is the inherent time delay for drying factored but the actual time spent crafting a wood bowl is greater than that of the kindred ceramic bowl. So, do not be discouraged over the price of a wooden bowl that has caught your eye. There is truly more there than meets the eye.