Most days of my youth were spent in the woods near home, but it wouldn't be until my early twenties that I really started learning to identify the trees I had grown up with. Learning about them and working their wood with my hands have led to a deep reverence for the grandest members of the plant world we often take for granted.
A one-day woodturning class at Hancock Shaker Village in the 80's ignited my interest in turning wood on a lathe (although I've forsaken the Shaker foot-treadle-powered lathe for something a wee more modern). Several years ago I built a post-and-beam timber framed woodshop heated by a small potbelly stove. Finally, I could move the lathe out of the dreary basement into a bright new world. Every wall has windows- the daylight flooding in makes a huge difference in my motivation. The days zip by when I'm turning wood, particularly those gray winter days when snow is silently burying the world in white fluff, and the potbelly stove is so inviting.
While I don't consider myself an artist as much as an artisan, I do try to produce turned pieces with smooth, graceful curves that are proportionally pleasing. There are a lot of "clunky" looking turnings out there, with unattractive shapes and thicknesses that impart a sense of heaviness. Learning to fair those shapes and trim the fat off the piece is a lesson that can be difficult to master for many of us, but is well worth the effort.
As a woodturner, I have a few purposes and goals. Primarily, turning gives me a means of creative expression. I've always worked with my hands, but not always in a particularly artistic or creative way. Turning allows me to shape things in ways that please me and that naturally appeal to me. Gradually converting a raw chunk of log into a finished piece is a process I enjoy.
The natural world has always been a draw for me, and I feel rooted (pardon the pun) in the forests of my "home range". There is no other place for me that could be home. And so, I thoroughly enjoy exploring the woods and hills around me.
Trees, for some reason, hold a fascination I can't easily explain. I suppose it's their grand stature, wide variability, strength, stability, longevity, beauty, and structure that appeal to me. But there's also a range of other values: food (ie, fruits, nuts); shade in the hot summers; scented flowers; den and nest sites for birds and mammals; fuel; shelter from wind; serenity of the forest. Even the silhouette of a tree against the moonlit night sky is something I find very appealing and intriguing.
And, of course, when a tree's life is over, it really lives on in the lasting wooden products we fashion from it. Think about wood for a moment-- take an inventory of all the things around you that were made from trees, everything made of wood or paper: your home; books and magazines; furniture; etc, etc, etc. So another of woodturning's purposes for me is to explore the fascinating diversity of wood species- to see what stuff each type of tree is made of, and its inherent beauty in a finished piece.
A third attraction that turning presents me is simply the joy of the hunt for new species I haven't yet turned, and for those special, unique, variations in wood structure (such as burls, figured grain, etc) that can emerge from the lathe as such beautiful art.
There's always more to learn about woodturning, and techniques can be improved to yield better end results. But the technicalities of turning shouldn't get in the way of having fun at the craft. And a big part of the fun for me is finding new wood species to explore. Each type of tree has peculiarities that set it apart from others, and that's reflected in how its wood can be worked, and the qualities of its wood. What fascinates me most are burls, those odd wart-like growths found occasionally on tree trunks (see the post about burls), and most of my turnings lately are in burl woods of various species. Here in New England, Black Cherry is the producer of (arguably) the finest burls. But there are many, many other species worldwide that grow these prized lumps, and my goal is to experience turning as many kinds as I can.
I've also had a career as a mainframe computer database techie for two large corporations. Prior to that, I earned a living in various ways... auto mechanic, stereo repairman, even as a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman (wow, what an education that was!). Woodturning is now my full time occupation, and I share life (and space in the shop) with a loving lady, Deb, who is a very talented artist and jewelry maker. What could be better?
When you consider how much trees and their wood provide humankind, it's difficult to come up with any other aspect of nature that can compare. There's an old poem I'd like to share called "Prayer of a Tree" from the book "Spanish Sunshine" by Elinor Elsner, circa 1925. The poem was a posted notice found on a park tree in Seville, Spain; it sums up the gifts that trees give us ...
To The Wayfarer
Ye who pass by and would raise your hand against me, harken ere you harm me.
I am the heat of your hearth on the cold winter nights, the friendly shade screening you from the summer sun.
My fruits are refreshing draughts, quenching your thirst as you journey on.
I am the beam which holds your house,
the board of your table,
the bed on which you lie,
and the timbers of your boat.
I am the handle of your hoe, the door of your homestead, the wood of your cradle, the shell of your coffin.
I am the bread of kindness and the flower of beauty.Ye who pass by, listen to my prayer; harm me not.