While turning wood in my workshop based in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, I occasionally ask myself why I turn wood. There isn’t a straightforward answer but perhaps this is a start!
Have you ever watched how someone holds a beautifully made wooden object? They hold it with reverence. The natural tactile warmth of the wood and silky smoothness of the surface always gives pleasure like almost no other material. Many woods have pleasant and characteristic smells that add to the experience. The variations in colour, patterning, grain and figuring make each piece of wood unique before the woodturner creates something new from it.
What about the Wood?
Wood is revered because of its characteristics and probably also because of its ancient uses as a source of warmth, food, tools, shelter and even clothing. Why should something that really does “grow on trees” be treated in such a way and valued so highly? Perhaps it is due to the inherent strength and endurance we all associate with a tree.
There is something deeply satisfying (even therapeutic!) in turning any raw material into a finished article and woodturning is no exception. Turning wood lends itself to the production of so many different things, some functional, some decorative and some might even be described as artistic. As a craft, it isn’t the easiest or the safest but despite this, aspiring woodturners devote time and effort to learn how to turn. For me, it is the wide scope available in both the materials available and the turned wood produced that hold the attraction. As a medium, wood can be used with a plethora of other materials and finishes. Woodturning always seems able to deliver something new. It’s also the use of a simple and fundamentally ancient machine and tools to turn an ancient material into something desirable, useful or aspirational.
What is Woodturning?
Simply put, woodturning is the use of a lathe to spin a piece of wood to allow it to be cut to a circular shape.
The technique dates back many thousands of years and the wood turning lathe is thought to be one of the oldest machines invented by man. Ancient woodturning lathes would have been powered by a bow and machines of this type are still in use in some parts of the world. An alternative drive method was used with the pole lathe where a flexible branch was used as a spring to store energy and a basic treadle attached by a piece of string to the branch and round the piece of wood being turned. Again, wood turning lathes of this type are still in use.
However, the majority of woodturners these days use a lathe with an electric motor but which ever method is used to drive the piece of wood when turning, the basic principles remain the same.
The tools are hand held by the turner, rather than rigidly mounted and a skilled woodturner can produce flowing curves and intricate detail by eye and by feel, resulting in something that is unique, tactile and functional.
Have you ever wanted to have a go yourself? Courses are available for all levels including experience sessions just to find out what it’s all about. More details are on my woodturning website.