Artists Statement / Provocative question time – Why wood and why woodturning?

While turning wood in my workshop 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 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, grain and figuring make each piece of wood unique for the woodturner to create something from it.

Man made materials such as plastics have lasting implications on the environment. Waste plastic materials take a long time to decay. They build up in the environment, poisoning all life forms and polluting the environment we live in. Large amounts of energy are used and CO2 produced in the manufacture of plastics. What could be a better alternative than a naturally grown material?  One which is made from the very carbon dioxide thought to be the cause of climate change. A material that feeds the environment from which it came when disposed of without any negative impact. Sustainable, kind to the planet and a pleasure to use – who could ask for more! Does the use of a material that fixes CO2 from the air make this activity carbon negative? Perhaps something to ponder.

What about the Wood?

The natural characteristics we find in trees lead to them being revered by many. Probably also because wood has been used throughout time as a source of heat, food, tools, shelter and even clothing. Who doesn’t have fond memories of sitting in front of a real wood fire and feeling its warmth. 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 raw material into a finished article and woodturning is no exception. Turning wood lends itself to the production of so many different things. Some can be functional, some decorative and some might even be described as artistic. As a craft, woodturning it isn’t the easiest or the safest. Despite this, many aspiring woodturners devote time and effort to learn how to turn. For me it’s the wide range of materials available and the final products that inspire me to turn wood.

We can use wood with a plethora of other materials and finishes. Woodturning always seems able to deliver something new. It also embodies the use of a simple and fundamentally ancient machine to turn a natural material into something desirable, useful or aspirational.

What is Woodturning?

Woodturning is the use of a lathe to spin a piece of wood. This enables the turner to cut it to a circular shape.
The technique dates back many thousands of years. The wood turning lathe is thought to be the oldest machine 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 which evolved from the bow was the pole lathe. This uses a flexible branch as a spring to store energy which is driven by a treadle attached by a piece of string to the branch and round the piece of wood being turned. When the treadle is moved up and down, the wood rotates enabling it to be cut and the spring provides the power to recoil the string. Wood turning lathes of this type are still in use.

The majority of modern woodturners 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.