Turning Archive 2007

Re: Doing it backwards
Response To:
Doing it backwards ()

Bill Neddow
>I think the reality of wood turning lies somewhere between the two extremes. I have never had a piece of wood speak to me. But I do not approach it like Mike Darlow, either. He was in Ottawa here a few months ago and gave a two day advanced course. He said that to him, wood was just a piece of cellulose. All his work is precisely drawn out before he starts and the wood has to conform exactly to the drawings. Now, if I was trying to make a living doing spindle turning, especially the large columns he is noted for, I probably would have the same approach. I understand where he is coming from. If you are making four 16 foot columns for the front of a building, they had better be the same. If you are producing hundreds of spindles for stair rails, the hundredth and the first had better be the same. So, there is a need for this approach.

But, as a bowl turner, I cannot work like that. I would lose too much beautiful figure in the wood. Before I put a piece of wood on the lathe, I study the chunk of wood and I have an idea of what shape I am going to aim for. But as soon as it is round, I will stop the lathe and reassess my concept. Often, I will change it, because I will have discovered some beautiful curl, or a hidden bit of burl that would have been lost if I had continued. But, again, I will have a firm concept of where I am going before I proceed. I do not proceed "on spec" as I have found that I will end up with an egg cup, not a salad bowl, if I do that. The idea is to save and display the best the wood has to offer. This pays off at the galleries in increased sales because people are looking for beautiful wood.

like Wally, I have quite a stack of green wood, and drying bowls (about 3,000). So, if I get a bright idea, I can usually find an appropriate blank to modify. I leave the blanks a little thicker than most turners specifically so I can do this. Sometimes, I cannot find a likely candidate. So I sketch the idea and make some notes in a little notebook I have specifically for this. First time I find a block of wood that I can rough, incorporating this idea, i will do it. That means some ideas have to wait a year or two for the wood to dry -- but that is part of being a wood turner. I find that this is not a bad thing, as my idea will probably have matured and improved by the time I actually finish the bowl.

As an aside, Mike said that at one point he tried making bowls. He saw a glass bowl he liked with sort of a slumped rim and a little rise on the inside. He made drawings of it, and produce a whole bunch exactly the same. They simply would not sell -- so he went back to something that did -- spindles.

My reaction (which I did not voice at the time) was that he might as well have send a mould of the bowl to China, and have the Chinese cast dozens of the bowls out of sawdust and paint grain on them. If you want bowls the same, go to Costco and get the glass ones there for about $15. In fact, they had some absolutely beautiful ones there last week about 18 inches in diameter, for $40. I have no intentions of trying to compete against this.

My clientele (and I think, most people) are not looking for that, thank goodness. They are looking for a beautiful and unique bowl. They want pretty graining. And, most important to me, they appreciate and are willing to pay for a high-end craftsmanship. By that, I mean a bowl turned with clean, elegant lines and finished to a high standard. They want it to be special. They do not want to see two or three exactly the same sitting together for sale.

This does not rule out doing series of bowls. In my case, each of these bowls may follow a common theme, but each is also unique. I develop the idea more in every bowl I do. Sometimes I hit dead ends. Sometimes everything turns out right, and I am amazed at what I have done. That is what keep it exciting for me.

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