On my welcome page I commented that I got started as a turner when I was 9 years old. To some that might seem a bit improbable but you would have to know the environment in which I grew up. We lived in the country – some would say the bush 🙂 – and out of necessity had to be self-sufficient. Everything was approached with a “can-do” attitude so learning anything was taken in stride no matter how young we were. At any rate, my uncle showed up one day with a Beaver lathe and told me I could have it as long as I learned to turn. My father was an excellent turner so introduced me to the basic skills. There was no stopping me and I quickly cornered the market on file handles among my family and my father’s employees. The photo of the handle on the slotted spoon was one of my first turnings and was a request by my Mom to replace the broken plastic original.
I remained interested in the craft but of course school and girls got in the way so I didn’t progress past file handles and the odd set of legs for stools. My basic skills were exactly that and when I left home for the big world, my visits home where for visiting, not learning more turning techniques. But I kept that lathe with me wherever I moved.
Fast forward to the late ’80’s. I had begun to notice wonderful turned wooden bowls and other vessels in magazines and although I knew they were turned, I didn’t understand how they had been done. I yearned to learn, but there was nowhere to go to learn those techniques. One day when scanning the paper for lathes (my old one didn’t seem up to what I had in mind) I noticed an ad for Technatool lathes and the dealer promised to give little demonstrations for those that were interested: just show up. So I showed up. And several others showed up as well. We found that we had all been searching for the same knowledge and were all so pleased that we had found it. The dealer, Ian Waymark, was a woodwork teacher who had done an exchange in New Zealand and come back with the skills to not only turn wooden bowls but also the ideas behind some very interesting designs – like a wooden frying pan with two eggs all turned out of wood. I was totally hooked. The first and most important thing we all learned was how to cut instead of scrape. None of us have looked back since.
Originally a group of prospective buyers of Ian’s lathes, we decided to morph into the Fraser Valley Woodturners Guild in 1988 so we could learn more. Naturally Ian encouraged us as that would generate a market, but he remained a good teacher and opened a world of woodturning to us that we never would have thought possible. I moved forward rather slowly but gained skill by turning a lot of architectural work for renovations that I did on the side (I was a firefighter in real life). I picked up a fabricated lathe made by a very interesting fellow, Bill Hutchings, who made it in his basement: the “Gray Ghost” in the photo. Looking back it was a terrible piece of machinery but it turned what I needed and I got pretty good, learning more and more as time went by.
I went through what I like to call a “domestic restructuring” starting in 2000 so I was out of my home and shop for three years. Upon my return, I was back with my now wife, Arlene, and a whole new take on life. She encouraged me to pursue the craft and accompanied me to guild meetings so we could be together and at the same time not miss meetings. She encouraged me to join the Greater Vancouver Woodturners Guild since it was a more progressive group and more knowledge was available. This exposed me to world class turners in the flesh several times a year. My interest grew even more and my hunger for knowledge couldn’t be satisfied.
Upon retiring from the fire department I established a few goals for myself. One was to get my work into a gallery and I was successful on my first try. I was very pleased with myself and said to Arlene that I was proud of the fact that I could produce gallery quality work on the piece-of-crap lathe that I owned. Her response was “What could you do if you had a good lathe?”. To make a long story short I got my Oneway lathe for my 60th birthday and I haven’t looked back. Being in a gallery inspired me and motivated me to push my boundaries further than I thought possible. I had been playing with dyes for some time but now I was consumed by the use of colour in everything that I did. No longer could I bear to turn something “round and brown”. I had found my niche. Unfortunately the first gallery had to close but my work was quickly accepted by two others.
I refer to the work that I produce as “our” turnings – meaning mine and Arlene’s – and I am dead serious. I do the actual turning but I am constantly bouncing ideas off her and she responds with excellent input, valuable in it’s insight, un-influenced by woodturning convention. Most importantly, she has been my inspiration, always having confidence in my work and participating fully in what I do. She encouraged me to buy a lathe that I thought was far too extravagant, she has never once gotten angry when I drag shavings into the house and she never denies me the time to turn – as long as when she says “That’s not leaving the house”, the piece stays in the house, never darkening the threshold of a gallery. I couldn’t refuse her. She is my muse.
I continue to push my boundaries and enjoy helping others learn what I have learned. This blog is part of that, so my hope is that others will contribute what they have learned along the way.
As always, I encourage your comments and questions, so please refer to the tag line at the bottom of the article to post a comment.