As the wood turns

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Blog entry by BlueHatMan posted 03-17-2011 09:48 PM 1395 reads 0 times favorited 3 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Djema dumps logs in my driveway from time to time. She’s foreman on a San Francisco city crew maintaining highway medians. Any time there’s a big blow I can expect Djema to show up in her battered pickup truck with fresh sections of cypress, yew, sometimes cherry and dogwood and the like. Green wood. So heavy I can barely budge it. And yet Djema simply hefts the logs and tosses them off her truck like an afterthought.

I paint the ends of the logs with a waxy sealant that slows down the drying process. Wood loses moisture content most quickly from the outer layers, most slowly from within. The tension between the two leads to cracks, or checking. Cracks don’t lend themselves to successful woodturning, and the well-turned object is where most of this wood is headed.

The process flows like this: chainsaw, bandsaw, lathe. Each log has its own story, its own language. Cut me this way, it says, not that way. So some logs I simply rip in half, right down the middle. Others want their faces exposed. The bandsaw shapes the blank to be received by the lathe, squares up ends, rounds out the slab. It’s like a good editor, refining the language of the wood. It reveals in earnest the thread, the lede, the place to begin the dialog. It isn’t a soliloquy we’re headed for. It’s more like the conversation of a long-married couple where the thought begins with one partner and the sentence ends with the other.

Finally, the lathe. But here’s my question: Is the finished piece, the bowl, say, in my mind to begin with, or in the spinning wood waiting to reveal itself? Or, does it reside in both places at once and require a kind of metaphysical transformation of time, space, and matter to take finished form? The tools—the gouges, scrapers, and skew chisels—become extensions both of my mind and of the soul in the wood demanding shape. I imagine a great turner becomes so skilled over time it doesn’t matter what the wood wants. He or she can make it do anything. Or, maybe over time, the hearing of the turner becomes as acute and refined as pure skill, and what the wood wants, what the wood talks about, simply becomes.

I have a long way to go. I have too many partially turned pieces with rough spots in them that no manner of cutting, scraping, sanding, or burnishing will remove. These are pieces that said one thing to me, but I heard another.

I have come to one last question. When Djema backs her battered pickup into my driveway and starts chucking out logs, is that me I hear hitting the pavement, or a bowl?

-- BlueHatMan, N. California,

3 comments so far

View branch's profile


1142 posts in 3182 days

#1 posted 03-18-2011 12:13 AM

hi bluehat man and welcome to LJ timber is a living thing even after it is cut down chopped up and dried it still is alive it bends and twists warps and moves no mater what we tray and do with it we spend hours and s hours cutting it shaping it sanding it finishing it with oil lackers varnesh pants after all that work it just does what it wants too it cracks it twists it warps it moves it is alive don’t force it to become something it does not wants to be .look at it and listen to what it saying to you work with it don’t force it when you do that it will tell you what it wants to become something beautiful something that people love look at admire touch and own if you can do all that you are a true craftsman .
i have along way to go and still learning and having great fun along the way your next creation is a masterpiece till it is finished then you learn it is just another leaning project but never give up it will happen one day
have fun

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25 posts in 2657 days

#2 posted 03-18-2011 12:19 AM

Funny stuff, wood…

-- BlueHatMan, N. California,

View BritBoxmaker's profile


4611 posts in 3064 days

#3 posted 03-18-2011 10:26 PM

To be aware of cause and effect and that the relationship between the two is not always straightforward is an uncommon state of awareness. If that is indeed what you allude to here. Your commentary is pleasantly hypnotic, your bowl hypnotically pleasant. You’ve let something warm and alive come from the wood. A good result.

-- Martyn -- Boxologist, Pattern Juggler and Candyman of the visually challenging.

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