Interview by Zoe Allison
Z – How did you get into your wood turning?
W – I had a degree in forestry, teaching people how to recognize what’s in their forest and how to better manage it. 31 years working for the State of NC along with fighting forest fires, and had never turned before I retired in 2003. I I was going to do furniture type stuff. I took a class and met a gentleman named Bill Wallace who taught classes at Alamance Community College and became hooked to turning. I didn’t have a lathe, but took classes. I got into this by a friend who does chair bottoms cane bottoms at the State Fair. He wanted a unique stool top so I turned it for him.
I bought a lathe within a year, and started turing in my old farm building. It got too hot in summer in there, and too cold in the winter. I had a shed for some old trucks., so my wife suggested I enclose the shed, and a friend helped and we enclosed it. The 12 X 12 show room was added on.
I love turning and explore the forms I can get on the lathe. Traditional furniture is so much numbers and measuring. With the lathe it depends on skill level, how you hold the wood and your imagination. When you start turning there might be something really hidden that shows up, curly grain or bark inclusion. You realize if you continue proceeding toward the original concept, you would lose that. This is an opportunity to redesign. I ask myself, “what can I do to keep that and make aesthetically pleasing form?” I like the form to flow. I don’t like a lot of block because the world is full of curves and I like to see a nice gentle curve of the form.
Moving from inside to outside, I recheck and look at it another way… I have this piece on the lathe and was going to be doing some sand blasting. I’ve brought in a number of additional art forms to my lathe work.
I’ll take a block and rough turn it into general form. I’ll leave it 1.5” thick and pack it in shavings in a box, put it in the old farm building and leave it for 6 months. Usually I’m years behind but for a special order it’ll take six months during that time it might crack and split. It’s a risk and the stresses in wood itself can vary between piece to piece so a not every rough turned piece ends up going to final lathe for turning. Once it’s dried, you have a really thick rough turned piece. It’s labeled with the date I can turn it and day it came out of the bag. If I know the property owner where it came from, I write that on the bottom as well as the species of wood. So many different kinds of oak.
There’s a high number of species with in the family of oaks. I typically will lose an inch to an inch and a half from log to rough coat… from rough to final. (some species change a lot and aren’t round) Some of them I leave a natural edge… the only natural piece I have right now is in Cary.
Z – Where can one view your work or purchase a piece?
M – I’m not really represented in a gallery and the primary place to see and purchase my work is the studio tour. It’s been 9 years of doing the studio tour and it’s been good… allowed me to do a lot of different things. It introduced me to my first gallery in Troy,NC. I had a show down there with some other people who were tied to forestry or lumber artistry.
Z – What sets your products/business apart from the rest? Why should customers come to you?
M – There are two types of burning. One is more traditional, pyrography with a pen to create shapes, etc. My hummingbirds designs were wood burned. I just started doing lichtenberg fractal burning . It runs electricity between two probes to make designs. The Lichtenberg Fractual burning decides its own path. I stand on a rubber pad in case there’s moisture. It bought a commercial unit but also bought rubber gloves that linen use on high voltage lines. It has a foot pedal you can control… a lot of precautions. If you misstep you could die. You use a mixture of baking soda and water and brush and sponge and paper towel to block. Whenever you moisten, that’s where electricity will follow. It burns the pattern where I apply moisture. I have a friend who does it plus I read about it and then saw what my friend was doing. He burned some in my shop so when I saw it I liked it so much I bought one.
I sell my pieces so I can support my tool buying and wood buying habits.
Z – What are some challenges of your medium? Or particulars about your process?
M – A form like the cherry that curves in, the top edge is hard to get a smooth cut The green cut I can take care of later. When i’m doing the final cut, I need for it to be as smooth as possible. The smoother the less time I spend sanding and I’d rather be turning than sanding. When I do the sanding process, I go through 9 different grits to get what I want. For the final turning I do outside first while I have additional wood on the inside to support that. Even in process it’s going to change shapes… and often become oval. A piece of wood begins at a moisture content of 30% when its green and comes to me at about 12% moisture. —kiln dried is 6%. air drying is 11% so when turning it the heat from the gouge and sanding dries it even further. In that process what moisture is left might cause a 32nd out of round.
This can be dangerous work and as you see, I wear a complete face mask. People have been killed when a tool or piece of wood flies off the lathe. The most frequent cause of this can be what’s called a ringshake, which is a crack appearing along a growth ring. Can let wood go and shoot right off. For demonstrations, I built a plexiglass barrier in case the wood shoots out. The kids need to be older. They’re often surprised to learn a little math. They need to figure out measurement of bottom thickness for instance.
Z – How much do your products cost and how do you price them?
M – Pricing, I’ve thought time spent , and for each inch of diameter and inch of height. Did I color it? Do wood burning? Was it a big challenge because of grains or other difficulties?
Did it take a lot more time to sand? As I’ve gotten better, the less time you spend sanding the better, and it can often be 15 minutes cutting to an hour sanding
Z – Where can people view and possibly purchase your work?
M – I have some pieces at the botanical gardens gift shop and at Liquid Amber in Pittsboro. I did a demonstration at Botanical Gardens, and another gallery in Southern Pines.
Artistic decisions like carved feet? No feet, depending on
Z – What distinguishes your pieces?
M – One think I believe adds value is that I’ve been numbering my pieces since i began. (#1000 will be at Carrboro reception)
I sign them, put the species name and property origination if that information is available.
The right person will come at the right time and buy the right piece.
Z – What inspires your turning?
M – My inspiration comes from the piece of wood or if I’m short on a type of bowl people like, for instance the natural edge. I like the bark on those because its unique and oriented differently from other bowls. It takes a special talent and tool control to leave the bark on. It takes harvesting at a particular time of year. should have been cut in Jan or Feb when sap is in the ground. When they start growing in spring, they add between bark and last years wood. It’s soft and spongey when tree is growing. The bark pops off at that phase. Harvest tree in Jan or Feb and do the green turning then so it’ll dry then.
Z – Can you describe the wood piece in the brochure?
M – The piece in brochure is made out of a hollow tree. I saw a piece when I first started turning. A friend named Bruce Hoover had turned a globe out of a hollow tree. How did he do that? I’m a member of Piedmont Triad Wood Turners Assn. so I have a couple of friends there. One of the guys from Lexington taught physics at a community college so I talked with him. I drew it out for Doc and he said, yeah that’s the way, plus one or two things to hold that hollow wood. I didn’t really end up doing what I intended and really like the weathered look. The sculptural elements of figuring it out from a physics stand point. I’ve seen lead bullets in wood, never a stone. As I progress, I still like form. The base is form and if you don’t have a good form, no matter what treatment you add to the outside it’s still going to be a bad form. Once you get a good form, look at the wood and see if its attractive enough on its own. Does it have pop to the grain or color. In that case I might add treatment to provide pop or bang for the right person.
I use milk paint. The one I really like is black. Blue green yellow red white; it comes in lots of colors. …
Z – Do you have a philosophy that your bring to your work?
M – Each person is a product of everything they’ve ever done, every relationship, every person they’ve accumulatively met. each of us is truly a unique combination. This art goes into my philosophy of life.
Z – Is there any particular group who influence your work?
M – I’m more influenced by the local artists because of personal interactions with them and the studio tour provides an opportunity to see other artists work in the various shows. You develop ideas of how can I use something else with my turning. How can I use fiber? A few years ago I had a large crack in a piece of persimmon. I drilled holes up side, bought leather boot lace and drilled holes up each side of the crack. I have things from a former woven belt factory. How can I use it? That one is still boiling in the pot of the creative brain.
Z – Can you describe an unusual piece you’ve done lately?
M – I did a silver wire inlay and a copper wire inlay for the first time this year. Interesting process to do it but I still want to do more with the wire. There’s a lot of open road to explore and experiment with. I’m inspired and positive. This weekend I’ll be at the NC Wood Turning symposium. We’ll have sixty-three demos over two days. Seven will be going on at any one time. Our community is a very sharing group in so far as processes. We share freely our discoveries.
Z – How do you feel about the upcoming tour?
M – My only concern is that artists who used to live right near me have dropped off the tour. I’m the only one out here so I have a new challenge to bring people out. I have lots of new work to show and I’m hoping for a good attendance.
My first year on the tour I had more people than I could park. Last year, I still had good sales but the number of visitors has really declined. We have competing tours, but I hope lots of folks will visit me.