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Wood Turned Good

William Trench

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William Trench

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    About

    Turning To The Lathe

    After more that 35 years as a professional woodworker, most of that time spent in my home shop located in the Lake Kitchawan area of South Salem, NY, I made the decision two years ago to change paths. Building custom cabinets and furniture was a rewarding occupation but I was weary of the 4X8 sheets, the straight lines, the perfect angles, and the hinges and drawer slides. I was stressed out by having to satisfy some other people's expectations. It seemed this was never a problem in the end, but the process was tiring and I was getting bored. I had done a bit of turning over the years, but mostly spindle type work on my old convertible Delta drill press. I had bought a midi lathe a few years earlier and was immediately optimistic about the potential for a new direction for working with wood.
    My fascination with the character of the material has always influenced my design. Every piece of wood I worked into a project was picked for it's appearance and purpose. When I went to the hardwood yards, to pick out sets of boards that had similar grain, color or texture for a cabinet face, for instance, or to closely match the veneer on some expensive plywood, I would often bring home a few totally unsuitable pieces because they had impressive patterns or even flaws that just couldn't be forced into being flat and straight. . I dreamed of ways to use these pieces to highlight their character. Hollow turning was the ticket.
    It is exciting to mount any odd chunk of wood on the lathe and watch it evolve into a satisfying shape. As the outer material is pared away with the chisels, interesting and some time stunning patterns, colors, or textures emerge. Although I often have a piece of wood that obviously intends to become a basic bowl , most of the time I have no idea what will emerge. Deciding when to stop at a certain point and develop some interesting features into a concise shape or form, fairing out the curves and blending it all together, somehow highlighting the character of the material, getting the surface as smooth as I can, I am ready to go grab another chunk and investigate it's potential.
    Virtually all of the wood I work with is turned green or wet. The fact that some of the pieces distort into more organic shapes is part of the fun. Sometimes this is dramatic ( to a fault) but mostly it only adds to the beauty. All of the materials I use are gathered locally by me or given to me by friends. An old tree on the ground can provide many interesting materials. I surgically remove certain sections with my trusty Poulan and leave what looks like bad sculpture. Burls, branch caps ( where the cambium has grown over a rotted-off branch), crotch areas between trunks or branches, various stages of decomposition and rot, bug "damage" , mold and fungus all contribute to the natural decoration of the piece. Any abnormal growth reveals abnormal grain and I am getting pretty good at spotting these features.
    Once dried, each piece has to be finished. Because most pieces are not truly round any more, they have to be sanded by hand. They can be mounted on the lathe for this, but can't really be spun-sanded the way a dry-turned piece would be. I do not like glossy finishes on pretty much anything and I use either a satin polyurethane or a hardening oil such as Minwax Antique Oil, applied by hand and rubbed smooth. On pieces obviously headed for the dining table, I use an oil and beeswax (from a local beekeeper friend) blend which needs to be maintained for use.
    Part of the enjoyment of these pieces is their tactile qualities. They just feel good to handle. I tend to turn my pieces thin which makes them light and fun. Size seems to matter in the marketplace, but I love turning even small pieces that have outstanding features . Sometimes these little forms are as much work as some of the larger ones but are gems in my eyes. If you check the photos on our Facebook page you can see a lot of the variations and some of my past work. If you see something you like but want it in a different finish or size, let me know. My stock of materials is always changing and I never know what amazing tree I'll come across next.

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    • william trench

      Owner, Turner

      Enjoying the rhythm of the lathe.

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