And not the smoking type! I decided this year that I really wanted to learn something new – turning wood bowls. I found the biggest piece of maple I could find, chopped it in half, planed it then stuck it on the lathe. At first it was horrifying to gouge into a giant mass of spinning wood. Slowly, it became more comfortable, and the wood peeled off in strands. After shaping and sanding the outside, I flipped and did the same for the inside. After taking great care to dry out the wet green wood, the bowls looks great!
Every farmer’s market may look the same and smell the same (kettle corn anyone?), but the individual artisans always have a story to tell. With my parents up for a visit, we decided to see the gallery of one such artisan, a bowl shaper. What made this guy different was the fact that he not only made traditional salad bowls, but he also crafted bowls on the lathe from hardwood with burls. Burls are the knotty part of a tree where it has been attacked, a branch has been removed or at the base.
After meeting the guy at the market, we knew that his shop was going to be an adventure, but we didn’t expect to see a pile of burly hardwood that could burn down a sizable city. As a fellow woodworker, I ogled over his collection of old school lathes, including a junker from the 1800’s, and tried to absorb as much of the process as I could. He takes green (live) wood, fits it to a lathe bit, gives it a rough shape then lets the wood dry slowly in as humid a place as he can find. After a few years of sitting he then reshapes the bowl, since it has warped, and gives the piece a finish.
His finishing process is just as interesting as his junkyard. Instead of coating the pieces, he fills each bowl with the finish, until it runs all the way through. That way when he puts on a coat on the outside of the bowl, he isn’t trapping air and humidity inside and the finish will never wear out. Now that I have seen such beauties, I am chomping at the bit (get it?) to get into the campus shop and give it a whirl (all day!) myself!