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January 2006 Program

Mike Jones:
“One Man’s Trash Wood….Is Another’s Treasure!”

This ever happen to you? You go out to your never diminishing wood pile looking for an afternoon opportunity to make something on the lathe. You sort through the various pieces and shapes looking for the volunteer to jump out and yell, “Pick Me! Pick Me!”. So you pick that promising young piece out of the pile and realizing it is too big for your lathe you break out the chainsaw or band saw to cut it in half. Only to your great disappointment you find when the wood is laid open, that there is a rotted center, or a gnarly-looking crack running right through it.

There was a time when I would have had a few choice words to say as I threw the piece into my ever-growing wood trash pile for burning. Well not any more. I cherish those finds (most of the time). To me, turning a piece of wood with heavy bark inclusions, knot holes and cracks, water and decay stains, and worm holes and insect infestations is more satisfying than any other turning. Don’t get me wrong; I appreciate a beautifully seasoned and flawless specimen of wood that has been turned with artistic precision into a finely sculpted vessel. Work like that is timeless…It’s just not me.

Now I know this is hard to believe, but you will just have to trust me on this…I have flaws. No, it’s true. I know that is hard to accept, but beneath my balding head and drooping physique, I am not perfect. I have faced this truth and have also realized that this fact is true of every other individual on the planet. Because of this, I have come to the conclusion that human beings look for flaws in things and upon finding them, become more accepting. Personally, I am intimidated by perfection; I feel more relaxed and comfortable around something that contains slight imperfection…in art, in people, in life, and in wood.

Therefore, as my woodturning experience has moved me through the years, I find myself thinking less about a specific vessel shape or size to turn as I head toward my shop. Instead, I find myself out near the woodpile with a cup of coffee, staring at an excavated tree stump covered in dried mud and ants and wondering to myself….”What is in there?”, “How can I get something out of this?”, “Where is the coolest grain or water damage?”, “If I did this, how would I mount it on the lathe?”. Once on the lathe, with the vibration shaking the shop from the almost always out of balance wood, the transformation begins. Shavings pile up mixed with the chunks of dirt clods or mud. Half drunken insects cover my face shield as they try to recover from the centrifugal nightmare from which they just emerged. Intermittent cuts challenge me the whole way, but the piece begins to emerge. A shape, a form, consisting of both positive and negative space is being created. It consists of inspiring wood grain that highlights the tree when it was in its prime, yet complimented by the same wood in stages of decomposition.

It is finding this balance in both the prime of life and the latter stages of natural forces that make me identify with a piece and I am comforted as a human being. So what one man might throw out as trash, I now look for as opportunity. I challenge you to do the same. Be safe. Mount the pieces solidly, use eye and hand protection, and stop often to examine the condition of the wood for structural weaknesses. But don’t pass up on a piece of wood because it has some flaws, instead, embrace it.

I have been turning for a little over three years as a hobby and a time killer. This month I plan on talking on this issue and some of its challenges. I will bring a challenging piece of wood and we will open it up on the lathe and see what it holds for us. It may be nothing special and it may be spectacular, but one thing is for will be unique.

Page updated February 24, 2006

Copyright 2006, Woodturners of North Texas