Manawatu woodturner Mike Walker screws a gnarly lump of walnut to the lathe, and starts it slowly spinning.
Branch stubs, knots, wind-damage marks - it seems impossible that this lump of wood could be anything other than firewood. But that's heresy - no woodturner on Earth would waste a chunk of walnut. It's a rare treasure these days; turners usually only get their hands on it when friends prune or cut down trees.
Mr Walker sets the chisel against the rest, and thunck, thunck, thunck! The out-thrust lumps of wood sheer off in long lines of wet shavings. "It'll take a while, but I'm looking forward to seeing what's under all this gnarly stuff."
The Manawatu Woodturners Guild is holding its pre-Christmas open days and sale of work, at the guild hall at 38 Featherston St, between 9am and 5pm today, tomorrow and Sunday. Members will demonstrate lathe and scroll saw work, happy to tutor those interested.
Mr Walker expected a fairly flat platter to emerge from the walnut. He hoped the branch stubs would yield fabulous changes in the grain of the wood. It's a long project; he'll spend upwards of an hour turning the lump into something that resembles a plate, slowly increasing the lathe's speed from 300 revolutions per minute to about 1200rmp. Then he'll let the wet platter dry for maybe a year, before he fits it back to the lathe to re-turn and refine it.
There's a risk the wet wood might warp or crack during drying, but the alternative is waiting several years for the lump of walnut to dry out before turning.
Manawatu Woodturners Guild member Bruce Chandler is working on a slab of wet elm. Long blonde shavings curl away under the chisels as he deftly manipulates the sharp edges against the wood's surface. "You follow the natural curve in the wood grain to shape the outside of the bowl. You want to work with the wood, not against it," Mr Chandler said.
Both turners say the mystery of what's waiting to be revealed as the chisels cut away excess wood is a major charm of the craft.
"You just never know what's inside a piece of wood," member Helen Walker said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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