Don McIvor

Woodturner

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For me, this is what it's all about! I can't think of a more perfect medium than wood for the expression of form melded with function. With its tremendous range of color, figure, grain, and character, the possibilities are nearly infinite and the challenge renewed with every piece. When it comes to materials available for wood turning, every piece you put on the lathe is different from the last, and every piece presents a new opportunity for expression. The challenge at its most basic level is figuring out what prospects lie within the wood dizzily spinning about on the lathe, and how to bring those prospects to light.

As much as I possibly can I use wood that is either sustainably harvested or diverted from the waste stream headed for the landfill. I like finding my own wood, an opportunistic endeavor, but living as I do on the edge of the high desert it isn't always possible for me to find wood locally. But, I can be picky about where my wood is sourced. Because shipping costs have gotten out of hand, I still try to find wood locally, and that typically means orchards and urban landscapes in California, Oregon, Washington, and sometimes Idaho.

Wood turners have a little more latitude in choosing their source material than, say, a cabinet maker who must select the straightest grained and well behaved wood they can find. As such, there really is no reason to be harvesting virgin timber to turn into wooden ware. Those of us who pass our time at the lathe can pretty well keep ourselves supplied with trees trimmed or removed from urban landscapes and orchards. Some of my wood also comes from artists in the area who also work in wood.

Caring for Your Wooden Ware

I have tried a number of finishes on my pieces, including linseed oil, Danish oil, and walnut oil with beeswax. I still use linseed or Danish oil on decorative pieces. On utilitarian pieces I use a blend of tung and orange oil. All of the finishes I use are safe for food contact, but the tung/orange oil blend is easily renewed on pieces that experience a working life.

Hard glossy finishes look great in the gallery, but as soon as the piece is inadvertently bumped or dropped and the finish marred, it is very difficult for the average user to restore. The oil/wax finish simply needs an occasional wiping down with walnut, peanut, lemon, or sunflower oil. Any piece will benefit from this treatment, but this is especially important if you use your wooden ware for food service. If you do serve food from your bowl or plate, simply wash the piece in warm soapy water and either drain or wipe dry. Over time your piece will develop a luster and its own history of bumps and scrapes that add to the patina and create a true family heirloom. There are pieces of wooden ware in the City Museum of Birmingham (and many other collections) that are hundreds of years old. With only a little consideration, there is no reason that your wooden treasure won't reach an equally illustrious age!

And finally, a word about non-utility pieces. If you've acquired an item you'd prefer to simply display on a shelf or table somewhere, it too will benefit from a modest amount of care. I recommend the occasional wipe-down with a good quality furniture polish. Look for a product in your local market that contains citrus or nut oils to help renew the moisture content of the wood's outer surface.