CORVALLIS GAZETTE-TIMES: Wood turns at Expo Center (03/18/2017)
Monday, March 20, 2017
Posted by: Kim Rymer
There's a rich and warm smell of wood near the vendor tables, where blocks of birch, maple, pear, pecan and others are for sale. The raw blocks sit across from tables of finished woodturning pieces — bowls, spirals, delicate towers, Japanese dolls, tea cups and orbs. The work is impressive and beautiful.
More than 300 woodturners from throughout Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and California are showing their skills this weekend during the second annual Oregon Woodturning Symposium, which began Friday at the Linn County Fair & Expo Center. It continues from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and runs from 8 a.m. to noon Sunday. Admission is free.
But for all the demonstrations, displays, and aromatic blocks of timber, the art of woodturning, which dates back 3,000 years, is nowhere near as easy as it might look.
"Most people turn really, really badly, they just don't know it," remarked Stuart Batty, a United Kingdom native who lives in Boulder, Colorado, where he teaches the art he learned from his father, Allan, a master woodturner who died last July. This year's show is dedicated to Allan's memory.
Batty, who has been turning wood for 42 years, is revered as a master, and others marvel at his technique. The common understanding is that proper woodturning requires no sanding at the end to finish the shape. Batty does not use sandpaper.
"Ninety-nine percent of us here will use sandpaper," said Mark Choiz of Willamette Valley Woodturners. "Only one percent are Stuart. The rest of us keep the sandpaper business up."
Batty teaches what he describes as the proper European methods for turning, which involve a scraping technique called negative rake scraping, which dates back to the 15th century.
Simply put, negative rake employs a blade with two bevels, rather than the traditional scraper, which has only one edge on what is essentially a blunt face of steel. The negative rake, according to Batty, is becoming more prominent, because its use greatly reduces the potential for a piece to literally explode during the turning process.
That's part of what the Battys of the woodturning world bring to the table. In fact, the 15th century methods he teaches did not exist in any written form until he learned them and wrote them down himself. But he works to impart to hobbyists the traditionalism and attention to correct technique he embraces.
"Ninety percent of woodturners are hobbyists," said symposium president Terry Gerros. To look at some of his work, such as a dainty teacup with a lid and an accent made from holly that resembles steam, it's easy to want to place him outside of the 90 percent. But the Salem veterinarian calls himself "a vet by day and a woodturner by night." He's been at it since 1997, but took years off to teach veterinary medicine at Oregon State University. These days, he has a practice in Salem that affords him the time to turn wood.
Asked what his favorite thing is about turning, he answered, "Finding what lies beneath the bark."
Discovering the pattern of the wood, or where the knots or other features are, will sometimes guide his ideas for that particular project.
And while Gerros counts himself among the ones who aspire to the master level, Choiz puts it in perspective when he describes the alternative when a project goes wrong.
"If one of our projects blows up, we at least have some firewood," he said.
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