One of the biggest challenges Turners face (besides the actual art of turning wood), is the lack of understanding from those who don't know the process these pieces go through from start to finish.
"Isn't it just a matter of putting a piece of wood on a lathe, turning it into a shape, and then selling it? Why should I pay someone so much money for an hour or two worth of work?"
This is one of the biggest misconceptions we come across!
It all depends on the piece. Here at DK American Woodcraft, we make a variety of hand-turned pieces, and each one has it's own level of difficulty & materials involved. From the smallest spinning tops, to the large detailed serving sets, each one has a 'process' it must go through. Each type of wood is unique when it comes to drying time, aging process, stability, uniqueness...etc. To give you a quick run-through of each of the steps, we've skipped over the finer details and broken it down to the basics for you...
First we have to decide on a species of wood. Take for example, Spalted Maple. It is known for it's like creamy color and contrasting black lines & streaks. It is technically not a specific species of Maple, but a description of maple that has been allowed to begin the initial stages of decay, and then subsequently dried before it compromises the stability of the wood. Spalting needs to be closely monitored to assure that it starts the drying process before the wood is rendered useless, and monitoring it can take anywhere from 6 weeks to up to 2yrs!
Then comes the drying part (this is the same process that is used with all green wood). All wood needs to be slowly dried to an ideal moisture contest of around 8%. With a kiln, drying time can be sped up and completed in about 30 days vs 6mo to 2+yrs for rack drying.
There is also rough turning. This is where you take a bowl (or other piece you're planning on turning), and spin a rough shape out of it. After this process, it gets sealed and set aside once again for the next stage of drying. There are so many different techniques used for this process, but it ultimately comes down to trial & error. Some prefer the natural method, while others try to speed up the process for faster production. But no matter which method you choose, patience plays a huge part!
Once you have your stockpile of wood that will be drying for an undetermined amount of time, you can reach for one of your early pieces from months ago and test the moisture content. If it's dry enough (but not too dry), you can finally begin to let your creative juices flow! It gets locked onto the lathe, and you have your variety of tools set up for different cuts, shapes, and angles. Now is when the wood decides what it wants to become!
Once you have the shape of the bowl, goblet, vessel, platter.... whatever has taken shape, it's time to see what the dust & shavings have been hiding. You start with sand paper. But it's not just a matter of rubbing 80 grit on it and being done. No, you want to gradually work your way up to a fine grade to remove the marks of the previous grade. That might mean 5 different grits until your satisfied to move onto the next step. Next, we prefer to use an abrasive paste that can get a bit costly over time on our end, but well worth the extra effort. It consists of pharmaceutical grade ingredients that are formulated to create a fine keys surface prior to applying the oil finish. Finally is the oil finish. Depending on what piece we're turning, it will consist of an immediate food-grade finish, or a lacquer/oil finish that once it's cured, will also be food-grade.
One of the biggest fears (and heartbreaks) of a turner, is getting to the final stages and seeing your piece come to life, when all of a sudden there's a loud BANG, and it explodes into pieces of shrapnel that are sent flying in all directions! It happens. A LOT! Months of tedious work, gone in the blink of an eye. And all you can do is clean up and start over. It's part of what we do, and the risk we take to produce beautiful heirlooms for people to enjoy for many years.
If only it was a simple as pricing the materials used and the man-hours it consisted of. But unfortunately, that would be impossible when some pieces take months & years to complete!
The art of wood-turning is more than a simple hobby for us. It's a passion that takes time, patience, and an eye for the tiniest details, to be sure only the best pieces leave the shop.