Friday was sourcing wood day for me, I bought a tree which will make many hundreds of bowls and keep me busy for a few months. The importance of getting the right tree can create or save hundreds of hours work over that time and will also affect the character of the bowls available for sale on the website over the coming months, it's an important decision.
Most wood turners when they start buy their wood from timber suppliers who cut them into "bowl blanks" like this, ready to pop on the lathe and turn a bowl. Nice and easy but expensive and also many of the important design decisions have already been taken for you. You are a very long way from the raw material, many folk will be turning wood which came from foreign trees that they have never seen growing and have little idea of the woodlands from which they came. Bowl blanks are often kiln dried to avoid movement in the wood.
Now I like to buy whole trees, locally sourced. If I was a potter I would have to source my own clay and fire with wood, to me this sort of thing gives me control over the variables in the process but still allows the natural variation that gives the work life. To me buying kiln dried wood or homogenous clay produces homogenous products, it is very like the difference between an artisan produced unpasteurized cheese and the product of a large creamery. The former is not inherently better but it is more interesting.
Anyway as a craftsman much of the delight of the work is in the raw material, get perfect raw material and the job is a breeze, perfect bowls with a fraction of the effort. I don't begrudge the times when I am struggling with less than perfect material though because that is when I really need my skills to get a good finish. Peter lane an old hurdle maker I used to do shows with told me his father used to say that any fool could make a hurdle out of perfect material. When Peter and his father bought a coup of coppice every hazel rod no matter how crooked had to go into a hurdle that was the only way to make it pay.
So I arrived at MrAnderson's the tree surgeon who has supplied most of my timber over the last 15 years and spent a good while going through the various trees in the yard. I take a few slices off likely looking trees with a chainsaw and then work a bit of the wood with an axe to get a feel for the state the wood is in and how it will work. Unfurtunately the tree I wanted was at the bottom of the pile but Richard dug it out for me.
George Lailey "the last bowlturner". I will adjust my tools and techniques over the next week or so and would expect to get them optimised for this wood, then full on production starts. I am demonstrating turning next Saturday at the Museum of English Rural Life where Lailey's lathe is centrepiece of the displays.