Thoughts on What the Hell I Can Make Out of a Gnarled but Beautiful Chunk of Wood

Over the last few weeks, Creekview Woodshop has had the opportunity to participate in two holiday events: the Berea’s Holiday Makers Market and the Christmas Market at Michler’s. They were both outstanding events, super fun, and we met awesome people.

Since then, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what motivates me to make the kinds of things I do on my lathe. It likely sounds strange to even pose the question considering I’m asking myself—and technically should know already since it’s, well, me—but even I wonder sometimes on a broader philosophical or artistic level why I might choose to make something a certain shape or color, because half the time there is no “plan.”

Overall, I’m mostly motivated by my curiosity: what can I turn that knotty, nasty hunk of wood into? Is there something beautiful in there (beauty being relative and all)? What would happen if I tried to balance this crazy thing between centers and gave it a spin?

The guys at the wood lot handed me a crazy looking piece of oak in the shape of an egg because it would “burn good and long,” but fortunately I had other ideas. In fact, that “egg” didn’t go in the back of the truck. It got to ride shotgun and later became a series of oak burl bottle stoppers of which these are a few.

Well, I can tell you what often happens – big hunks of bark and wood go flying around the woodshop, landing even in crazy places like the storage loft above (just found this out as I wrestled with the boxes of Christmas stuff to get them down to take in the house the other night). About 30 percent of the time, that crazy piece of wood turns into something pretty cool. The remaining 70 percent of the time, it joins the other scrap in the fire pit. You don’t know until you try it.

William, handmade wooden pen holder by Tanya Faberson

William the pen cup was one of the lucky 30%.

With some of these chunks of wood, I already have some sort of idea of what it might work out as – for example, a pen cup or a vase. Sometimes I’m motivated to try things out based on what kind of music I’m listening to or what birds I see hopping all over the nearby feeders. I just never know what I’ll come out with when I walk into the shop, and that keeps things interesting.

One thing I can say for certain is that I like things to look a bit wretched, as I call it. But wretched in a good way. Not miserable and pitiable. More raw and imperfect.

Lori almost shed a tear when we sold Layne at the Berea Makers Market. Wonder how I came up with that name?

I recently started making candle holders and am in love with this wretched little piece.

This is especially true for my pen cups, bowls, vases, candle holders, and even some bottle stoppers and pens. I’m always interested in how I can keep some element of the piece of wood as I found it, whether it’s got striations, tears, bark, cut marks, crazy grain, interesting cracks, worm holes, big knots, holes birds once lived in, you name it. The imperfect is somewhat perfect in my book, and I like to maintain some element of the tree in my work.

Once a home to birds, this branch that was destined for the wood pile was transformed into a sculptural piece on my lathe.

A lot of turners are always on the lookout for that perfect piece of wood to make the perfect bowl. I’m okay with not having that “perfect” piece of wood. Hand me that root ball or dead knotty tree branch and let’s see what I can do with it. Most of all, I don’t like things too perfect because I don’t want it forgotten that that bowl in your hands was once part of a beautiful, living plant. We should honor the memory of the tree – not make it into something that doesn’t even look like wood, but again, that’s my thing.

Christmas is approaching, and I’ll be back in the shop shortly spinning more chunks of wood and creating fun and wretched (in a good way) things within the next few days – once I excavate the layers of dust and wood chips covering the shop after all of the hustle and bustle over the last few weeks preparing for the holiday markets. I hope you are doing well, and I appreciate you stopping by. ☺