Anne’s cousin John and his wife have their home on Exmoor living a Good Life, which combines training dogs, with rearing pigs, growing their own vegetables and providing accomodation for holidaymakers. They also have a passion for old crafts and skills, which is why John is currently turning his hand to woodturning.
“I kept on coming across all these wonderful old fence posts that had fallen into disuse and were just languishing in the undergrowth. They’re made of oak, so even though they’ve been rotting on the ground for 30 or 40 years they’re still in incredibly good condition and very strong.
“It’s surprising the old wood you can find lying around. I found old fence posts but it could just as easily been driftwood if I lived nearer to the sea. Just keep your eyes open.”
John starts out by cleaning the wood, bringing out the natural grain using a fine wire brush and waxing it to reveal the colour and shine.
“It amazes me how beautiful the wood becomes. I’m currently working on making one post into a picture frame by cutting it vertically into quarters.
“But I started out producing candlesticks because they were easier to create as a begginer – that’s what the shape seemed to say to me. I can look at a piece of wood for days before turning it into something. ”
John’s early candlesticks simply involved bringing out the natural grain and weathering. “I cut them at one end to provide a solid base and made a hole in the top for the candle. I’d fix a nail or screw at the bottom of the hole to hold the candle steady.”
But now John is experimenting with turning the wood to create smooth symetrical surfaces. “I made one pair of candlesticks for friends and I knew they’d want something with a totally smooth finish. But I also like creating candlesticks that combine a smooth turned finish with the natural appearance of the wood.”
Woodturning involves turning the wood on a lathe and using hand tools to smooth the wood and carve a shape or design. John advises that anyone who has no experience of woodturning should take a course before starting out. “But you can create wonderful objects just by cleaning and rubbing down old wood.”
Useful websites about woodturning
There’s an American site called Woodturning Online which has a lot of ideas and instructions, plus information about tools and equipment. >> Woodturning Online
It’s worth looking at local college websites for adult evening classes in woodturning and carpentry. These can be very reasonable. There are also woodturners who run courses such as:
>> Don White and >> Stiles & Bates
“Increasingly people seem to want to learn skills like carpentry and woodturning,” says John. “It’s not only really satisfying but a possible source of income if you get good at it. Items like candlesticks and wooden cheese plates go down really well at farmers’ markets. I even made our dining table out of an old oak door. It’s beautful and something like that would have cost a fortune to buy.”
Working with wood – John’s tips for beginners
1. Don’t be in a rush to get started. Spend time thinking about what you want to create.
2. Make sure you prepare thoroughly. “Get the wood really clean but don’t immerse it in water,” says John. Work with brushes – old shoes brushes will do – and a wire brush that isn’t too stiff. The shoe brushes are also great for getting wax or polish into the grain when you’ve finished.
3. Inspect the wood carefully looking for old nails, bits of wire etc. These need to be removed or hammered well in so they are not a danger to you or the tools you’re using.
4. Wear safety glasses.