Here are My Woodturnings!
by Robert Wallace
Note: click any picture to see a larger version.
Over 20 years ago I got back into woodturning, following the birth of my daughter – having a fairly complete basement woodworking shop with table saw, jointer, planer, band saw, miter saw, router table, etc., I had all of the equipment I needed to do just about any woodworking project I desired. Unfortunately, it was hard to come home from work, head to the shop, and just fire-up the power tools when your baby's room is one floor immediately above the shop, and she is asleep! I needed to do something a bit quieter. After watching a pen turning demonstration at an Ames Woodworkers Club meeting, the solution to this problem was clear. I needed a lathe. I had first learned to turn in 7th and 8th grade woodshop (…and still have my first bowl and gavel I made at that time!), when only a few of us got to use the lathe after we had finished all of our assigned projects (…using the lathe in woodshop was a 'privilege' and somewhat of a status symbol!). I also managed to turn about four or five other pieces while taking 3 years of woodshop in high school. That was the last time I worked at the lathe before "starting over" after my daughter was born – a hiatus of about 20 years.
Once I had obtained my first lathe (a "Blue" version of the Jet 1236) I began to teach myself to turn, using mostly books and a few VHS videos (there was no Internet or Youtube in 1992). Getting back into making spindles and simple bowls was fun, although without a good turning mentor, I launched my fair share of bowls and snapped quite a few spindles as I learned the importance of tool control and proper turning technique. I also got into pen turning and had fun making gifts for family and friends. The normal progression of advancing in one's woodturning interests continued with the need to make pieces that were of better quality than those that you had made before, and I wanted to push my boundaries a bit by making bigger and more complex bowls and other vessels. Internet discussion groups such as 'rec.crafts.woodturning' were helpful years ago to gain additional information. The 'Woodturning Messageboard' at woodcentral.com was (…and still is!) an excellent source of information, with tons of experience available at your fingertips (literally) through one's keyboard, that assisted greatly to help with my woodturning learning curve. When the annual Symposium of the American Association of Woodturners came to Kansas City, I attended my first AAW symposium and I was just blown away by the woodturning skills and creative pieces I saw when I attended that meeting. I was hooked and became an AAW member then and there! I have not missed an AAW Symposium since!
After seeing the 'state of the art' in woodturning at these AAW symposia, watching experts to learn their technique, and viewing hundreds of pieces in the Instant Gallery each year, the quality of my turnings rapidly improved. I was able to see and purchase better quality tools and get advice from some of the best turners in the World. I have since taken several hands-on classes from expert turners such as Bonnie Klein, Alan Lacer, and Jimmy Clewes to name a few. We started a "Woodturners Group" within the Ames Woodworkers Club for those members interested in woodturning, and began to have a separate monthly meeting in addition to our usual woodworkers meetings. This really helped the turners group grow, and we eventually evolved into the "Ames Area Woodturners" – now an 'official' chapter of the AAW. With a local group of fellow woodturners to keep the activities going each month, it was easy to stay intensely focused on learning more and becoming a better woodturner.
I began to investigate the possibility of selling my turnings after being invited to show them in a local gallery. At the same time, I began submitting some of the pieces for competition in the Iowa State Fair Woodworking Division. For a number of years winning several awards in the woodworking area, it was suggested to me to enter a piece or two into the Iowa State Fair Juried Fine Art Exhibition. My first attempt at submitting work into a juried show ended successfully – I had won a first place award in Sculpture! Over the past few years I have continued to enter turned pieces in this and other regional juried art exhibitions, and have enjoyed making a gradual entrance into the art world. I joined my local Center for the Arts ("The Octagon") and after a few years as a member, was elected to serve on its Board of Trustees, even serving two years as the Board's President. Similarly, after participating more and more in AAW activities, including helping as assistant auctioneer for several years, doing a few demonstrations and Special Interest Night presentations, I was nominated to serve as a member of the AAW's Board of Directors. After being elected in 2012, I have had the pleasure of meeting hundreds of woodturners and serving on the AAW Board. This is an excellent opportunity for me to give back to the organization that so vividly sparked my enthusiasm for woodturning, and which continues to provide a rich environment to learn techniques, gain access to tools and the experts that use them, and to develop friendships based on common interest in woodturning.
If you can believe it, all of this began because I needed a quieter way to do woodworking after my daughter was born. Over the past 22 years, I have gained many memorable experiences and now have many wonderful woodturning friends across the country and around the world - all of this is related to wanting to learn more and taking advantage of the opportunities presented by the AAW and other groups to experience woodturning. I now belong to two AAW chapters, own 4 lathes, sell my work in four galleries, and continue to be completely fascinated by the inescapable vortex that is known as "woodturning". I wouldn't have it any other way!
You can email Robert at
. You can see more of Robert's work on his website at
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