LatheCraftsmen turners have provided articles of use and decoration in many parts of the world for well over two thousand years. Turning involves an object (usually wood, but occasionally bone, metal, or stone) being held firmly and rotated (by foot or electric power) while a cutting tool, held by hand on a rest to steady it, shapes the object as it passes. Because of the rotation the resulting form is, usually, round.

For many years the power for rotation was human in origin and this tradition is maintained by pole-lathe turners.

There are huge variations in the Ash Cupsworld of turning. While usually involving wood, many varieties of tree are used, for example native British species commonly used include, Ash, Beech, Cherry, Elm, Oak and Sycamore while non-native hardwoods for example Bubinga, Eucalyptus, Padauk and Zebrano add to the rich range of possible results. Most woods are suitable for contact with food but there are exceptions, which Registered Professional Turners will be aware of.

Some woodturners work from “wet wood” i.e. from recently felled trees, while others prefer to work from pre-dried timbers; each Registered Professional Turner has developed his or her skills and is able to make the best use of what is available matching their personal preferences and customer demands.

A set of stair spindles fresh off the lathe
A set of stair spindles fresh off the lathe

The turning produces either a solid form such as newel posts or balusters for staircases, chair legs, handles, lamps or candlesticks, or forms with an inside and an outside surface such as bowls, platters, hollow forms or boxes. Most of the former are turned with the grain of the wood parallel to the lathe bed (so-called spindle turning) while most of the latter are turned with the grain running across the lathe (so called end-grain or faceplate turning) however there are many exceptions.

The work of turners ranges from the functional, though that should also be simultaneously pleasing to the eye and of good quality finish, to pieces which are purely decorative. Some turners do only “general turning” eg multiple copies of work to commission from for example architects or furniture makers, while others make one-off artistic pieces for galleries and exhibitions or as presentation pieces to celebrate or commemorate events or individuals. The hollow form is one form of artistic work which brings out the beauty of the wood and serves to highlight the skills of the maker. Many turners focus on making bowls and platters while others make small functional objects known as treen. Miniature turning involves the use of small tools to make work to scale  suitable for dolls houses.

In the last two decades there have been many changes brought about by the increasing popularity of turning, technical advances providing new tools, and leaps of the imagination in what is possible. Artistic pieces are often enhanced by combining turning with cabinet making and other artistic skills such as carving, painting, lacquering, pyrography, inlaying etc.

Another area which has developed in recent years is segmented turning in which the work is made from small pieces of wood joined together to allow colour variations to add further artistic licence.

In addition to producing these types of work, many turners pass on their skills by demonstrating to clubs across the UK (and some of them are of international standing) and/or by teaching to small groups of students.

The Register List gives the types of work each member is able to do. A lot of jobs come from architects, builders, furniture makers, antiques restorers, art and craft galleries and individuals. So, if you need a newel post near Newent, a bowl near Bowland Bridge, a candlestick near Canterbury, a presentation piece near Prestbury or a special commission anywhere, please consult members of the Register. You can also find those members who demonstrate or teach turning.