"Turning Wood into Art"

"Nothing is better for a man than that he should eat and drink,
and that his soul should enjoy good in his labor...."
-Ecclesiastes 2, 24

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The First "Acorn Series" Lidded Box

In late October, I announced the debut of my "Acorn Series" lidded boxes.   As discussed in my previous post, most handmade lathe-turned lidded boxes are turned on a single axis, which means the resulting box is round in at least one dimension.  My "Acorn Series' is unique because they are turned on THREE separate axes. This results in a "rounded square" shape when viewed from above and a subtle curve to the sides - framing a distinctive central oval - when viewed in profile.

In designing the Acorn Series, I strove to create a form that would dominate any space it occupied - a form that is at once solidly massive, yet appears suspended in space.

To achieve these objectives, I chose a piece of air-dried Eastern black walnut (Juglans nigra) that exhibited both a deep color and exceptional figure or "curl."  After turning the  sides on two separate axes,  I turned an outflowing base and subtle foot to establish the illusion of "suspension in space."  The floating illusion was strengthened by hollowing a shallow central cavity such that, when the lid is removed, the bottom of the box appears higher than it is in actuality.

This first edition is hand-finished with my own walnut oil and beeswax polish and buffed by hand to a satin sheen evocative of a fine British double.  Its rugged appearance is further enhanced by surface "checks" and other "honorable scars."  Seven inches square by almost 7-1/2 inches to the top of its African Blackwood finial.

It is available for sale through my Etsy store (please click on the picture or see the "Links" section.)  Other editions are also available.

I am always delighted to discuss any questions you might have about my work.


- Brad

Friday, December 25, 2009


Developing my own style - "finding (my own) voice" as the Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsmen puts it - was (and is) one of the most interesting challenges I've faced as a woodturner.  The idea is to have a clearly defined style such that an informed collector can immediately recognize a piece as yours.  For example: Cindy Drozda (www.cindydrozda.com) is known for her unique lidded box finials; David Ellsworth (www.ellsworthstudios.com) for his pioneering work with hollow forms; Kim Blatt (www.kimblattwoodturning.com) for his marvelous wall hangings.  The list goes on....

To put this into perspective, these well-known artists certainly do not limit themselves to the types of work mentioned.  Rather, they - like most folks who stand behind a lathe - express themselves in a variety of works.  (Check out their websites and you'll see what I mean.)

In my case, lidded boxes are a special favorite. In woodturning, a "box" is really more like a cup with some type of lid.

Because it's formed by being spun in a single axis on the lathe, it's obviously round. However, if one considers turning a box on different axes, the box will naturally take on different shapes.  Ellipses immediately come to mind.  But what would happen if one started with a rectangular piece of wood and formed the sides first? Then hollowed the box?  Thus my "Acorn Series" lidded boxes were born.  Named for the acorn motif embedded in their finials, this series is - I believe - unique.  I continue to experiment with this form and the more I delve into it, the more possibilities I see.  Examples are for sale in my supporting galleries, on my Etsy store (see the "Work for Sale" link) and directly though me at Brad@turningarts.com.  I hope you enjoy these forms as much as I enjoy creating them!

"Woodfire" - Acorn Series Lidded Box

 - Brad Sears
Copyright (c) 2009 by Brad Sears Fine Woodturning
This post may be freely linked-to or quoted with attribution to the author

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Why be "Environmentally Friendly"?

In my profile I talk about creating my woodturnings from trees destroyed by storms or destined for the wood pile.  I follow this practice both for ecological reasons and because it gives me almost total control over the material that goes into the work I produce.  That way - vagaries and hidden defects in the wood notwithstanding - the responsibility for any mistakes is mine.  And it is consistent with my ethic to give new - or renewed - life to a thing of beauty that would otherwise rot or be consumed by fire.

The other part of my ethic is to use environmentally friendly finishing methods.  That means using products considered by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (the FDA) as "Generally Regarded as Safe" or "GRAS."  Of those products, I typically use food-quality walnut oil and/or a polish I make myself that combines walnut oil with beeswax.  Walnut oil, which I use on all my bowls and other work intended for contact with food, is a penetrating oil that permeates the wood and hardens (polymerizes) to form a durable, food-safe finish that does not crack, peal or break down like finishes that simply sit on the surface.  For work, like my lidded boxes, that is intentded only for display, I typically use just my walnut oil/beeswax polish, which brings out the grain, enhances the color of the wood and impacts a soft satin sheen to the finished work that is incredibly warm and tactile.

While I plan to continue using these finishes, I recently discovered a Quakertown, PA-based company called the Real Milk Paint Company (http://www.realmilkpaint.com) that takes the environmentally friendly ethic to a whole new level.  To top it off, Dwayne Siever, owner of the company, is not only extremely knowledgeable, but a heck of a nice guy!  I recently used Dawyne's Raw Tung Oil for a shaving brush/mug set I made for my son for Christmas as well as for a new series of lidded boxes turned from otherwise plain white oak. In both cases, the result was superb!  The Raw Tung Oil, unlike most commercial Tung Oil products, contains no driers and is non-toxic right out of the bottle.  It has a rich brown color that adds an outstanding patina to the work right from the start - and also smells great!

Dwayne also came to the rescue with his environmentally friendly Soy-Gel paint remover, which I used to strip the cracked and pealed "salad bowl finish" from a family heirloom bowl that one of my collectors asked me to restore for him.  Under normal circumstances, I would have declined the commission since once a bowl finish deteriorates to that extent, you're usually better off throwing it away.  But since this bowl had been both a wedding present and the wood from which it was turned had from his grandfather's high school, I relented and took on the job.  After applying the Soy Gel according to label directions, the old finish came right off with no hassle.  After a quick hot water rinse and letting the bowl air-dry, I gave it a light sanding and soaked it in pure walnut oil.  Voila!  The Soy-Gel had given renewed life to a a bowl turned from previously recycled wood. A double- rescue!

-Brad Sears
Copyright (c) 2009 by Brad Sears Fine Woodturning
Portions of this post may be quoted or linked-to with attribution to the author

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