We may be able to produce a perfectly functional vase or bowl with some lines of code and a 3D printer, but those plastic pieces won’t have the natural touch found in nature.
Take the passionate set of craftspeople known as woodturners.
Woodturning is a type of woodworking that requires a machine called a lathe that holds a piece of wood in place and rotates it at high speeds. The woodturner then uses sharpened rods to cut the wood into a desired shape.
“I decided to go take a class in woodturning, and ever since then, everything in my shop has been geared towards doing woodturning. And it’s just kind of a very addictive form of woodworking that I enjoy a lot,” said Craig Timmerman, who owns his own business, Armadillo Woodworks.
Timmerman has been enjoying the craft of woodturning for about 20 years, but he only turned to it full time after leaving a career in computer programming. He reclaims fallen trees or those homeowners are removing from their properties. He prefers mesquite and other Texas hardwoods, in part, because of their imperfections. Some of the wood has voids that he uses as focal points in his finished pieces. Others have natural cracks that he fills with a turquoise inlay.
“All woods have unique characteristics to them,” he said. “Mesquite, which I use the most, has these natural cracks running through them. If you try to cut them all away, then there would be virtually nothing left. So I accentuate those flaws.”
Timmerman is part of a larger organization of about 20,000 craftspeople called the American Association of Woodturners, which seeks to promote the art by teaching others.
“Woodturners will tell you everything about their process in great detail for as long as you want to stand there and listen to them, so it’s a very unique organization in that way,” Timmerman said.
In this spirit, many woodturners have taken to YouTube to share their process with anyone who might have some interest in the subject. Peter Brown is one such YouTuber.
One famous proponent of the craft is Nick Offerman of NBC’s “Parks and Recreation.” His book, “Good Clean Fun: Misadventures in Sawdust at Offerman Woodshop,” got positive reviews.
With all of this interest in the art, Timmerman is in good company. He makes not only art pieces for display, but also bowls, platters and pepper mills intended for daily use.
“Production items are the things that you turn as fast as you can. They are items that I make 10 or more of all at the same time,” Timmerman said. “This saves me a lot of time, so I can sell them at a lower price point, which is important for the Christmas season.”
Timmerman said his more utilitarian wood pieces sell well at Austin’s annual Armadillo Christmas Bazaar, which showcases handcrafted goods from central Texas artists. But he hopes to spend more time experimenting with other types of woodworking. He is currently testing a technique in which he binds several thin strips of wood together and then bends them in a vacuum chamber, giving the strips a curve. He does this to make anything from wall art to a balancing shelf piece.
Even after two decades in woodworking, Timmerman’s journey isn’t over.
“I make pieces now that I wouldn’t have been able to make 20 years ago, and I still get frustrated when I see things in wood that I can’t do,” he said.
Despite this, Timmerman presses forward with the craft he is passionate about, learning more with every new piece he creates.
“That’s where the fun is — trying new things that you haven’t done, as well as the willingness to have something fail and learn from that, because that’s the only way you’re going to know.”