Pole Lathe Turning: Teaching in England, Sweden, and Home, Part 2
We left off last time with the 2 workshops I taught in London which were spread out over two weekends. In between we went up to Brookhouse Wood where I taught another workshop, this time for experienced turners.
Brookhouse Wood was built by Mike Abbott who ran green wood courses there for many years, and because of this, it has a very special place within the green woodworking scene for me. Mike published a book on 'Green Woodworking' in 1989. He along with Drew Langsner and Jennie Alexander were some of the first to use this term for woodworking with fresh timber. He is one of the Grandfathers of The New Wood Culture.
Mike's book was a foundational book for me when I was starting out. Mike also had many interns over the years, folks like Ben Orford, Barn the Spoon, Owen Thomas, Jojo Wood. Names like these prove his place as a very influential teacher and mentor.
Brookhouse Wood is a magical place, built of traps and lashed poles, earthen floors, a sunken fire pit, woodfired oven and a giant table surrounded by handmade chairs. The place felt steeped with stories. Today, one of Barn's past apprentices, Will St. Clair, runs workshops and a glamping business at the Wood.
Another main player in this story is Yoav Kafets. I met Yoav when he was in my Prefest Course at Spoonfest a few years ago. Yoav's a really talented craftsman in both spooncarving and pole lathe turning and is also a great musician. We have kept in touch through social media since then and at one point he had planned to come and work with me for a few months. That idea ended up on hold for a while. I have a few of his spoons, a handled cup and a spalted beech dish which we bought from him on this visit. I use all his work regularly and they are some of my favorites. Here is the link to Yoav's website and Instagram feed.
During our time at the Wood Yoav was camping out in his van/truck which he converted into a great little home on wheels. I have a sweet spot in my heart for the van/truck-conversion-house-thing. In my past I lived for a time in 2 different converted school buses and also a 1970 VW transporter. Seeing his home brought back a lot of fond memories of those times. Yoav's home was simple and very cozy and full of all kinds of nice woodenware too. Yoav parked up at Brookhouse for the summer and helped Will run workshops. When my plans were being formed for the trip, Yoav and I discussed the idea of running a workshop. He pulled it together and made it happen.
The class was intended for folks that had a good deal of experience turning. It was very important in many ways. Not having to cover any of the basics like hook tool cutting techniques, sharpening, design, and basic forging really helped bring the subject matter of the class to the highest level possible. As I reflect on it now I think that a class of this level has never really been done before, anywhere. To me this is very humbling, but also very exciting. It is a testament to the growing pole lathe bowl and cup turning community.
Of the 6 turners in the class I had met Sharif Adams, Owen Thomas and of course Yoav during previous trips. Then there was Matty Whittaker, Paul and Dave (sorry I don't know your last names). This group was a powerful force of turners. They all arrived still reeling from the first 'Bowl Gathering' the weekend before in which many of the hardcore pole lathe bowl turners in the UK attended.
On the first day after everyone set up their lathes, we got to work. We prepared the wood, I did some demos and started with turning handled end grain cups. Throughout the day we all shared our techniques and processes, talked about hooks and got to forge them for immediate use. It was an awesome day. In the evening people sang ballads, played bagpipes, fiddle, and the tea chest bass after a delicious meal cooked over the fire by Will. On the second day it was all about locking lidded boxes with more free sharing of skills and ideas. There was so much that happened—too much to write here.
This was the first time I worked with folks with a lot of experience and it forced me to really think about and even rethink some of my techniques and processes. Teaching the more advanced techniques was very refreshing, equally challenging and very humbling. It was hard to call this just a simple workshop. There was a spirit of sharing among all of us that is hard to describe. Many of the group had turned both end grain and locking lidded boxes mostly in isolation (save for limited contact through social media), so getting together like this and sharing techniques, skills, process and experience was paramount. It just doesn't happen that often.
After all this reflection I can't help but consider the future, the future within what we are calling The New Wood Culture. It may be very small today, but it's surely growing. Just look at the size of the scene when folks like Mike Abbott started.
The objects we make and use today are defined within a different context than that in which they were made in the past. It was not too long ago when people had no choice but to use the materials at hand to make the things they needed for everyday life. In today's time our world is filled with so many choices it's mind numbing. But just because there are cheap alternatives to vernacular handmade craft doesn't necessarily mean we should use them. What kind of future are we creating by setting out to make and use these things? I believe that because our choices are different than they were in the past, so will the future be that we are creating by those choices.
Sharing with one another is a very important part in this and there can be many ways to share.
The things we make embody this sharing, embody our stories, embody us and our choices.....