Turning Hardwood Bowls from Fallen Trees

I love reading this story of Yale faculty member Scott Strobel, who takes fallen trees from the Yale campus and mills them into large hardwood blanks, which he turns (literally) into hardwood bowls.

Dr. Strobel, who serves as vice president in addition to overseeing lab work in biochemistry and biophysics, discovered his passion for woodworking when he realized how disappointed he was in the availability of high-quality furniture. “Converting his wife’s garage to a woodshop, he collected large chunks of a walnut tree that had fallen on campus, milled it, and built the lovely, salvaged wood into a coffee table and television stand….After this experience, he became more interested in harvesting the historic trees around the New Haven, Connecticut campus. Some trees, too small to mill and turn into furniture, became the perfect candidates for pens and bowls. Now, fallen trees mobilize a network of arborists and groundskeepers who appreciate his craft.”

I particularly enjoy how eloquently Strobel speaks about his craft of lathework. He says, 

Turning wood is very different than making furniture. With a desk, say, you make a design with closest attention, planning everything down to, say, an eight of an inch. Invaria bly you modify it as you are making it, but in the end you make pretty much what you drew. With turning, you walk into the garage and the wood tells you what to do—how can you make the best thing you can with the wood.

Unique features, like the wood’s knots or bark occlusions (bark buried in the wood), tell you which way to go with the design. When you cut the log in half, you can see right away if it is going to have a nice shape with a natural, barky edge, or if it will be better to flip the shape and create a regular, finished bowl with a smooth edge…. It’s a different kind of creative construction…like a deconstruction—tearing the wood away. I’ve tried to do pottery, and it feels completely backwards.  

Read the full piece on Dr. Strobel at Make:, where you’ll find cool links, videos, and a story about Yale alum Paul Giamatti. 

Professor Strobel’s Superb Bowls [Makezine.com]