Sunday, October 30, 2005

Show Time

My first craft show of the season was two weeks ago in New Glasgow. It was a very good show and I was really pleased with sales. There was a good selection of artists and craftspeople at the show, but very few have websites, the exceptions being Jamie Brown, watercolor artist, and Victor Whitewood who makes some quite unique chainmail jewelry.

Later that week I attended the Pictou County Trade Show organised by PRDC as part of Small Business Week. The theme of my display was 'How can a woodturner help your business?'

I showed products that can be used as gifts for customers, employees and conference speakers, or put in a goody bag for promotional purposes. I also showed some of my one-of-a-kind art which might be displayed in reception areas and board rooms, or given as a corporate gift.

Next weekend I am off to the Agridome in Truro, Nova Scotia, for a show put on by the local Zonta Club. I see from their website that my near neighbours Harold and Valarie Langille of Yardbirds will be there. They make some absolutely wonderful steel and glass scupltures for your lawn, garden or pool. Take a look at their Peacock design.

Finally I would just like to give a mention to another artist/blogger, Hannah Shapero, who has just opened a show of her work in the "Bakery on the Common" coffee-house art gallery in Natick, Massachusetts. The show runs until the end of December.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Craftshow season

My first craft show of the fall season is this weekend!

Hogmanay Craft Fair
North Nova Education Centre, Park Street, New Glasgow
Saturday Oct 15, 10am-5pm
Sunday Oct 16, 10am-4pm

If you miss this event, you can also catch me in November at these shows:

Zonta Craft, Antiques and Collectables Fair
Nova Scotia Provincial Exhibition Grounds, Truro
Saturday Nov 5, 10am-5pm
Sunday Nov 6, 11am-4pm

Christmas at the deCoste
deCoste Entertainment Centre, Pictou
Saturday Nov 12, 10am-5pm
Sunday Nov 13, 11am-5pm

Festive Craft Market
NS Agricultural College, Truro
Saturday Nov 19, 10am-7pm
Sunday Nov 20, 11:30am-5pm

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Sunday, October 09, 2005

The beauty of wood

Today I was rummaging through a stack of papers in my office and came across a scribbled draft that I wrote sometime in the past. I don't recall what I intended to do with it, so I guess this blog is as good a place as any.

It is the structure of wood that makes it such an intriguing material. Each species has its own characteristics of grain and color. Each twist of grain, each knot and each bark inclusion says something of the life of the tree. These features make wood a challenging material to work with, but with care and skill these natural features enhance the crafted form.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2005


I recently completed a new piece of work that I am really quite excited about.

It is a set of three weedpots, turned from the same piece of wood on five different axes. At first glance the faces of the weedpots seem to be decorated with random carving, but when they are properly arranged a single circular design can be seen. When the weedpots are rotated, you will find that there are four such designs to look at.

One of the things I really like about 'Triplets I" is the way the surfaces of each weedpot meet at the corners. It makes for some really interesting shapes.

Click the link to see more pictures and learn about my latest piece of sculptural woodturning.

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Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Telephone orders

Every summer I get calls from people who have visited my studio during their vacation. They either wished they had bought a particular piece of work, or that they had bought more items to take home as gifts.

This yellow birch bowl is just one example of an item that I have mailed this summer:

Natural edged yelow birch bowl

I got a lovely notecard from it's new owners in Pennsylvania to tell me that it had arrived safely. It was much admired by all their family and is destined to become a family heirloom. Feedback like that is always so nice to receive, especially for unique pieces like this that I am so fond of myself and really wish I didn't have to sell. I find it reassuring to know that it has gone to a good home.

I currently have an order for a small salad bowl. The lady had seen something she liked in my booth at the craft market, but didn't buy it at the time. Whichever bowl it was, I don't have it any longer, but I do have some roughed out blanks that are ready for finishing, so I will be starting that job next week. When they are finished I will send some pictures by e-mail for her to choose from.

While it is often possible for me to fulfill requests like this, very often truly unique pieces cannot be replicated if they are already sold. So if you do visit my studio and see something you like, do remember that it may not be available for very long. A lot of my work never makes it to the website.

But if you do need to purchase something that isn't on the website, you can call me toll-free on 1-888-428-3794, or email me.

Incidentally, the notecard I got from Pennsylvania was of a watercolor called 'Trumpets of Hope' by artist Andy Smith who donated the work to the American Cancer Society.

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Friday, September 02, 2005

Why I think my work is Worthwhile

Anita Sharpe writing in the Worthwhile Blog has asked to hear your thoughts on why your work is Worthwhile. Here is my response:

As a woodturner I am helping to keep a traditional craft alive and in the public eye. The ability to be creative is important to me, and in turn it brings a little joy to my customers. I work with a material which is sustainable and which helps to keep the planet alive whilst it is growing.

I believe that small independent businesses are vital to a stable economy. My work is labour intensive, not capital intensive, so less of my income goes to large corporations.

I take pride in being self employed. I do not rely on others to keep me employed. I take pleasure in my successes and responsibility for my failures.

I believe that these things are all worthwhile.

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Saturday, August 27, 2005

Spurtles aren't just for oatmeal

Joyce, who runs Pictou Weekend Craft Market, bought a spurtle a few weeks ago. This morning she told me that it was an ideal tool for cooking pickles.

This week Joyce has been making a big batch of Sweet Mixed Pickles, with ingredients largely from her own garden. It takes all week to cook, and she says it needs to be stirred and poked every morning. That's where the spurtle comes into use.

Joyce was so pleased with her spurtle that she bought three more for gifts. Be sure to look for her wonderful spurtle-stirred pickles at Pictou Weekend Craft Market.

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Friday, August 19, 2005

It's summer time, OK?

I know I haven't blogged for a while. It's not because I'm spending all day at the beach rather than working in the shop. Quite the contrary in fact. I have just been too busy to sit down, gather my thoughts and write something meaningful and coherent.

Summer is always a busy time for me, when tourists and cottagers are in the area. This year I have taken a booth at the Pictou Weekend Craft Market, which takes away two days that I would otherwise be busy in the workshop. So I have more sales and less time to make new stock, and it is a struggle to keep the shelves filled. But yesterday I did take a day off.

My R&R actually began on Wednesday evening when I took in a ceilidh at Pictou's deCoste Centre, with music by John Spyder MacDonald, John Ferguson and fiddle player Alycia Putnam and family. Yesterday I drove over to Antigonish County and hiked the Fairmont Ridge Trail with my dog Maggie. It was a great walk, some of the slopes made for a great workout, and I feel much better for having done it.

Earlier in the week I made some inlaid weedpots. They have been selling very well this summer, and I only had two left on the shelf. This batch includes inlays of bubinga, ziracote, black ash, cherry burl, spalted elm and the spalted beech which I cut up back in April.

Today I started work on an order of favors for an October wedding. I got forty turned today, so I can take them with me to the craft market and burn the inscriptions while I am not waiting on customers. Woodburning is one of the few jobs I can do out of the shop.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Guitar pick bowls. A new market?

I took a phone call yesterday from a gentleman complementing me on a bits and bobs bowl that he had bought. He got it on the weekend at a fundraiser for Read-by-the-Sea, and he was calling to let me know how much he liked it, and to thank me for donating it to the silent auction.

As it turns out, he is a member of the Calgary Woodturners Guild, but his real purpose in buying the bowl is that he plays guitar and he thinks the shape of this bowl will be ideal for keeping guitar picks in.

The ideas people have for using these simple little bowls never ceases to amaze me. Whether there is a big market for guitar pick bowls remains to be seen!

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Sunday, May 29, 2005

Corks and Corkscrews

I have being doing some research today about corks and corkscrews. I will soon be adding a new product to my line, a bottle stopper and corkscrew gift set, and needed some information to spruce up my packaging and marketing. I'd like to share with you some of that information and the links I found.

Cork has only been used to seal wine since the 17th century ( Cork is harvested sustainably from the cork oak, which has it's bark stripped every nine years. This does no long-term harm to the tree, which typically lives for 150-200 years. Much of the world's supply of cork comes from western Mediterranean countries. describes the whole process of harvesting and making corks.

Sometimes wine goes off due to contact with cork which has been contaminated with mold and chlorine. This creates a chemical known as TCA and the bottle is said to be 'corked'. This has caused considerable debate about the use of cork, and there are many calls for vineyards to consider switching to alternatives. This has created some concern within environmental organistions such as the RSPB, who warn that a large move away from cork might mean destruction of the cork oak forests and the loss of species such as the Iberian lynx, the Spanish imperial eagle and the Bonelli's eagle.

It is not clear exactly when the the corkscrew was invented, but it is believed to have been based on a tool used to clear musket barrels of unspent charges. The traditional corkscrew is a simple helical wire on a wooden handle. Many patents have been filed since then to make cork extraction more effective, and today there are many collectors of corkscrews. The Virtual Corkscrew Museum has many pages of corkscrew pictures.

And finally a few quotations:

"During one of my treks through Afghanistan, we lost our corkscrew. We were compelled to live on food and water for several days."
Cuthbert J. Twillie (W.C.Fields) in My Little Chickadee (1940)

"Here's to the corkscrew - a useful key to unlock the storehouse of wit, the treasury of laughter, the front door of fellowship, and the gate of pleasant folly."

"Bring in the bottled lightning, a clean tumbler, and a corkscrew."
Charles Dickens

Finally, I hope to have these new wine stopper and corkscrew sets ready in the next few weeks, and will get them on the website as soon as I can. I think they are going to be a good seller, making a great gift for wine enthusiasts.

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Saturday, May 21, 2005

Curly Shavings

Apart from the pleasure of making beautiful artefacts, woodturners often delight in the shavings which pour off the cutting edge of their tools. A sharp tool, properly presented to the wood can produce long streams of shavings. This is often associated with turning 'green' wood, but here are some shavings I made while turning bottle stoppers from kiln-dried maple.

Ribbon shavings from the parting tool

These ribbon-like shavings are made by the parting tool as I rough out the cove.

Fine shavings from the spindle gouge

These fine spiral shavings are made by the spindle gouge as I refine the shape of the cove.

Bird's nest shavings from the skew chisel

These are my favourite! I like to think of them as delicate little bird nests or woven baskets. They come off of the skew chisel as I turn the very top of the bottle stopper.

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Friday, May 13, 2005

Tourist season?

With freezing temperatures, and flurries in the forecast, it is hard to believe that the tourist season is just around the corner.

But tonight I am off to display my wares at a 'trade show' organized by the Pictou 'accommodations committee'. They have invited other hosts from elsewhere in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island to spend a night or two in Pictou and to be shown what we have to offer visitors to the area.

I have also signed up for the Pictou County Weekend Market, a new venture for me, and one which should put my work in front of a much wider audience. It's going to be hard work keeping enough stock made to run two venues, but I think I can do it. It does mean though that I won't be able to run woodturning courses at weekends this summer.

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Sunday, May 01, 2005

Ready for the tourist season!

Although I haven't blogged here lately, it doesn't mean that I have been idle. That batch of 110 wedding favors has been shipped and the customer wrote me a lovely e-mail telling me how delighted she was. I now have another order for favors, this time a batch of 200. Today I received an enquiry for a rush order of 8 which would be no problem; I already have some in progress that I can divert for this job which I could probably ship within just 4 days. It's nice to be able to help customers like this when I can.

The gallery is now open for the summer season. I finally got around to laying the ceramic floor tiles which I bought three years ago, but never had a chance to get done. Anyway, the gallery looks a lot better now that the ugly cement floor has been covered up. And we had our first customers today - some folks from the west coast who are in the area for a conference. It will be quiet for several weeks yet, and although our peak tourist season is July and August, more and more visitors are choosing to come in the shoulder season.

Summer hours are 10am-5pm, daily. I hope to see some of you this year, which incidentally is my 10th year in this business.

Monday, April 18, 2005

110 Wedding Favors

Much of my work is very repetitive. My business largely revolves around the sale of affordable, quality products. In order to keep the price down, I have to work quickly and efficiently. One way to do that is to work on large batches of the same item. This saves a lot of set-up time in between tasks, and I find that I work faster once I get into the swing of things. Even on larger items like bowls, I might have half a dozen in the works at one time, doing the same step on each bowl before moving on to the next step.

There are many stages involved in making wine bottle stoppers. In preparing the wood and dowels, I often do hundreds at a time. Once I get to start turning the shape of the stopper, I work in batches of twenty, the number that will fit on a rack. I have just finished an order of 110 personalized wine stoppers:

Some of these are completely finished. Others are ready to have the corks fitted, while others are still waiting to be buffed to the nice soft shine which many of my customers are so impressed by.

These are to be used at my customer's wedding in September. They are made from black cherry, a depature from the maple which is the norm for personalized wine stoppers. The bride-to-be asked for a darker wood, and cherry seemed to fit the bill. I must say they look very nice, and although the personalization doesn't have quite so much contrast, it is still perfectly readable. Black cherry does have more color variability than maple, but I think that this only adds interest to these favors. I hope the customer likes them too!

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Wednesday, April 13, 2005


After finishing with that beech log on Saturday, I hauled a log of mountain-ash into the workshop and began cutting that up.

Mountain-ash is a really nice wood for turning, being similar to apple wood in as much as the texture is very fine and it cuts easily. It has cream coloured sap wood and light brown heartwood with small dark flecks which add interest. Like the beech, this log had also been outside for a year or two and had developed some spalting which will add to the character of the finished artefacts.

I have cut it up into small pieces ready to make weedpots, inlays, bottle stoppers and bits'n' bobs bowls. The endgrain of each piece has been treated with endseal, a wax emulsion that slows down the drying of the endgrain to minimize cracking as the wood dries. It will be several months before any of this wood is ready to work with, but for anyone who appreciates things made from unique pieces of wood, the wait will be worth it.

There are two native species of mountain-ash in Nova Scotia; American mountain-ash (Sorbus americana) and Showy mountain-ash (Sorbus decora), a.k.a. northern mountain-ash or dog-berry. They are not easy to differentiate without the leaves and berries, so I cannot be sure which I have.

Local weather lore holds that an abundance of berries indicates a mild winter ahead.

The European mountain-ash, Sorbus aucuparia, has been introduced to North America and escaped into the wild, probably by birds feasting on the berries. This species is known as rowan, probably from the Gaelic ruadhan, the red one, because of it's scarlet berries. It was often planted on Highland crofts since superstition has it that rowan will ward off witches. It was also used in the Highlands, where timber is scarce, for making tool handles, household implements and small pieces of furniture. If it weren't for its unpleasant smell I would probably use it to make spurtles.

Mountain-ash is not a true ash, the only similarity being the compound leaves. The Sorbus genus is a member of the Rosaceae family which includes crab apple, cherry and strawberry among its 1,500 species. Its wood is generally considered to have no commercial importance, but I am only too happy to give it a good home. I look forward to being able to start turning some of this beautiful looking material.

(I am sorry, but I do not have any mountain ash for sale)

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Saturday, April 09, 2005

Spalted Beech

I spent the morning working on my books, or more accurately a box full of receipts, so for a bit of light entertainment in the afternoon I cut up a log of beech. It had been in the yard for eighteen months or more, and had a developed a nice amount of spalting.

Spalted Beech

Spalting is a discoloration caused by fungal attack. It is the first stage in decay, and sometimes the wood can become soft or totally rotten. In this case there was one strip of rot running along a wound in the side of the log, but for the most part it was very sound. Beech is a wood that I have always found to spalt very nicely.

This particular piece also has some figuring in the grain, and I think I will end up with some very interesting woodturnings. I have cut this mainly into small pieces for weedpots, and inlays for my inlaid weedpots.

Now I just have to wait for it all to dry before I can start working with it.

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Monday, April 04, 2005

A warped bowl.

A few weeks ago I was telling you I was working with some green wood. I had finished turning a birch bowl and was leaving it to dry slowly, wrapped up in newsprint.

A warped, green-turned bowl
Today I have removed it from the paper. You can see how much it has distorted. No cracks! I will leave it to dry some more in a normal climate, then put it in the dry room to finish the process.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Another Satisfied Customer

I often get e-mails from customers telling me how pleased they are with the piece of my work that has just arrived in the mail. But this is the first time it has been done publicly on a blog.

Wayne Hurlbert, who is the author of Blog Business World, got his spurtle just in time for Easter.

Wayne, I am delighted that your Mom is so pleased with her easter gift. But do please encourage her to make good use of it! These spurtles are functional tools, and as attractive as they may be, I don't make them as works of art.

Most of us live today surrounded by mass-produced wares created by machines and anonymous workers. My hope is that the cook using one of my spurtles takes some pleasure from the fact that they are using a tool which was handcrafted by someone they know a little bit about. Just as in days gone by, before the industrial revolution, when many of the artifacts in daily use were made by a local craftsman.

One of the purposes of this blog is to help customers get to know me better, and to learn a little about the craft of woodturning. I hope it will add to their enjoyment of my creations.

Finally dear reader, do take a look at Wayne's Blog Business World. It is always a good read and full of information about the world of blogging, for both bloggers and blog readers alike.

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Thursday, March 17, 2005

Cover Story

Cover of Atlantic ConnectionsThat's me on the cover of Atlantic Connection, Industry Canada's Atlantic newsletter. The cover story in the premier edition no less!

The story is about how my website got started thanks to the Community Access Program (C@P) . I am delighted to have been part of the River John C@P committee since it's inception, and I am pleased to report that it has gone from strength to strength. Apart from being the catalyst for building a new library in the village, it has created numerous jobs for trainers, researchers and web-designers. Our projects for this year include digitizing local cemetery records, creating a multi-media CD to help promote the village, and pursuing options for bringing broadband internet service to our rural area.

One added bonus for being on the front cover of a Canadian Government publication is that I also get to be on the back cover in French:

Virage payant
Derek Andrews 'Netpreneur' à son studio de bois tourné à River John (Nouvelle-Écosse).

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Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Working with green wood

This past week I have been working with some 'green' yellow birch. When woodturners use the term 'green' they are referring to wood which has been recently cut and is not yet dry.

In this instance the wood was cut last summer and delivered to me as short logs. The ends had been sealed with a wax emulsion. This slows down the drying process and minimizes cracking. Even so, because it has taken me all this time to get around to doing anything with it, there were some checks in the end of each log. Fortunately they hadn't gone too deep, and there wasn't too much waste.

I have just finished turning what I call a 'green' bowl. It was turned from start to finish while the wood is still damp, and will now be left to dry slowly. By leaving the walls of the bowl thin they will distort as the wood dries, rather than crack. That's the theory anyway, but one can never be too sure. I have now wrapped the bowl up in newsprint, and will leave it to dry slowly for a few weeks before removing the paper. When finished, it will not be perfectly round, but will have gone slightly oval and the rim will not be flat. Neither will the bottom of the bowl, so I will remount it on the lathe and trim the bottom so it will sit properly on your table.

One of the beauties of working with green wood is the lovely long wide shavings that stream effortlessly off of the chisel. This picture shows some ofthe shavings I picked up from the workshop floor today. Once dry, these shavings make great kindling for the wood stove.

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Sunday, March 13, 2005

The ancient craft of chair making

Woodturning doesn't seem to get blogged very often, so I was delighted to see this article by Christopher Proudlove in
WriteAntiques: The best seats in the house.

Whilst the bodgers of High Wycombe are well known in today's turning circles, I wasn't aware that this general method of chair construction has it's roots in the craft of wheelwrighting. Thank you Christopher for this fine article.

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Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Creators Outlet

I have just opened a new store at Creators Outlet.

Normally I don't think too much of third party art gallerys, but Creators Outlet offers an affordable deal which I felt was worth giving a try. The site has a nice clean look, and features many other talented artists and designer-craftspeople, so if you have a moment why not take a look right now?

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Making inlays for weedpots

This past week I have been making inlaid weedpots. The photograph below shows some of the inlays in various stages of production.

Inlays being made for weedpotsThis batch of inlays are made of oak burl and black cherry burl.

The roughly cut round slices (right) are glued to circular blocks of wood (top right). These blocks are held in a chuck mounted on the lathe during the turning operation. The finished inlays (left) are carefully pried off of the glue blocks and are ready to be glued into the finished weedpot.

These weedpots are much admired by visitors to the studio. They are quite time consuming to make, so I like to build up a good stock before the busy summer tourist season.