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  • Roger Waterhouse

In praise of maple


I wrote a couple of months ago about about the field maple that had to come down and how what was to have been a big bowl split into two halves. I tried to salvage the halves, which were punctured by screw holes. Just so as you know, one of them I rescued after a fashion.

The other was an unmitigated disaster. I decided simply to remove the top where the screwholes were, but in drying out it had warped, and the oval I was cutting into decided to jump out of the lathe.

So at this point I concluded that it was most useful in the stove, where at least it made the workshop a bit warmer. (I have the advantage over potters in this respect).

But although I had lost my intended piece de resistance I was still able to make a whole succession of bowls out of the rest of the tree.

DRAMA v SUBTLETY

I have to confess that I tend to go for the dramatic, when it comes to wood grain. I love the twisted contours of elm, was delighted when I discovered the contrasts in cherry laurel, and routinely fall back on the visual hit of yew.

I loved making this pair of yew bowls, even though there is no way I will get adequate recompense for the time it took me to carve them (to say nothing to the damage to my health from the dust).

THE MAPLE

Here is a selection of the bowls that came from the maple tree.

At first glance they are bog standard utilitarian bowls. But like everything I turn, they bear closer examination. Because they were turned green all of them have changed shape from the perfect circle the lathe produces.

And I learned long ago that one bit of a tree is not like another bit of a tree, any more than one branch is the same as another branch (or indeed that one leaf is the same as another leaf). And since I start with a living tree (rather than a timber merchant's slice) I can take the cuts and the angles which will expose the enormous variation in grain you can achieve in turning the tree into wood.

Which brings me back to the maple. This unassuming dish has the irregularity of a typical Waterhouse turning, but exposes a natural fissure, and contrasting knots in the wood.

If you blow it up, you will begin to see some of the subtle patterning in the wood - there are the ripples of stress wood on the right.

In this one you begin to see a quite different patterning in the wood.

These next pictures show the delicate rippling which you don't notice at a casual glance.

And it doesn't have to be stress wood to make the pattern interesting.

I'm afraid my photographic skills won't capture the beauty and depth of this maple bowl, but it deserves to be looked at.

And maybe this will convince you of the delicacy of the patterning.

But the complexity of this (upside down) salad bowl is going to be wasted in use!

So forget about the brash drama of laurel or yew, and look for the delicacy and refinement of the subtle maple.

FINISH AND USE

Choosing a finish is always an issue.

My bowls range from the strictly utilitarian to the purely decorative (and sometimes monumental). The ends of the spectrum are easy. A salad or fruit bowl must be oiled with a light oil. For the purely decorative, wax is a must. Its shine so enhances the beauty of most woods.

The problem comes in the middle. If I wax a beautiful bowl and somebody lets an orange go mouldy in it, I could usually resurface it, but they can't. If I just oil it, it is more robust, but doesn't look as good as it might. But since they are going to cover the surface with apples, or lettuce leaves, does it matter anyway?

So what I tend to do, as I did with these maple bowls, is oil some and wax some.

A similar problem arises in relation to profiling. Do you make the bowl turn inwards, so the outside is on display? Or outwards so the inner surface is there to be admired? My answer is, I follow the wood, and hope that the product appeals to somebody.


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