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Natural Beauty in Form and Function

Woodturning is an art form that transforms a piece of wood into a useful or decorative piece by carving it with a stationary tool while the wood is spinning on a lathe. Most modern work is done with a motorized lathe and hand-turning refers to carving by hand rather than laboriously spinning the lathe by hand. This differs from the computer-driven robotic turning that cranks out hundreds of identical balusters, or baseball bats in a few hours. In any case, the sharp tools used for carving remove small bits of wood as the woodturner continuously applies pressure to the spinning piece. It can be very time consuming and attention to detail, safety, and control are paramount.

Many woodturners take pride in reclaiming fallen wood from their own land, while others seek interesting pieces in debris from hurricanes. Others use commercially available blocks of wood called blanks to begin a project. Some woods are better than others for turning based on their properties and the intended use of the finished product. Softer woods, like green pine, or hardwoods that are punky are not good for turning since they do not carve well. Others are potentially dangerous due to the dust produced when turning. Skin and respiratory allergic reactions to some woods can be life threatening! Thus, the woods used by individual woodturners are selected for a variety of reasons, including personal ones.

The exotic woods used in our custom shaving brushes and razor sets may be unfamiliar to most of our customers. They come from all over the world and are prized for their beauty and durability. They are however, well known to most woodturners as they are hard, dense woods that can be turned into useful items to be enjoyed for years. Such items include knife handles, rifle stocks & pistol grips, chess sets, peppermills, musical instruments such as clarinets, oboes, and guitars; oh and of course shaving accessories.

Bocote (boh-koh’-teh) comes primarily from Mexico, but is also found in Central and South America. Its color is generally brown, but has dramatic dark grain patterns throughout, giving it a striped appearance.

Cocobolo (koh-koh-boh’-loh) is of Central American origin and is generally a red-toned brown with darker grain patterns.

Padauk (peh-dook’) comes from Africa and Asia and has colors varying from red to auburn brown.

As with many things that are considered valuable, obtaining these woods can be done responsibly or not so much so. Deforestation in the regions where these woods grow is legendary. Poverty in these areas drives the need for turning a quick buck, rather than careful and efficient practices. But not all exotic woods are harvested so. In fact, most of those irresponsible operations yield little or no commercially viable woods as they simply slash and burn to clear the land. In addition, there has been no lack of pressure from media as well as environmental organizations to curb such abuses of the land.

One such organization, the Rainforest Alliance, was instrumental in forming the Forest Stewardship Council. According to Bradford Whitman’s article reprinted in the American Woodturner Spring 2008 edition, “Since its founding in 1994, the FSC has established 57 enforceable criteria for forest management. The FSC addresses reforestation, biodiversity, the protection of threatened and endangered species, erosion control, the use of pesticides and other chemicals, and the welfare of workers and indigenous peoples.” The FSC takes a comprehensive look at operations producing all types of forest products including paper, lumber and other building materials like flooring, and the wood used for turning, certifying only those that meet its strict criteria. With continued efforts by the FSC, building trades, the paper industry, and individual woodturners the forests of the world can be managed in a sustainable way.

For more information on the environmental aspects of woodturning, click on the links throughout this article, or better yet, check around your area and talk to a real local artist: your neighborhood woodturner.

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