Woodturning tradition being passed on to new generation

As the first curls of wood shoot from Scott Waugh’s lathe and fall to the floor of his shed, visions of his next creation rattle around his brain like lottery balls.

Monday, 16th December 2019, 12:40 pm
Updated Friday, 20th December 2019, 2:18 pm
Forest of Bere Woodturning Association in Havant - Club Chairman John Wyatt sharpens a spindle gouge tool. Picture: Vernon Nash (141219-004)

By day, the 42-year-old dad from Widley is a global corporate account manager for Siemens – Europe’s largest industrial manufacturing firm.

But in the evening and at weekends he finds relaxation and satisfaction in the art of woodturning.

The hobby sees rough or smoothed wood ‘blanks’ cut, chiselled and carved into something often unrecognisable from their most natural form.

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Forest of Bere Woodturning Association in Havant - Sophie Waugh, aged seven, creates art with wood burning as her dad Scott looks on. Picture: Vernon Nash (141219-005)

A rotating mount, the lathe, keeps the wood in place while the turner crafts it with handheld tools as it spins.

It can amount to something as humble as a pen made from one piece of wood – doable in an hour – to a chess or solitaire board comprising dozens or more different segments.

As members of the Forest of Bere Woodturners’ Association, Scott and more than 70 others are challenged to make something new every month.

The club publishes an annual programme of items, before judging the finished articles, in points, as each month elapses.

Forest of Bere Woodturning Association in Havant - Bill Thorne was turning wood into Christmas decorations. Picture: Vernon Nash (141219-002)

As the overall winner of last year's beginner's trophy in this contest, Scott knows well the buzz of the creative and competitive process that ensues when the list goes live.

‘Our AGM in September is a turning point for us – that’s when we find out what objects are on that list,’ he says.

‘I spend a lot of my time thinking and dreaming about the process I’m going to take to turn each item. You spend time planning every one out, but as Mike Tyson once said, everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.

‘I find you get to the lathe and the wood talks to you. Things can go wrong but you have to think on your feet and find a solution.’

Forest of Bere Woodturning Association in Havant - Some of the pieces made at the club on display. Picture: Vernon Nash (141219-009)

The club was founded in 1978 and meets on the third Wednesday of every month, at 7.15pm, at the St John Ambulance Hall in Havant.

It’s here members pick up invaluable tips from professional guest turners, or enjoy so-called ‘turn-ins’ to share practical expertise among themselves.

On designated Saturday mornings, another monthly club session is dedicated to beginners and novices. Hands-on training, available thanks to experienced club members using club lathes, is what makes these get-togethers special.

Scott says it is a brilliant way to make new friends. But this cornerstone of camaraderie doesn’t mean there is no room for competition. He says: ‘Like any club, the people make it what it is.

‘But what I love is that you’re putting in something that’ll be judged alongside your mates – who knows what they’re going to bring in.

‘You get people asking “what are you making?”. ‘I say “sorry, I can’t tell you, it’s a secret – you’ll have to wait and see”.

‘When you first start you think there are only so many round things you can make, but you surprise yourself by picking up this brilliant capability.’

There appears to be a trend in the way association members find and confirm their passion for turning.

For many, a seed is sown in their young lives that only germinates when they have more time to themselves.

Scott enjoyed woodwork lessons at school but his turning journey only properly began two years ago, when his family moved home and he got a new shed at the end of the garden.

He jokes it was a midlife crisis – ‘a choice of this or a Porsche’.

Association chairman John Wyatt’s connection with woodturning is something of an amalgamation of business and pleasure.

At 15 he became an apprentice coachbuilder in Chichester, at a firm called Trigg’s. The now-79-year-old built and restored the wood frames for Morgans, Standard Vanguards and Rolls-Royces among other cars. But the pressure of constructing the skeletons for these machines, he says, did not weigh heavy on his shoulders.

Instead he relished the challenge and fulfilment of seeing the project through from start to finish. That same attitude is consistent in his modest outlook on woodturning today.

‘It’s not until you reflect back that you realise the significance of what you were doing – I took it as the job,’ he says.

‘Finishing a woodturning project, particularly a complicated one, gives you a very good feeling, but you don't have to do anything big to get that satisfaction.

‘I tend to give nearly all my stuff away because the family will see it and say “oh, that’s nice”.

‘To give away something you have made as a present is wonderful and the person you give it to appreciates it so much more because it’s home-made.’

In an increasingly digital society, John says it can be ‘hard work’ to get young people on to the association’s roster.

‘I don’t think they’re getting the initial groundwork at school like we did,’ he says.

‘I imagine a lot of people are quite interested but they don't know where to start.’

With an annual club membership of just £28, it is not expensive.

‘I’m also involved in the national association and they want to encourage more women, young people and people with disabilities to get into woodturning. It’s about making this a reachable craft for everybody.

‘Where the more mature turners learned from books and other people showing them, we can now get results very, very quickly using all kinds of different tools thanks to the YouTube generation. For that reason we are on a growth curve and this is a big opportunity for woodturning.’

The club allows new visitors to enjoy multiple sessions on a guest basis, before facing any obligation to become a bona fide member. Wednesday evening sessions cost £2 to attend and Saturday training is £5.Another group, the Hampshire Woodturning Club, also offers training and is based in Eastleigh.E-mail Robert Hope on [email protected] or call 011 8981 3552 or 07836 248 797 to get involved.For the next nearest club, the Test Valley Turners, call Graham Barnard on 07888 717 042 or e-mail [email protected]