In the workshop with Dan Smith
“Woodturning is this beautiful combination of creativity, physical and mental control, and very challenging. This combination of has always been irresistible to me.”
An impromptu purchase has been inspiring Dan Smith for eight years when he purchased his first lathe. Initially, Smith didn’t know how to work with wood, but throughout the years he has been perfecting his craft and the wood keeps turning.
Smith practices as much freehand as possible, making his work without limits. Woodturning allows for creativity to trump over analytics, which is the reason this craft has resonated with him.
“Sometimes the wood leads you, sometimes it follows, other tines its a battle and you just need to walk away and come back when your in a better state of mind. It really is an enjoyable experience in and of itself, and unlike many other activities, when your done there is actually something to show for the effort.”
Embracing the zen in life that is so often overlooked and a challenge to hold creates beautiful, transformative pieces of art. The discipline of woodturning is something that Smith will continue to challenge himself with, because in the world of art, there’s no such thing as perfection.
What drew you to the wood carving craft and how did you get started?
We call what I do “woodturning,” instead of wood carving. The two disciplines use different tools and techniques, although there are many wonderful woodturners that also carve on their turned pieces to some truly impressive results. Colorado’s own Trent Bosch comes to mind, although the pinnacle is the french turner Alain Mailland. In wood carving the wood is static, and the force is applied to the tools to remove the wood. In woodturning, a lathe turns the wood at high speed, say 500 to 3000 RPMs depending on the size of the piece, and the tool, supported by a tool rest, moves relatively slowly across surface of the wood to shape it. So the lathe provides the power by spinning the wood.
Back to your question, I was outfitting a speaker building wood shop when I purchased my first lathe. It was really on a whim. I had actually never used a lathe before I bought my first, but when I saw a video of Richard Raffan, a famous Australian turner, it just looked “right.” Woodturning is this beautiful combination of creativity, physical and mental control, and very challenging. This combination of has always been irresistible to me.
Why bowls and vases?
One of the aspects of the type of woodturning that I enjoy is that it requires little measuring, that is, it is more creative than analytical, which is very different from other types of woodworking. Also, it is a nice contract to and break from the patent work I do at CableLabs, which is highly technical and cerebral in nature. When turning a bowl or a vase (what turners call a “hollow form”) the material is turned away until a pleasing shape remains…that’s it. Sometimes the wood leads you, sometimes it follows, other times it’s a battle and you just need to walk away and come back when you’re in a better state of mind. It really is an enjoyable experience in and of itself, and unlike many other activities, when your done there is actually something to show for the effort.
That said, there are other aspects of woodturning that I enjoy, like making tops (which Sawyer usually ends up with) and boxes (which my wife calls lidded cylinders). There are also others aspects that, for now, frustrate me to no end, such as thread chasing and turning really large and deep hollow forms. But as long as there are areas of turning that I can improve in then it will hold my attention.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
That is hard because for such a simple act there are so many dimensions and the sources of my inspiration has changed over time. In regards to shape and form, I am inspired by the great turners, like Alain Mailland (of France) and Cindy Drozda (also of Boulder) for their unsurpassed ornate and detailed work, and others like Glenn Lucas (of Ireland) for his simplistic elegance. I have also started looking at areas of design and art that resonate with me, such the clean lines of art deco, forms found in nature, and modern pottery.
How long have you been woodturning?
I started when my wife was pregnant with our son Sawyer, so that was eight years ago. I had been rock climbing quite a bit up until that point. Turning was a great and engaging past time and, unlike climbing, kept me close to home and to my family. It still is and now Sawyer joins me in the shop turning chess pieces on the lathe and carving canoes with the tools that have been collecting dust since I started turning.
What is your day job?
I have actually been doing patent work at a law firm for the past seven years as a technical specialist (an unregistered patent draft person), but have had to have a “registered agent” review my work before one of my patents gets filed. I moved to CableLabs 5 months ago doing the same work.