The Return of the Woodturner

In the second of our articles explaining something of the history and current practice of heritage crafts we turn our focus on the artisan skill of woodturning.

Woodturning is the craft of working on pieces of wood rotated at speed on a lathe enabling them to be easily cut, sanded, knurled or drilled and turned into shapes of the craftsman’s choosing using a variety of chisels and knives. The pieces so created range from domestic utensils, through industrial, farm, and maritime implements, to wonderfully artistic decorative items.

Since the invention of the lathe by the Egyptians many thousands of years ago, turned wooden items have been of major importance in the development of mankind. The first lathe was a two-man contraption where one would turn the lathe on a rope while the other worked the rotating piece of wood. Today, of course, the lathe is power driven and the craftsman can work at much greater speed, although the range of product output is as wide and varied as ever it was.

As in so many different areas, the Industrial Revolution pushed the individual’s role in the woodturning process further and further back from the lathe and, inexorably over the centuries since, was entirely eliminated by computer controls and robotics. Efficiency of operation and lowest-cost production became the key objectives to the exclusion, it seemed, of everything else.

However, slowly but progressively over the more recent past, concerns regarding the abuse of the earth’s natural resources and damage to its environment have led buyers to realise that there are many more factors to be considered than simply price alone. Gradually there has been a move away from the purchase of mass-produced low-cost goods and commodities to buying individually designed, hand produced items from skilled artisans and craftsmen, including the woodturners, again happily ensconced at their lathes.

The whole raison d’etre of Highland Hiddle, is to support heritage crafts and skills and to bring to public attention the range of excellent products now available. This includes the work of a number of artisan woodturners whose work is as useful as it is beautiful and includes bowls, pens, utensils and decorative items. All made from that most sustainable of materials, wood, much of which is also reclaimed, recycled or windblown.

Welcome back woodturners!

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