As a wooden cylinder spun on a lathe, Brian Harte carefully used a gouge to shape it, wood shavings flying behind him. He was demonstrating to a rapt room of woodturners how to make the parts for a birdhouse ornament, but his nerves were getting the best of him.
“You don’t have to be a real good turner, you just have to have lots of sandpaper,” quipped Harte, a woodturner from Woodland, coincidentally.
As he tried to concentrate, bagpipes began playing outside the room, followed by the thump-thump of drums. The Fort Vancouver Pipe Band, which will be performing on St. Patrick’s Day in downtown Vancouver, was beginning its practice.
“Oh, I forgot about those folks,” Harte said, as he continued turning.
This Thursday night meeting of the Southwest Washington Woodturners, held at Friends of the Carpenter in west Vancouver, was a much different scene compared with several months ago. The woodturners’ space used to be occupied by Share’s day center for homeless people, which has since relocated and been renamed the Vancouver Navigation Center.
At the start of the year, the local chapter of the American Association of Woodturners officially filled the vacated space. The 110-member group has worked with Friends of the Carpenter for a while, but this further cements their partnership. Part of their rent is paid by donating some of the things members make, which are then consigned at Main Street Trader, a wood furniture store in uptown Vancouver, to benefit Friends of the Carpenter.
Friends’ Executive Director Tom Iberle said the new partnership brings the focus of his nonprofit back to woodworking and providing structured activities for people in need. It’s a natural fit, he said.
Those who don’t touch lumber may not be familiar with woodturning. It’s the craft of using handheld tools and a spinning machine called a lathe to create anything from Harte’s ornaments to pens to bowls. The lathe works sort of like a potter’s wheel to help shape the piece. There’s a big focus on the grain of the wood and burls, knotty growths on trees that result in interesting patterns in the wood.
Adam Luna is the new president of the Southwest Washington Woodturners. He moved to the area from Denver about a year ago to be closer to family in Eastern Washington.
“I wanted to be in this beautiful area,” Luna said during an interview with The Columbian. “It’s a beautiful area, especially for this craft.”
Yellow cedar is one of his favorite Pacific Northwest woods. Luna learned to love the craft from his dad, who was a woodworker.
During Thursday’s meeting he showed off a container with a twist-off top made of African black wood. His niche is making boxes, containers and bowls.
When he took over the Southwest Washington Woodturners he redesigned the website and took steps to reinvigorate the group, which holds monthly meetings and regular classes at Friends of the Carpenter. Those interested in joining the club Thursday had a variety of skill levels: One man said he’s been woodturning since junior high school, while another had been turning for two months.
Luna said he wants to engage more women in the craft, perhaps forming a ladies of the lathe group. Kathleen Duncan, who’s part of the American Association of Woodturners board of directors, was one of two women in attendance Thursday. In her 17 years of woodturning, it’s a situation she finds herself in frequently.
During show and tell, people regaled the crowd with tales of turning wood too thin, breaking off chunks of wood unintentionally and having to work through it (as public television’s famously soothing painter, Bob Ross, said: “We don’t make mistakes, we have happy accidents.”). The group geeked out over chunks of maple and cherry wood donated by an arborist and talked about the upcoming Oregon Woodturning Symposium happening later this month in Albany, Ore.
The Southwest Washington Woodturners meets 7 p.m. on the fourth Thursday of every month at 1600 W. 20th St., Vancouver.