The Art of Woodturning

Kevin James on transforming a grotesque lump of wood into something beautiful

I learned woodwork at school in Blackwood in South Wales where I grew up. I knew instantly that this was something I could really enjoy and be good at. Initially, I was only interested in general carpentry, furniture making and restoration.  In fact, I used to frown on the woodturning community as they were very prolific at the woodworking shows and exhibitions.  This changed when I was given a complete woodturning set up for next to nothing and I was hooked instantly.  I think what I enjoy the most is that unlike making a piece of furniture, in woodturning one can within a couple of hours create a beautiful item from what is often a grotesque lump of wood.

I started woodturning in October 2020 and soon after joined Crow Valley Woodturners Club based in Cwmbran in South Wales. This helped me develop my skills and provided the encouragement, motivation, and inspiration for my creations. Additionally, I attended several night class courses run by the local authority.  This, along with lots of practice, has significantly helped my skills develop to a point where I am producing beautiful quality items.

Initially, I doubted if my items were worthy of sale.  However, after visiting several craft events, I realised that my work was certainly on the higher end of the quality scale.  This combined with the volume of items I had made by June 2023 was the motivation to start selling my items.

I personally think anyone can learn to turn in a relatively short time.  However, this craft involves using a machine and sharp tools and wood spinning at high speed, so it does have some risks associated with it. I would therefore encourage anyone thinking of taking up this craft to get some professional training in the basics, so these risks are minimised.Good hand eye co-ordination is a useful attribute to have, and the rest can be learned or developed.  A creative mind will certainly help also.

The Association of Woodturners of Great Britain (AWGB) is the national body and charity that promotes, encourages, and advances the craft of woodturning.  Members come from all walks of life, and some are registered professional turners (RPT,) others are individuals or members of a club. 

The AWGB also organises and facilitates training events throughout the UK.  Membership provides numerous benefits such as grants, dedicated training to become professional, discounts and a regular newsletter.

I love to recycle and use and source local timber wherever possible and have several connections from where I obtain various local wood species.  I do however purchase some more exotic timbers for special projects.  Social media is also a great source of local timber. Sadly, local councils often refuse requests to obtain timber fallen in storms on their land preferring to allow it to remain for biodiversity purposes.  Personally, I think this is a waste and a sad legacy for a tree that may have stood for centuries.  What better way to celebrate the life of the tree than in the creation of an item that will be a legacy of the tree’s existence?

I love the natural characteristics and features of the wood and the fact that it constantly changes both in shape and colour.  I believe in celebrating, embellishing and often highlighting the natural defects in the wood to give a more interesting aesthetic, particularly in decorative Items. I use colours, stains, textures, and various inlays to make every piece unique.

My favourite and most interesting piece is an Oak vase with a series of natural deep gouges that was in the side of the tree that looks like a large cat has scratched them into the wood.   I designed this piece to make these a key feature and therefore extremely unique.

In close second is my Ring of Fire platter, inspired from a circular volcanic Lava flow shown on television. This piece is made from figured popular with the fiery ring created using coloured metallic flakes to give the impression of fire.


▪ Take part in a taster session led by a professional tutor.

▪ Save up and purchase a good quality lathe and tools (cheap can be very dangerous.) A lathe with variable speed is in my opinion a must to safely handle various pieces of wood.

▪ Enrol on a full basic course to get a good grounding in the basic art of turning in a safe environment.

▪ Make sure you invest in safety equipment. An impact resistant visor is a must, dust protection is also extremely important due to very fine dust produced which can be harmful to health.

▪ Read Keith Rowley’s – Foundation in Woodturning book, (ISBN – 978-1784945671) this is a bestselling key reference that most turners have used and continue to use. 

▪ Join online woodturning forums – they provide a way to ask questions and learn in your own time.  You can also get feedback on your creations which is a great way to improve and learn.

▪ Join a local woodturning club – they provide a source of support, encouragement, guidance and often a program of demonstrations and learning events to help members with the craft. Additionally, you will learn which woodturning personalities are to be trusted to give great information online. It will also be a great opportunity to find out if it’s for you and if you have the aptitude without having to spend on unnecessary equipment.

▪ Online and YouTube videos are prolific and can be a source of excellent free tuition and guidance.  However, there are some very bad practices demonstrated also so beware.

▪ Start small and practice, practice, and practice again on cheap or free wood. This will help you develop your skills and muscle memory for using the tools to a good standard.

▪ Visit woodturning exhibitions, events, and demonstrations they give a great source of information, motivation, and inspiration. 

If you are looking to purchase a lathe and tools, don’t discount the second-hand market.  My lathe was a second-hand lathe although it was only a few years old, and it was half the price of a new one. Some people sell a complete set up if they are leaving woodturning so this can also be a good way to obtain all the tools with minimal outlay.         

Kevin James is the Owner of Wood Grain Creations UK


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