The process of making a wooden bowl

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Finding the wood… 

I’m incredibly lucky that I live on an island covered in native trees: with the coastline dotted with Pohutukawa, hidden valleys of Puriri, and Kanuka as far as the eye can see. 

I find most of the wood I use after big storms have brought down large branches or whole trees. My morning walks with the dog turn into scouting trips – returning later with a chainsaw to cut up what is needed, leaving the rest for another time or for nature to take its course. 

I also receive a good amount of wood from around the island where trees have come down for a variety of reasons and people are very happy to see the wood go to good use rather than the firewood pile.

The initial roughing process

Starting with a big block of raw wood that I’ve found on the forest floor,

I haul it home to my workshop.  Peeling off the outer layers to see what’s hiding inside, (it might be a cliché to say but) it feels like uncovering buried treasure!

I use a combination of chainsaws and my big bandsaw to get the rough block of wood ready to be mounted on my wood lathe.  Taking off the rough edges on the lathe can be slow. But it gives me time to think about the shape of the wood and what I might do with it.

Visualising the final piece that will come out of a block of wood is an art form: you’ve just got to be brave and go for it, trusting your intuition and hoping the wood will agree..

Shaping the outside

The outside curve of the bowl is roughed out and then refined until I’m 100% happy with how it’s looking. This is where a lot of decisions are made about the size and form of the piece. I will do a certain amount of sketching on paper to develop my ideas as, once you remove the wood, there’s no going back.

Keeping my turning tools razor sharp, so I can make clean cuts and nice flowing lines is something you need to really practice to master. I have to be really focused but with wood shavings going all over the workshop and all over myself at the same time it’s a very engrossing process.  

After completing the outside, I begin to work the inside.

When I get down to the final cuts (to get the wall thickness just right), the speed at which I’m working becomes more crucial. Wet wood will start to distort and move. So, as I finish each section it takes on its own unique form and can no longer be reworked on the lathe. What’s done is done.

Sanding and texturing

After I’ve finished shaping the bowl inside and out, I will spend a good amount of time sanding smoother or adding texture to the surface of the piece.

It’s a good time to turn up the music and get in the groove of working through what can be a time consuming process.

The first coat of oil

Following the sanding comes the most rewarding step: applying the first coat of oil. This is where you see the wood come alive. From one moment to the next, you go from looking at a plain dusty surface to revealing all the texture, figure, and rich vibrant colour of the wood beneath. 

More layers of oil are applied over the coming days and weeks. This helps with slowing the drying process and as well as helping oil to penetrate the wood.

Burnishing and Engraving

Each piece is eventually burnished, buffed and then engraved with: Gavin Brunton, Kawau Island, the tree type, the year, and the bowl number.

 The whole process can take as little as a few days but typically is closer to a month from start to finish.

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