Woodturning is a very specific and niche craft, what drew you to it and what do you enjoy most about the process?
I started when I was at school. I got to make one bowl and that got me hooked. I went out and got my own machinery and spent a lot of my free time making all sorts of things. There are pretty much no other young turners but I see that as an opportunity to bring new ideas into the craft.
I find the process to be easily rewarding as I can start with a chunk of wood and within an hour I can have a basic bowl. I love being able to find the beauty in the wood when most people would have no idea whats hidden under the bark. I also love that a lot of the timber that woodturners use is all from urban salvage which means we are getting to make the most of trees that have already been brought down and we save them from a chipper.
What are some of the more challenging aspects of the craft?
I have always had the logic that I can make anything, even if it takes a bunch of time and a few attempts. This has led me to pushing boundaries and develop my skills quickly. At the moment I am working on a technique called German ring turning which is a very niche style of work. I can spend up to 6 hours on a piece without seeing my shape until 2 quick cuts at the end that make or break the piece. It’s pieces like this that make me understand the limitations of timber and my tools. Even though this is the most challenging and can be the most frustrating, it’s probably my favourite thing when I can just focus fully on my work and everything else is blocked out for the day.
What does a typical day in the life of a Woodturner look like?
I am one of the few doing it full time and focusing on the artistic side means that a week has a fair bit of variation which I love. I could be preparing timber with the chain saw, rough turning wet timber for bowls which is a very messy process, finishing up dry bowls or I could be sitting in the sun carving patterns in my pieces. When pieces are done, I then take them to galleries or markets on most weekends where I get to share the stories behind every piece. In between all that I fit in the commission work. I try to take the more unique jobs rather than chair legs and balusters. It’s a messy job where I am always covered in saw dust but I love it.
What are some of the challenges of making props for theatre?
I had made one staff for a mates production a while ago but other than that, this was my first time making a range of pieces for a production. One of the main challenges is not just making a piece but considering how it will be used. The planets had to be secured and the fixings added discreetly. The globe box was one of the bigger challenges as the timber moves as it adjusts to the climate it’s in. Making a push fit box that was going to be in dry conditions has its challenges but we found a way of making it work. It’s all a lot easier when the customer knows what they want so Belvoir made it easy for me.
What are some of the strangest things you’ve had to make for clients since you started wood turning?
I love the strange jobs. I have made 1.2 meter long knitting needles, wagon wheel hubs, light fittings and squash ball trophies. The coolest piece I got to make though was converting a dingy into a viking ship for a Scandinavian whiskey bar in the city. That took a huge amount of work but I loved the challenge and its probably one of my favourite things I have done.
What are your favourite things to make and why?
I love making the pieces with the carved embellishment as it’s a great way for me to make something unique and add my own touch to it. As an artist, you are always looking to make signature pieces and this is where I feel I’m making my mark. My favourite texture at the moment is from my drought series where I carve the texture of cracked clay into the rim of my bowls or even a wall hanging.
Another one of my favourite things to make is the German rings. I love the challenge and due to the complexity, they are the most satisfying to finish. I even have a few ideas to push the technique to an area that I think hasn’t been attempted before which I’m excited to try. Even with these more complex designs and techniques, it’s still such a joy to spin a big chunk of wood into a basic bowl.
For more information and to book tickets visit the official page for Life of Galileo.
To see more of Simon’s work visit www.simonbeggswoodturning.com/