Wood – The Journey

Wood – The Journey

This page takes you behind the scenes, to Jan's workshop, where the journey of his process plays out. As with many artists, focus and intent puts him in the "zone" of communing with a force he calls his Partner or God. The result– well, as Jan would say You be the judge.

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#1: The Olive Wood Challenge Bowl - It seems man’s nature to always push forward, go a little past the stopping point of his last exploration. This work was a step forward, and long before finishing, ideas for new bowls began forming, each more challenging than the last. Sometimes the challenge is met, often the vessel gets tossed into the fire grate, and this artist/craftsman must settle for the knowledge gained. This one worked and will become part of a private collection in Oregon. 

8” high
11” wide
17” long
Fallbrook, CA Olive Tree
8/20/19 - sold

#2: Black Acacia Bowl - This is one of three pieces I submitted for the Wood Expo at 2019 Del Mar Fair. I entered it in the Lathe-turned Perpendicular to the Ways division. One of the judges, familiar with my work, cautioned me to consider the carving competition, as he correctly guessed that I had taken far more time carving than turning. 

Ignoring him, it managed a Third Place Award with a small check and a big ribbon. 

6” high
11” wide
13” long
Material: A limb off my backyard Black Acacia Tree
2019 - sold

Inspired by Leftovers

This is the leftover scraps of Avocado wood and shavings from an early bowl I turned. You can see the remains of the log I started with and the hole where I cut out the blank. What a waste of wood and I love wood. Why not make winged bowls! And now I do.

#3: Counting the Hours Driftwood Bowl
I have not tried to sell this for two reasons: First, I could do very little work with it on the lathe and to price it by the hours it took to make, results in an embarrassingly high number. Second, I don’t like it. That being said, I have had long stretches in which I don’t like anything I make.
5” high
18” wide
23” long
Material: Pepper Tree

#4 – The Old Grove Bowl
A smooth, simple, winged bowl – design determined by the size and shape of the avocado log from which it emerged. The owner of the grove could no longer justify watering his trees. It had been five years since he last broke even selling avocados, and water rates are going even higher here in Fallbrook, CA. I gifted him with this remembrance bowl. A forty year old grove, gone in half a day… sad.
3” high
13”–18” diameter
Material: Avocado Wood

#5  Draped Vase
An attempt at making a vase with the look of fabric draping over its edge – turned, carved and partially bleached. I find it… interesting. Do I like it… hmmm. I’m trying to like it but I don’t. I’ve been working on over-the-edge technique for three years with no success. Yet I am still working on them.
10 1/2” high
4 1/2” - 8” diameter
Material: Pepper Tree branch

#6 - Ruffled Apricot 4 in 1 Bowl: Turned this several years ago from a dead branch of our Apricot Tree. Rosemary, my wife, loved the wood and wouldn’t let me sell this piece. Now the tree has died completely and with its passing came my promise to make another piece after the wood dries. This was a tough turn; using four different attachment points, each way off center and extremely out-of-balance – picture approaching a spinning aircraft propeller with a bowl gouge.
2.5” high
6” wide
14.5” long
Material: My now departed Apricot Tree

#7 - Winged Ash Tree Bowl

The voice I call my "Partner,” encouraged me to carve through the wings of this simple bowl. It is made from a giant Ash Tree cut down to clear space for a San Diego builder, planting yet another house in its place… sad.
3.5” high
9” wide
17” long
Material: Ash Tree
2019 - sold

#8: The Big Pepper Tree Bowl
This one I like and have held it back for a year. It’s all about the wood. It could have been made by any proficient turner, no embellishment and a simple shape. I turned it from the limb of a huge Pepper Tree, growing in my back yard for over 70 years.

The blank was cut from a bulbous burl. You can clearly see all its “flaws”, I call beauty marks that make it special. The dark slash on the rim is a bark inclusion caused when the tree grew back on itself, creating a fold of bark inside the limb.

Impatient, I didn’t wait for it to dry. Instead, with fingers crossed, I went for it. I knew it would warp and shift, as my silent partner decided the final shape. I lightened the color with two applications of wood bleach, finishing with several coats of polyurethane, clear satin finish and then wax.
6.5 “ high
17” diameter
Material: Pepper Tree

#9. Prickly Palm Bowl
This is the largest piece I’ve made from a palm tree. Palms probably aren’t really trees, at least there is no wood inside. They consist of tough fiber that run the vertical length of the tree. Packed in between these fibrous stands is a soft pulpy substance with no inherent strength. When I turn Palms I have always used fresh cut trees. I enjoy the wet material flying off, and soon I am dripping. Sharp tools quickly cut through the fibers and a bowl can be shaped in a short time. Finishing the work is another matter; sanding is close to impossible as the wet pulp quickly clogs any sandpaper applied to the spinning work. 

I made this piece from the last and biggest cut across a Queen Palm that outgrew my ability to care for it, and down it came. Most of the trunk slices were immediately shaped into 12” to 20” Magic Mushrooms for a neighbor. Still wet, the last piece was too heavy for me to drag onto my large Vicmarc lathe. Three years of sitting in sun and rain and “my” bowl almost rotted away. There was no possibility of sanding. Over time (several years) I developed a great appreciation for its ugly beauty and added it to my collection. It’s now time to let it go. 

At shows I generally display a sign inviting patrons to “Please handle the work. If you break something, I can fix it.” However, this bowl is hands off; too many stickerey splinters waiting to happen.
11.5” tall
18.5” diameter
Material: Queen Palm, Princess Palm

#10. Walnut Inspiration Bowl

I received a call from a woman with a problem Walnut Tree. Could I cut it down and haul off the wood for my efforts? Seems it was dying and she didn’t think it would last the winter… termites. Turned out to be a good trade. The tree was a Claro Walnut, beautifully grained with still a lot of useable wood… and she became a friend.

I generally don’t like to cut up wood, so I make as big a bowl as the log will allow. This is a big bowl, too big for my lathe. I was rescued by Mark, a fellow guild member with a huge lathe.

It won me a nice check at a national show last year. You’ll need a bigger house than mine to display it.

8.5” high
20”-29" diameter
Material: Claro Walnut

#11 Ficus Winged Bowl.

Rosemary wanted her Ficus tree cut back. I saved this tree crotch, leaving its three wings long. This was a challenge as the “propeller” spun in a blur. I know the two longer and heavier arms would tip the finished bowl onto its side, so I left a lump of wood under the longest arm acting as a foot and providing balance. A very simple and pleasing piece.  

2” high
10” wide
17” long
Material: Spalted Ficus Tree

#12 Wood Turtle. I like turtles. I find them patient and generally friendly. Over the years I keep coming back for another try. Finished with this carving, I set it aside. Soon it was buried under a pile of newer work. Rosemary discovered him months later and suggested attaching him to this carved base I had also set aside. If you get a chance, look under the base. You will see many hours of work trying unsuccessfully to master the use of chalk paint.

8.5” high
14” wide
24” long

Materials: Black Acacia tree
Base: Avocado Tree

#14 Poor Cow Bowl

I first worked on this Avocado bowl in April 2018. I did not like it and put it onto the firewood pile, retrieved it July 2019 and completed it in August. While turning and carving this shallow bowl, I followed the flow of the wood, leaving the tree’s shape and simply hollowing and removing wood, to arrive at a uniform thickness and lighter weight. 

The bowl’s dominant feature, a large protruding limb was my holding point while carving. My wife teased me, “Why are you squeezing that poor cow’s nose?” That was my discovery of the dead steer. I left the animal’s skull intact, not even sanding, hoping it would stand out and you would discover it too.

The bowl has three distinct fields, each defined by texture and finish; first the steer’s rough/smooth surface, second, the sanded and polished flowing folds with their hand-rubbed finish and lastly, the hollowing that defines the bowl. Finishing with cyanoacrylate (super-glue) with its distinct high, deep gloss. Can you see it?

5.5” high
11” wide
23 ½” long

Material: Avocado wood from Fallbrook, CA
Date: 4/2018-8/2019

#15 The Gallant Warrior

Pepper wood is very unstable, developing large cracks if allowed to dry too fast. Placing each chunk in a plastic bag with a liberal coat of wax sealing the ends and storing them in my insulated garage for three and a half years, yielded six possibilities. Sadly, three were too rotted and became bud vases, two remain and one; this gallant vessel.

I guess my love for this bowl began early. You see it was made from a limb of the Pepper Tree that grew outside my kitchen – the tree that still supports my adult son’s tree house I built over 40 years ago. It is slowly giving up its earthly existence and losing the battle with wind and bugs. It had put up the good fight for over 75 years. When a large limb started to rot I took it down, cut it into chunks one of which has become this very bowl.

Remembering back four years to 2015 when I started the chain saw, I recall hanging out ten feet above the ground trying to down the gigantic limb without crushing my Rosemary’s flowers, growing directly in the landing zone. I had to cut off two-foot segments, lowering each by rope, an all day job.

Three and a half years wasn’t enough time for fully drying the log, but I needed the space, so onto the lathe it went. Turning wood that is still wet is to take God in as your partner. I wish I could tell you all went well in its making, but…

With so many flaws, I worked with the lathe set at extremely slow speed. As it turned out, perhaps my caution saved me injury. As excess wood was hogged out and walls thinned, the bowl started to move, shrinking unevenly across its grain, flaws, and knots – it could either twist itself into finished firewood, or emerge as God’s creation. Reaching my target wall thickness, I stepped back to give a final look at the spinning bowl… with a thunderous explosion it flew in all directions, landing in seven pieces strewn about my work space – NO, not now, you stubborn wood.

I carefully reassembled “our” bowl. A piece of firewood … or a mirroring of God’s will? You be the judge. As for me… I love it.


13.5" high
10.5" diameter

Material: Fallbrook Pepper Tree

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