Audio: Ash bowl in Wa-nari style with almond oil finish

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Looking around for ideas on how to sharpen my skills on the lathe, I saw some images of Japanese pottery and was attracted again by the apparent simplicity of the designs.

Anyone who works on a creative project for any length of time knows that simplicity is never simple. One of the aims of a Japanese potter is to create a bowl that sits so perfectly in the hand that you notice only what is in the bowl – presumably only until you finish your meal. In the lathe, you can turn a seeming infinite variety of curves but getting a curve that is as wonderful to hold as to look at has taken a long summer of days of frustration and walking away to rethink everything from the material used, to the way the gouge is being held, the speed of the lathe to the actual way I’m standing.

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Wa-nari means ‘circle shape’ – I think – but it could also mean ‘teaches how to use a bowl gouge properly’. Ash is a great wood to work with as it punishes the smallest mistake, whether it be the slightest slip in concentration or a tool that has been allowed to go slightly blunt.

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One of the details I love about the bowls I turn is the raw base. Most woodturners appear to prefer polishing the base as much as the sides or covering the base with felt. I don’t do fakery but prefer to show-off the fact that this wasn’t made in a factory or moulded from plastic. The slightly-rough base and the marks left by the final cuts remind the person holding the bowl that it was once a living tree.

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