Finishing, The Satisfaction of Completion —

Rereading my earlier posts made me aware that I had largely concentrated on creativity and that it was time to investigate new subjects. I have a strong interest in learning about finishing, so I began researching online and writing about it. Finishing is an integral part of any project as it signifies completion and adds the final touches that makes your work look polished and professional.

Before finishing some woods, filling their pores can create a smoother surface and enhance their appearance by minimizing color changes, especially in endgrains. There are several methods for filling the pores in wood, including:

  1. Wood filler: There are putty-like materials that are applied to the wood and then sanded smooth after it dries. Wood filler is available in different colors to match the color of the wood and can be used to fill large pores and repair any defects in the wood. Also, there are a broad range of epoxies that can be tinted and/or enhanced with other substances to add decorative effects. Woodturners often use sawdust and other materials hardened with CA to fill voids and inclusions. Another recommended filler is Famowood which comes in both latex and solvent based formulations. If you use the original (solvent) formula, also buy the thinner or acetone.

  2. Grain filler: This is a thick paste that is used to fill the pores of open-grained woods such as oak and mahogany. Grain filler is available in different colors to match the wood and can be applied with a brush or cloth. After it dries, it can be sanded smooth.

  3. Sanding sealer: This is a thin, clear coating that is applied to the wood to seal the pores and provide a smooth surface for subsequent finishes. Sanding sealer dries quickly and can be sanded to an ultra-smooth finish.

  4. Pore filler: This is a special type of filler designed specifically for filling the pores in wood. Pore filler is available in different colors to match the wood and can be applied with a brush or cloth. Woodcraft Magazine has an excellent article about filling pores.

  5. Shellac: This is a type of resin made from the secretions of the lac bug and can be used as a pore filler. Shellac dries quickly because its solvent is alcohol and can be sanded to an ultra-smooth finish.

  6. Wood hardeners and thin CA can fill and stabilize open grained or punky wood.

The specific method used to fill the pores in wood will depend on the type of wood and the desired final result. It is recommended to try filling pores on a similar piece of scrap wood before applying them to your work.

Wood finishes are coatings applied to wood surfaces to protect and enhance the appearance of the wood. There are various types of wood finishes with different chemical compositions. Some common types of wood finishes include:

  1. Oil finishes: These are typically made from natural oils such as linseed (made from flax seed), tung oil (pressed from the nut of the tung tree) and walnut oil and are designed to penetrate the wood surface.

  2. Varnishes: These are clear, protective coatings made from a resin base, solvent, and drying oil. Some common resins used in varnishes include polyurethane and polyester.

  3. Lacquers: These are fast-drying, clear coatings made from a resin, solvent, and hardening agent. Some common resins used in lacquers include nitrocellulose and acrylic.

  4. Stains: These are pigmented finishes that penetrate into the wood surface to color and highlight the wood grain.

  5. Shellac: This is a type of resin made from the secretions of the lac bug and is often used as a sealer or topcoat.

  6. Water-based finishes: These finishes are made from resins that are not normally water soluble but are suspended in the water phase as emulsions, and are typically used as a more environmentally-friendly alternative to solvent-based finishes. The specific chemistry of these finishes varies but the goal is to create a durable and attractive coating for the wood surface.

  7. Thin CA glue can also be used as a finish, especially on smaller projects such as pens and small bowls.

Recently people have become concerned about the safety of wood finishes. Food-safe wood finishes include:

  1. Tung oil

  2. Linseed oil

  3. Beeswax

  4. Mineral oil (a poor finish because it can lead to deterioration of some woods.. However, I successfully use it on wood salad tongs made of maple.

  5. Walnut oil

  6. Dried finishes such as shellac, polyurethane, and varnish are also considered food safe.

Caution, there are interactions between different types of wood finishes depending on the specific finishes being used and the order in which they are applied. In general, it’s important to consider the compatibility and adhesion between different finishes to ensure a proper and long-lasting result.

  1. Oil and Varnish: Oil finishes are often used as a base for varnish because they help to seal the wood and provide a smooth surface for the varnish to adhere to. However, it’s important to allow the oil finish to dry thoroughly before applying varnish to prevent the varnish from being affected by the solvents in the oil.

  2. Varnish and Lacquer: Varnish and lacquer can be used together, but it’s important to make sure the varnish is completely dry before applying the lacquer. If the varnish is not completely dry, the solvents in the lacquer can dissolve the varnish, causing it to become soft or brittle and lose adhesion.

  3. Oil and Water-based Finish: Water-based finishes should not be used over oil finishes because the water in the finish can react with the oil and cause it to turn yellow or become brittle. If a water-based finish is desired, the oil finish should be removed or sanded off before applying the water-based finish.

  4. Shellac and Water-based Finish: Shellac can be used as a base for water-based finishes, but it’s important to make sure the shellac is completely dry before applying the water-based finish. If the shellac is not dry, the water in the finish can dissolve the shellac, causing it to become soft or brittle and lose adhesion.

  5. Stains: Stains should be allowed to dry completely before applying any other type of finish. If another finish is applied over a wet stain, the solvents in the finish can dissolve the stain, causing it to bleed or become blotchy.

It is important to consider the compatibility and adhesion between different types of wood finishes and to allow each finish to dry thoroughly before applying the next one. Applying heat and/or sunshine will speed the drying time.

In addition to using finishing, layers of paint can be used to enhance turned wood by creating depth, texture, and interest in the surface of the piece. Here are some ways to use layers of paint to enhance turned wood:

  1. Layering colors: By applying multiple layers of paint in different colors, you can create depth and interest in the surface of the turned wood. For example, you can start with a base color, then add a layer of a contrasting color, and finish with a topcoat in a different color or a clear finish.

  2. Dry brushing: Dry brushing is a technique where you lightly drag a dry brush over the surface of the paint, leaving behind only a small amount of color in the brush marks. This creates a subtle, textured effect that adds depth to the surface of the turned wood.

  3. Glazing: Glazing is a technique where you apply a transparent or semi-transparent layer of paint over a base color to create a soft, translucent effect. This can be used to create a rich, warm look on the surface of the turned wood.

  4. Distressing: Distressing is a technique where you intentionally create a worn or weathered look on the surface of the turned wood by scraping, sanding, or rubbing the paint to expose the underlying layers or the wood itself. This creates a unique, textured look that adds character and interest to the piece.

  5. Combining techniques: By combining different painting techniques, you can create a custom look that is unique to your piece of turned wood. For example, you can layer colors, dry brush, glaze, and distress to create a rich, textured surface that showcases the beauty of the wood.

These are just a few ways to use layers of paint to enhance turned wood. The specific techniques used will depend on the desired final look and the type of wood being used. However, with a little creativity and experimentation, you can use paint to create a beautiful, eye-catching surface on your turned wood projects.

To conclude, study the wood you want to finish and decide what will work best to showcase its unique beauty. Porous woods will often benefit by using various fillers to reduce the color changes and differential absorption of finish on endgrain. Then, choose your finish based on how you want to protect and enhance your form. In some cases, consider the use of paint to add depth, texture and interest in your piece. Finishing adds the final touches that completes your work showing your skill and mastery of all the phases of woodturning. Thus, it marks the end of your creative journey. When you are satisfied, bring your work to our next meeting’s Show and Tell.

PS: Don’t forget David Frank’s demonstration of charring as another possibility to finish your projects. And thanks so very much to Jim Rende and Al Geller for reviewing and editing this document.

Posted March 3, 2023 by Darrel Wilson

Fascination with Creativity —

I’ve continued to ponder creativity. It encompasses the ability to generate unique solutions as well as the capacity to create new, novel forms. This is one of the things that binds our club together. During our meetings, we inspire and support each other in our pursuit to push the limits of woodturning. As usual this past January, some of my happiness came from turning beautiful pieces of wood and contemplating their aesthetics as they sat in a prominent place on my kitchen counter. “What is it about creativity that is so fundamental,” I wondered.

A few quotes caught my attention: “An unresolved idea will eventually lead to a complete one.” “Creativity is a muscle that needs to be exercised to be strengthened.” My friend James says, “Art reveals things others don’t see.” In part, creativity is a journey that requires patience, focus, and persistence to create designs that captivate our eyes. We continuously seek new ways to showcase the beauty of wood, from highlighting unique patterns of grain or inclusions to transforming nondescript pieces by charing or dyes. The possibilities are endless and exciting.

The “things others don’t see” represents the generative side of creativity. Sometimes a flash of insight or a dawning awareness leads us to unique and pleasing designs. We woodturners work from both sides of creativity, working from inspirations as well as solving problems as we develop our forms. In so doing, we reap the satisfactions of our creative motivations.

As Jean Antoine Petit-Senn stated, “It’s not what we have, but what we enjoy that constitutes our abundance.” At Cabrillo, when students start making a candle holder or bow, I encourage them to “please their own eyes and make what they enjoy.” They’re often surprised, as they’re used to a culture that prioritizes getting the right answer over exploring their possibilities through creation. This opens the door to imagination, innovation and explores their potential in art, craft, and design.

John Steinbeck observed that “Great teachers are great artists…Teaching might even be the greatest of arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.” Teaching creativity brings beauty and abundance to both the teacher and student. So also when club members show and tell their work, we teach, inspire and create abundance for our club members.

Each day savor your creative journey whether working in your shop or contemplating your forms in a prominent place. Treasure your inspirations and be persistent in solving the problems as they challenge your inventiveness. And then share your abundant journey with the people in your life. We look forward to seeing your latest creations at our February 25 meeting where you can share what you have learned and enjoyed!

Changing subjects as I conclude, Rockler on Twitter asked the question “Are old fashion tape measures, tri-squares and protractors on their way out?

An important aspect of creativity is embracing technology as it presents us with new ways to make beautiful forms as we solve the problems that present themselves along the way.

Posted February 4, 2023 by Darrel Wilson

Happy New Year to the Channel Islands Woodturners —

As we reflect on the past year, we are proud of the milestones we achieved despite the challenges of COVID-19. In February, we held an outdoor meeting at David Frank’s shop where he demonstrated scorching, a remarkably great way to enhance plain and/or damaged wood. Later in the year, we were able to hold our June Summer Party, return to the Cabrillo Woodshop in August, and participate in the Ventura County Fair, raising over $1,200 for Cabrillo Woodshop tools and supplies. We also appreciated presentations from the San Diego Woodturners, Terry Koplan on embellishing, and David Frank on tool sharpening. In September, we resumed mentoring Cabrillo Middle School students. Finally, we came together for our December Holiday Party and are excited to see what the new year brings.

In club news, Ray Higgins and John Ascheman met with Treasurer Tucker Grant to audit a sampling of our club’s income, expenses, and procedures for our two accounts, CIW General and Cabrillo Middle School. No discrepancies were found.

Please welcome our 2023 Board Members: President Darrel Wilson, Vice President Jim Word, Treasurer Tucker Grant, Secretary and Membership David Lopp, Communications Chair Chrystal Craver, Program Chair Chad Ishikawa, Community Outreach Chair Joanne Wilson, and Director At Large Jeff Vranesh. We would like to thank outgoing Board Members Mark Ridgley (Program), David Frank (Communications), and Terry Koplan (Treasurer) for their many contributions.

At the January 2023 Board meeting, a slightly edited version of our Mission Statement was adopted. It now reads: “It is the mission of Channel Islands Woodturners, Inc. to promote education, awareness of the art and craft of woodturning among the membership and the general public. We do this by providing opportunities for youth and adults to safely learn woodturning techniques, acquire artistic values, and increase experience and skill.”

Many thanks to David Frank, writer and editor, for crafting our well-stated Mission. This precisely says who we are and what we do.

The Board is also editing and finalizing “Officer Responsibilities and Procedures”, a leviathan work by Chrystal Craver who consolidated and streamlined a pile of separate documents. We are also moving from a paper-based Corporate documentation system to electronic file storage.

For our first in-person meeting of January 28, 2023, member David Frank will demonstrate using alcohol-based wood dyes to embellish highly figured wood. He will show the steps involved in making a platter with a colored rim, and then use this coloring technique, taught to him by Jimmy Clewes, to make lidded bowls. We also look forward to a March demonstration by world-renowned artist and turner Sally Ault.

To close, we look forward to continuing our mentoring program at Cabrillo Middle School in 2023. We will also be hosting three hands-on turning programs in the woodshop, connecting with our community at the County Fair, and presenting demonstrations by members and professionals. In addition, we will be holding our Summer and Holiday Parties. We are excited to share our love of woodturning with you and to continue developing our skills and artistic knowledge. Please join us as we celebrate, welcome, inspire, and encourage one another.

Posted January 9, 2023 by Darrel Wilson

Discovery, delight and emotional dexterity —

At the Cabrillo Woodshop, lunchtime is not about eating. Instead, skilled, independent students work on advanced projects such as Adirondack chairs, coffee tables, desks, and surfboards.

At the beginning of lunch, I was stowing the tools in the cabinet as a large group of students arrived and got their projects out. Suddenly an unusual movement caught my eye. At first glance, it was a student finish sanding a laminated fir/redwood surfboard top. As his sander traveled from end to end, each stroke overlapped the prior one precisely by 50% His body movement was fluid, controlled, and graceful, just what you would expect in a factory setting by a proficient, experienced person but not by a student in a school shop. Very few students sand like that, and I was mesmerized by his fluidity when I noticed his face.

His smile was radiant. Well, even more, he was luminous, as if lit from the inside out with a gleam of happiness! “This is a beautiful, passing moment,” I thought. But it wasn’t. He continued sanding with that same amazing look for some time. Something distracted my attention for a while, and when I checked back, he was still glowing!  His attention to his work was so intense, that he never noticed me staring even though I was about 6 feet away and directly in his field of vision.

I was privileged to observe his precious moment. And I am glad he had this experience at school. This is a powerful association, positively influencing his studies. Right now, working in the woodshop is probably the student’s favorite part of school. While school is much more than shop, this flourishing association will stay strong as he continues his schooling.

The source of the student’s delight was his creative process. The root word of creativity is the Latin word “creo,” which means to make something. Creativity is forward looking. He was focused on where his work was going and what its results would be. He was experiencing a uniquely powerful combination of imagination, capacity, and productivity. There is even more about creativity.

Freda Kahlo, the renowned Mexican artist, completed her painting, “My Birth.” She had just endured the death of her mother, several miscarriages, polio and serious injuries from a car crash. She summarized this moment saying, “I am not sick, I am broken, but I am happy as long as I can paint!” In her difficult time, creation was the source of her healing, and the root of her mastery to find her way forward.

So in creativity, we have discovery, delight and emotional dexterity. Making something and achieving mastery, fills us with pride, meaning, and definition. Thus, making beautiful things is fundamental to who we are. Additionally, creating is a means of moving through and transcending troublesome times, making journeys into wellness.

To conclude, creativity is the adhesive of the members of Channel Islands Woodturners. It is why “Show and Tell” and “Question and Answer” are essential parts of our meetings. In doing so, we share our creativity, encourage and inspire each other. And as you turn your next piece, let the beauty of your creation fill you with wonder and fulfillment. Then, bring it to share at our Holiday Party.

Happy Turning, and Happy Holidays!

Posted December 1, 2022 by Darrel Wilson

Not everything works

At our September meeting’s “Show and Tell,” I presented a lidded oak bowl made from the Mount Meher Baba Tree that burned in the Thomas Fire. I topped the charred wood off with an acorn finial, slightly out of plum as a whimsical statement of origin, growth, and creation. But when I said its tilt was purposeful and saw some frowns from club members, I began to reconsider.

My wife, Beth, flatly didn’t like it. So hoping for a better response, I sought out the opinion of a retired neighbor, James Osher, who was a University Art Professor as well as a self-employed artist. “It doesn’t work,” he observed. “The informal acorn is in conflict with the formally shaped bowl, and its tilt makes it even worse.” Instead, he suggested, “Make a symmetrical finial that complements the graceful curves of the box and lid. Echo the bowl shapes on the finial. That will work well.”

“Not everything works,” he reflected. ”As I create, I experience emotional momentum, attachment to my creation, and sometimes I have to separate that from the actual object before I decide whether or not it works.” So I bring it into my house and put it in a prominent place where I will see it in many different ways over a period of time. Sometimes I need to study something for a month or two before I decide whether it pleases my eye, and draws my attention to contemplate the nature of the media and my creation.”

“So you don’t see this as a good design?” I asked as I held up the box. “Good is a binary term, either it is good or bad, and that perspective isn’t helpful in the art world,” he responded. “It is better to ask if this box works as you study it. Do the lid and base flow together, does the whole box draw your eye and satisfy your mind? Is it harmonious and does it lead you to contemplate the beauty of the wood and your work?”James’ insight about attachment caught my attention. I made a finial to finish the project on a whim and discovered it didn’t fit with the box I created. By gathering valued feedback, I began to contemplate design and creativity at a deeper level. Seeking new understandings, I decided to interview artistic persons asking “How do you describe your creative process?”

Several woodturners said in various ways, they study a piece of wood and visualize what it can become. For example, “I want to make a platter so I go to my wood collection and see what will make a good one.”  An art teacher put it this way, “I look at my materials and begin to visualize what they might become.”

However, after a moment of reflection, she added, “I see something inspiring, and I have a feeling that I express in something that I create.” This surprised me, I haven’t heard woodturners say they create out of emotion. But wait, what about Jim Rinde’s gut-wrenching red-dripped bullet protest of a school shooting? It happens and sometimes powerfully.

A Florist/Landscape Designer observed “I always begin work with inspirational music. Then, I take my vase and arrange the flowers to double its height. I study their colors, textures, and shapes and combine them in ways that please me.” That reminded me that turners sometimes use various rules. For example, the Golden Mean, a ratio of 1 to 1.6, is an artistic rule of thumb that creates balance and harmony, pleasing to our eyes.


Woodturner Mike Peace explains the golden mean here:


But the florist also added, “Sometimes I just wing it and see what works together.” In art, rules of thumb are never set in concrete. They are simply points of departure and exploration. In fact, James emphatically remarked that the best art breaks or reinterprets old standby rules. In so doing, art brings fresh perspectives and new understandings because it challenges our acceptance of the status quo and broadens our sense of possibility.

CIW’s own Al Geller put it this way, “I study the wood and ask, “What does this piece have that makes it unique? What can it become? How can I bring out its special character?” Instead of chucking a piece on a lathe and begin cutting to see what it might become, I begin by planning the process and its outcome.”

“I find a focal point in the wood, something that draws and holds the viewer’s attention because it is special. And then I think about the shape that I can use to make that happen. Take, for example, a crotch with three branches. I search for visual harmony and want the three branches to balance each other out in the form that I create.”

“It is also very important to decide how the piece is to be displayed,” he said. “That will strongly influence the design of the object. It makes a big difference if you are looking down on a piece or looking up. Display location helps to zero in on what should be a focal point unless there is a very obvious wood characteristic that needs to be prominently displayed. I believe this is what turners mean when they say “the wood speaks to me.”

“I also think about the person for whom I am making the piece. Do they love intricate details, flowing forms, or whatever? I seek to make a match with how I know them so they will treasure my gift.”

Al finished by saying, “Some pieces of wood are hard to figure out because of their shape, inclusions, cracks, etc. So they remain mysteries and stay in my wood library until I give up on them.’

Thank you, James, Al, and the other artists for sharing your wisdom. What a remarkable journey! A simple oak box whose parts did not match became a quest to better understand design and creativity. To wind down the adventure, I read this blog to James. With an impish smile, he gave me an assignment, with almost the same words my wife used when she gave an emphatic thumbs down on the acorn finial. “Now,” he directed, “Make a whimsical box that effectively uses acorns!”

There is no end to creative challenges! Centuries ago, Michelangelo described his planning as “I saw the angel and carved until I set him free.” And in a delightful conversation, Al described how his design process works to turn wood into beautiful objects. Moreover, I learned from James to make intentional designs that are more harmonious and lasting. As we all know, one project leads to another and I am thinking about making a whimsical acorn bowl.

Let us turn and learn from each other.

Posted November 26, 2022 by Darrel Wilson

Lathes and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance —

What does woodturning have to do with motorcycles? (Stay with me.)

Early in Sept, I visited the Solvang Vintage Motorcycle Museum founded by Dr. Virgil Elings. Elings has been buying, fixing, and collecting motorcycles since he was 14 years old. Moreover, Elings holds a Ph.D. in Physics from MIT and he taught Physics at UCSB for 20 years. In addition, he sold a successful business and became a philanthropist and motorcycle museum owner.

In January of 2017, the Santa Ynez Valley News interviewed Dr. Elings after he donated $4 million to build the Ridley-Tree Cancer Center in Santa Barbara. In the interview, Elings said he collects motorcycles because he loves to ride and is intrigued by their diversity of engineering. He also commented about education, not just because he taught for two decades, but more because his most important discoveries resulted from plunging into unknown scientific areas to solve problems. He observes:

“I’m convinced the whole school system, from kindergarten on up, is creating nothing but trained seals,” Elings said. “Here’s a trick, do the trick, I’ll give you a treat. Everybody now needs a 4.5-grade point average to get into college. Grades are so important, all you’re going to do is learn the trick — memorize the trick for at least three months to get the grade.”

“The way around that, Elings strongly believes, is project education.”

“You get a project, it’s your own. You have to get to the end. You learn what you’re good at and what you’re bad at. You learn what it means to finish something. You learn because you have a need to know.”

This insight takes us to many places including woodturning. Could it be that by teaching our Cabrillo students to turn wood into things, we are teaching them some of their most important life skills? To make something we need to know about the nature of the material, the necessary tools, the operation of the tools, the logical steps of construction, and how to fix missteps. We learn to gather information, plan, execute and recover.

Turning gives students the opportunity to discover things about themselves they would not otherwise know. Some discover they are good with tools, gathering information, and/or creating designs. Our students gain knowledge and skills by paying attention and carefully responding to mentor information and modeling. They also discover that learning is fun and there is no shame or blame in making mistakes. Instead, we teach that mistakes are design and learning opportunities.  At the highest level, students are learning to learn with one-to-one coaching which is greatly needed but extremely rare in our industrialized educational system. Just as important, students also learn that they can make things they want and need instead of just purchasing something at a store or online. By turning at Cabrillo we share a powerful opportunity to make huge differences in the lives of children.

In our Club, we are also project learners.  When we master one area of turning, we find another for more challenge and accomplishment.  To guide us along we seek our mentors in person, in our club, and online to move our discovery forward. We come to club meetings to learn from presenters and from each other.

To conclude with the larger picture, on the “young” hand CIW members are mentoring middle school students, giving them life-long critical skills and experiences that are far beyond mere turning. On the “older” hand, we are discovering and expanding our skills to delight ourselves with new accomplishments. In this yin and yang of our club, we are all sojourners of discovery and mastery through turning wood. Like Dr. Elings, we do our best learning and accomplishments when we plunge in, figure it out and teach others! We need to know more, create beautiful things in wood, and give our experience to help others.

Darrel Wilson

Posted September 28, 2022 by Darrel Wilson

A Fair to Remember

This August Channel Islands Woodturners returned to the Ventura County Fair. Participating in the Fair is our most important community interface. It is our opportunity to explain how we benefit Cabrillo Middle School students, raise funds for school and market our club to potential members. One of our most outstanding aspects is our commitment to teaching students through project-based learning.  And each year we get new members and reconnect with old ones.

Chrystal Craver did an outstanding job organizing and coordinating our booth. She reports that club members donated 193 volunteer hours in the booth and 30 hours of volunteer time for judging, booth set-up, and takedown. We made about 540 tops for children and talked for 107 hours to people about our club and how we support the Cabrillo Middle School students. Our members stepped up, and 26 people turned, which covered all the shifts with at least one person. This year we raised $1,428 for school supplies, tooling, and the like so there is no charge for students.

The Ventura County Star reported the “12-day fair drew 270,486 visitors, about 11% fewer than the nearly 303,000 who attended the last fair before COVID-19 spawned cancellations in 2020 and 2021. However, revenue from admissions increased from nearly $1.9 million in 2019 to $2.6 million” so the Fair is on solid future financial ground.

Entries were also down which may in part be due to the shift to online registration. For some, this was perceived as a difficult change, but I learned that Ventura and one other county are the last fairs in California to begin this process. When I took my entries in, the process was impressively streamlined and fast, as compared to previous years. Also, judging was much better organized. Please start now and prepare your entries for the 2023 Fair.

The following are questions and comments from the people I met:


What wood do you use for tops? Why maple? Will other woods work as well?

How do you make the textures? What finishes do you use?

Is the club just a bunch of old guys?

Is it hard to learn to turn?

Will you teach women?

Where (and how often) do you meet? What happens at club meetings?

Is the club welcoming for newcomers?

I can turn a nice bowl on the outside, but I get catches all the time on the inside. What am I doing wrong?

Does having the chips and sawdust all over you bother you?

Why don’t more schools have shops?

What is the shop teacher like? Mine was a mean grump!

Can you teach at other schools?


I had no idea markers could make wood so pretty.

Kids need to learn to use their hands. The digital world is a small part of life.

Making and fixing things are necessary life skills.

I love to watch you make something emerge out of a piece of wood.

We need more hands-on teaching for our kids.

I limit my kids’ computer time, they need to be outside playing and discovering.

Cabrillo students are lucky to have your club teaching them. Xs 4 or 5 persons.

I wish my grandson could go to Cabrillo and take your shop. (So do I).

With the closing of Woodcraft, we lost a long-time supporter who, for many years, generously provided about 60 board feet of cut hard rock maple. But, thanks to the suggestion from Chrystal Carver, and the in-person solicitation by David Frank and Joanne Wilson, Mayan Hardwood of Oxnard donated the maple. Also, David worked with a sign shop to add the Mayan Hardwood banner to our booth, giving them publicity as our new partner. So please reciprocate and make Mayan Hardwood your main source for wood.

Again, many thank you’s to Chrystal who increased communications so much that each Fair shift was filled with at least one person. Also, she personally filled 10 shifts, a leviathan contribution of nearly 30 hours in the booth! And thanks so very much to everyone else who volunteered at the Fair.

Each year club members eagerly look forward to participating in the Fair. We explain the value of our club to our community, recruit new members, and fund our school budget for the coming year. We hope you will join us in August 2023 at the Fair.

Darrel Wilson

Posted September 8, 2022 by Darrel Wilson

Spinning Steel

Recently vacationing in Vancouver BC, my wife and I visited art galleries in the historic Gastown District. We are interested in all sorts of art, but most of my attention inevitably gravitates to objects that celebrate wood. Wood is a powerful magnet. I love its colors, patterns and the endless way artists explore its eternal beauty. One gallery, in the back of a group of shops, appeared to be nearly bare except for the striking silhouettes of  three dark bowls in a bright window.

It didn’t look like it was worth our time, but on second thought I had to see them, they were displayed so well. To my surprise, the bowls were made from 1800’s railroad steel and quite heavy! It was forged into disks, the disks were heated white hot in an oven and carefully transferred to a lathe. Using a rosebud acetylene torch to keep the disk malleable, the metal was shaped using very long levers with rollers on their tips to progressively develop their eye catching form.

The bowls were not for sale! They were displaying the CNC constructed furniture upon which they sat! And the gallery was just in the early development stage, being created to market a new line of CNC furniture developed by a group of Vancouver based artists. It was so new, they didn’t even have a web site yet.

Fortunately, unlike the other galleries in the ancient brick building, no other patrons were present so we had the full attention of the gallerist. What ensued was an enthusiastic verbal romp about form and function, color, texture and shape, and the digital revolution’s disruption of the wood fabrication world. Our discussion about design, creativity and construction, I would later say, was one of the very best parts of our vacation.

And now that I think about it, we woodturners find these elements to be the nexus of our enthusiasm and community. Just as I enjoyed conversing in the gallery, so also are CIW members able to connect with other makers and artists in the club and through our presenters. We inform and inspire each other. And we love wood for all the fabulous possibilities it presents to us.

Back home, I looked up steel spinning. According to Wikipedia, steel disks can be hot formed up to about 9mm in thickness. Being turned above the recrystallization temperature allows steel to recrystallize during deformation and cooling. Hot disks are handled with various scissor tools, clamped between a headstock and tailstock and formed with long handled levers called spoons. There are videos about spinning sheet aluminum and the same techniques are used to shape hot steel. However I was disappointed that I could not find any Youtube videos about spinning hot steel.

And to close, those steel bowls informed a commission piece I was working. I made the foot smaller, its profile lower and slimer. That worked beautifully. Good design is highly contagious, it infects, inspires and connects makers everywhere. Let’s talk about design when we gather, turn for creativity and make beautiful wood objects!


Channel Islands Woodturners will meet back at Cabrillo Middle School on 8/27.

Also thanks so very much to all the Club members who are working the Fair. We are back!


Posted August 7, 2022 by Darrel Wilson

What is Our Story?

Everything has a unique story. Knowing the story of things that are important enriches our lives and adds meaning and understanding of this complex chain of events we call time. I like to think about these stories as seeing the footers and foundations that support a structure.

So I raise the question, what is the story of Channel Islands Woodturners (CIW)? Who were the visionaries who founded our club and how did they contribute? Simply put, what are our roots, who was involved and how does this inform our future?

Our webpage has a brief history that is helpful for casual visitors. But for the CIW family, a more complete story better informs who we have become and why.  In so doing we acknowledge and recognize the people who gave so richly of their time and resources to create CIW.

The following are some of CIW’s mileposts discovered by interviewing pioneer members such as Al Geller, Ron Lindsay and David Frank, including reading old club newsletters and records.

In 1996 an informal gathering of persons who loved to turn wood began meeting at club members’ shops in Ojai. Some of the founders were Ron Lindsey, Hugh Frank and Russ Babbitt. The club grew rapidly and by 1997 the American Association of Woodturners recognized the “Ojai Valley Woodturners Guild!”  Also that year David Frank began writing the club newsletter which he has done for many years.

Soon new members were driving from farther away, Ojai was remote, so meetings were rotated between a variety of shops in Ventura and Camarillo.

Somewhere in this early era, CIW began participating in the Ventura County Fair. First mentioned in a newsletter, Jim Rinde was working with Fair officials to develop more competitive categories.

Newsletters also describe discussions to better connect club members so in December of 2002 the First Holiday Party was held at Al Geller’s beautiful home in Ventura. A few years later, the holiday gift exchange and the Summer Party were added.

In 2003 CIW purchased a web page domain name and in a few months David Frank made it go live. David didn’t have any IT background but he figured web design out by himself! Also that year Ron Lindsay began taking photos, taking notes of our meetings and posting them on our website. Nearly 20 years later, he is still taking great photos and notes! And if you need a refresher about a presentation, his superb technical writing will probably answer your questions. To access this motherlode on the website, go to the Gallery and click on meeting photos.

By 2004 we began meeting in Levi Mize’s cabinet shop in Camarillo which was occasionally used in rotation with other club members’ shops into 2010.

Recollections vary, but sometime between 2004 and 2006 CIW began mentoring Cabrillo Middle School Woodshop students. Woodshop teacher Scott Lehman says it has been nearly 20 years. Mentoring students continues to be one of our club’s signature community contributions.

One surprise in the records was that in 2005, CIW made 25 avocado bowls for Mission Produce who then purchased a Vicmarc lathe for club use. We still use this sweet little lathe for turning tops at the Ventura County Fair. Each year we recruit new members through our participation in the Fair and give away hundreds of tops to delighted local children.

In 2006 dues were increased from $25 to $35. For a short time in 2007 we met in the Oxnard High School shop. Moving meetings from location to location was always logistically problematic so the Board continued to search for a permanent location. Finally in 2010 CIW began renting the Cabrillo Middle School classroom and shop which has been our permanent location since that time.

From that time forward, CIW’s path was mostly set and occasionally honed from time to time. For example, in 2018 we began live streaming of presenters from all across the country and Canada. This development happened just in time, because in spring of 2020 COVID arrived in Ventura County and club meetings became Zoom presentations that we watched from home.

To our founders and the many people who have built Channel Islands Woodturners into the wonderful club it is today, thank you so very much! We appreciate and recognize your vision, commitment, time and resources. You built footers and foundations of our club that our 89 members enjoy today.

To close, where is CIW headed? At this writing, we expect to be back for meetings at Cabrillo Middle School this month. Streaming demonstrators will continue to be our main educational offerings in the classroom because they minimize travel costs for presenters and club members. At the end of this month, we will resume our club outreach through making tops at the Fair. Teaching students at Cabrillo Middle School will be our main charitable contribution to our community. Our mentoring program, benefiting members who are new to turning or veterans who want to learn a new skill, will continue to churn out better and better crafters. And our summer and holiday parties will continue to connect club members and their spouses into a community of creative and caring artisans.

Now as time moves forward, we need new ideas, new energy and new leaders. We depend on our volunteers for everything we do. There are many different aspects of CIW where you can contribute. Also, we need to continually ask ourselves, “What do we need to reinvent to remain relevant in our changing world?


Posted July 9, 2022 by Darrel Wilson

Turning Time and Making Meaning at Cabrillo Middle School Woodshop

As many of you know, back in 2004 Al Geller spearheaded Channel Islands Woodturners’ mentor rich, well equipped, positive learning shop environment for seventh and eighth grade turners at Cabrillo Middle School. Now 18 years later under the masterful direction of David Frank, and with the backup of Jim Word, CIW mentors provide students with quality lathes, tooling, supplies, wood and outstanding personalized instruction.

At a recent Volunteer Recognition Luncheon, Principal Lorelle Dawes told me the woodshop is one of the best project based learning (PBL) opportunities offered by the school. “The woodshop has always been great for cognitive development, and it still is. And it is one of the most popular and valuable electives Cabrillo offers its students,” she remarked.

PBL is learning by doing. In the shop, it is hands-on tool use and machine operation to complete various projects. To learn spindle skills, seventh graders make candle sticks. Returning 8th graders turn bowls, mallets, screwdrivers, etc. By completing their projects, students learn many complex skills such as:

  • Paying close attention, and carefully following mentors directions
  • Understanding the nature of project materials such as wood, sandpaper, and finishes. *Appropriate tool presentation
  • Methods and sequences of operation
  • Managing the reductive process of turning to make desired shapes.
  • Dealing with mistakes.

On Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, two CIW mentors support up to five students during the class periods from 10:45 to 3:00PM. So each school year CIW’s volunteers provide about 600 (precovid) hours of instruction at the wood shop. To put this contribution into financial perspective, our club provides about .42 of a full time teacher, or nearly $41,000 worth of 2017/18 instruction time. (  CIW also provides free wood, supplies and equipment to all turning students. As we all know, turning is very expensive so this is a substantial added value to students.

There are more important ways CIW’s mentors give to students. Many are searching for validation as they discover their potential. Most don’t know what they are good at until they hear it from someone they believe is knowledgeable. And then there is learning to deal with mistakes with grace, humor and humility. Our mentors often tell students mistakes are design and learning opportunities, never personal failings. Above all, we provide students with positive, encouraging learning environments that build their confidence, sense of value and self worth. We teach how to enjoy learning, even if turning wood is not a student’s strong suit, because that is the essence of PBL. In short, learning is discovery and we aim to make it fun and rewarding for every student.

Mentors also receive remarkable rewards. The shop teacher, Scott Lehman, is one of the best teachers I have ever encountered and he is a very accomplished woodworker. He usually has five other mentors working in the shop, who are not turners, but are highly experienced woodworkers. We enjoy excellent esprit decor, inspire and enjoy each other.

Thus, volunteering at Cabrillo Middle School is one of my most happy spaces. I teach skills I love, help students learn life-long skills, knowledge and attitudes, and make a substantial contribution to their educational expenses. Because students choose shop as an elective, they are motivated to learn which virtually eliminates discipline issues and makes volunteering a memorable pleasure.

Also, mentoring students is a wonderful opportunity for club newcomers to learn the art of turning. There are always at least two mentors for students and, to ensure everyone’s success, we pair beginner mentors with highly experienced veterans. Helpfully for new mentors, there is a lot of time between periods to prepare skills for the next class. Beginners, do not doubt yourself, you have important skills and experiences to offer. Years ago as a beginner, I started “just in time learning” in the shop with Al Geller as my mentor. And you know, project based learning works just as well for retired folks as it does for Middle School students!

Wow, I treasure that wonderful memory!

New mentors are needed and I urge novices and experts alike to make room in your busy schedules to teach outstanding students, in a well organized, beautifully equipped wood shop with other mentors who are passionate about working with wood and contributing to their communities. As you teach students, I guarantee you will find many rich rewards well worth your while. Seize this opportunity by contacting David Frank.


Posted April 10, 2022 by Darrel Wilson

Finding Your Creative Center

What is the challenge that will keep you happy, growing and involved?

Over a year ago, Danny, a neighbor, asked for wood turning lessons. He had returned to Ojai  after losing his Manhattan N.Y. job in the COVID shutdown. In his heart of hearts, he was an artist who managed commercial real estate for his livelihood. With extensive experience in ceramics, he chose wood as his next media while he collected unemployment to wait out the pandemic.

Danny’s first bowl was cut from an unknown softwood that I had in stock. He rapidly mastered tool presentation, shape visualization, sharpening and the proper cutting and sanding speed. His learning was consistent and rapid. By comparison, it took me months to do what he was doing by the end of his second session.

I found a nearly new Jet 1221 on Craigslist for $550 and he bought it the next day. I gave him wood, loaned the tooling and he returned a few days later with a lovely thin walled gobblet and a matching bowl!

Danny never made anything else because turning was not the creative challenge he sought. So his new lathe is covered with dust as he looks for other satisfying challenges.

I learned two things. One is that some people have fantastic transfer of training from ceramics to wood turning. While it is mostly impossible to add wood back like you can add clay to a spinning pot, there are many similarities in the use of hands, shaping objects with tooling, choosing the proper speed, etc.

The other is that we need a certain nature and level of challenge to keep involved and growing in our craft and art. Danny quickly moved on, woodturning was too easy.

I keep plodding along, still fascinated and very involved. I like to work with wood that has many issues, such as hardness, cracks, voids, and punky sections. Each represents a problem in search of a solution and sometimes those solutions present even more problems. At this point in my life, when my wife and I are both dealing with medical issues, I am very grateful for these challenges; they help keep me both centered creatively and positively focused. And I love the beautiful rewards of solving these challenges.

Perhaps, this is a grand metaphor for this chapter of life. Who knows?

What I can say for certain is that I love my tools even more as they make creativity one of the main purposes of my days. I revere my hand and power tools because each of them are solutions to very specific challenges I encounter. My tools represent mastery, achievement and satisfaction.

And a wonderful bonus is the advice, and feedback I receive from CIW members, in person and at meetings. Woodturning is the point at which each of us intersect, where we connect with expertise, encouragement, and vision. What a wonderful nexus we share!

One question to close. What is the challenge that will keep you happy, growing and involved? Is it decoration, use of color, hallowing, segmentation, resin, a new shape or……? With too much challenge we give up. With too little, our tools collect dust. We live precious balances that require our mindful tending and care. And most importantly, we share a club that has all the expertise and encouragement we need to succeed and thrive with finding our creative center.


Posted March 7, 2022 by Darrel Wilson

What is good design? What is beautiful?

In 1970 I took a Free University class called “Philosophy of Design.” The first day, the instructor strode into the room wearing a bright flowing, crimson robe over his partly exposed hairy chest and dirty underpants! Four barely clad long haired girls followed closely and hung on his every word and movement. I admit they were distracting, but even so, the instructor made little, if any, sense. The second lecture was the same wandering word salad, so after the students left, I pushed my way through the girls to ask “What is good design?” He squirmed, paused for a while and said, “It’s hard to say for sure, but you know it when you see it.” He looked away, and had nothing to add.

In 2015 I began wood turning and discovered there is much to learn about design and beauty in the circularity of our craft. Turning is magical in the ever changing nature of shaping spinning objects. It is a reductive process with its own challenging logic which leads to discovering more about design and beauty.

For example, I showed Al Geller a beautiful bowl about 10”s in diameter and 11”s high. It was my first spalted maple project, a salad bow I made for my son.  Al carefully rotated it in his hands and remarked about its spectacular color, and glossy finish. Then he cleared his throat, and said “I am going to tell you something important someone told me a long time ago. The question is not how large a bowl you can make from a beautiful piece of wood.” The better question is “what is the most beautiful bowl this wood can become?”

That was an epiphany, the bowl would have been more beautiful had it been shorter to better reveal its remarkable interior character. His words were important. Woodturners learn to orchestrate a dance of form and function to create useful and beautiful objects.

Moreover, surrounding ourselves with beauty that we make or buy, elevates our spirits, graces our days and adds value to our lives. Thousands of years ago, the First People living in our area used reeds, spindly branches, grasses, etc. to bring balance and beauty to carrying water, storing acorns and preparing food. Even then, they perfected their shapes and carefully adorned them with eye-catching colors and patterns. Our love and need for beauty goes back to our earliest days.

Also, turning wood reveals its complex uniqueness and beauty, connecting us to the powerful life-giving forces of our natural environment. Our creations literally ground us to our earth that is the source of our wood and all of life. Our creative processes generate deep respect for the nature that made wood possible. Trees and the objects we fashion from them, have a sense of permanence and longevity that contrast sharply with our quick consumption culture, using and discarding things moment by moment.

So now on this long arc of time we carry forth, learning as we turn wood and answering the questions, “What is good design?” and “What is beautiful?” While good design and beauty are not the same, they are like fraternal twins. They have much in common but they are different. Through their common creative origins, the outcomes of beauty and good design warm our eyes and hearts. Even more for some people, the creative process is a source of healing and personal mastery from complicated pasts. We turn wood for many reasons and enjoy a multitude of wonderful outcomes.

As I turn an object, I am focused on its emerging form and captured by the challenges it presents. I wake up in the morning and plan my next steps with delight. My heart is captured and my hands are eager to work.

These are the essences of the members of Channel Islands Woodturners Club. We share our journeys of design and beauty, adding great value to our lives and the lives of others.

In the coming year, when we show and tell our work at our meetings, let’s discuss good design and beauty. While we won’t always agree, we will learn from each other. Let’s discuss the golden mean, use complementary colors, decoration and much more. The point is to explore and celebrate our different understandings of design and beauty.

And to close. My son and family use their salad bowl several times a week. Even though I think it could be better, they love its design. They use tongs so its tall profile makes it very easy to pinch a hefty load of greens, and the tongs never fall over into the salad. Moreover, they think it is beautiful!


Posted February 11, 2022 by Darrel Wilson


Happy 2022!

The CIW Board has met and planned our 2022 year’s activities.

It appears there will be surges of new COVID variants every year, or even every few months. If we wear high quality masks, are vaccinated and meet in outside places with good separation, we should be reasonably safe. Put another way, as long as vaccines continue to protect against severe illness and the risk to most individuals remains low, CIW can continue to meet in person, in outside locations. Some members are more vulnerable so we will continue to offer streaming on Zoom, whenever possible. Given the rapidly changing nature of the pandemic landscape, the Board will review this plan each quarter.

To begin 2022, we hoped to meet in front of David Franks’ shop for his demonstration of pyrography, but that did not work out. Fortunately San Diego Woodturners has an outstanding streaming demonstration January 15th at 9:30AM. Mark Ridgley has sent the Zoom link to you already.

For the year, our goal is to meet safely in person, every other month, and have streamed presenters on the offsetting months. Because we don’t have use of the school this year, we are looking for other shop venues with strong wifi connections and lathes for demos. If you can sponsor a meeting, please let Mark know.

Also, we hope to have an Outdoor Summer Picnic in July and will let you know if, where and when that will be. On August 3-14 the County Fair is open and we need people to turn tops in our booth and tell the public about our support of Cabrillo Middle School students. We hope to have some sort of Holiday Celebration.

Thank you members, your responses to the program survey was excellent, very informative and Mark Ridgley will use it to secure our presenters. In some cases, we will team with San Diego Woodturners.

More than 45 members have paid their dues and we expect about 15 or 20 more persons to respond. If you haven’t renewed, please send your $35 checks to Tucker Grant.

Secretary Terry Koplan is reviewing our website, making corrections and changes. Send your suggestions to Terry.

David Frank needs mentors for Cabrillo School students. Please contact him. If you can fit this into your schedule, you will enjoy helping great students learn life-long woodturning skills.

To close, we look forward to continuing our mission: To promote education and awareness of the art and craft of woodturning among the membership and the general public; and to provide opportunities for youth and adults to safely learn woodturning techniques, acquire artistic values, and increase experience and skill.

[Contact information for all of the people mentioned is available in the members only section of the website, or you can use the contact us form on the website.]

Posted January 2022 by Darrel Wilson


As the school year finishes I would like to take this opportunity to thank our community outreach chair David Frank and all of the members who volunteer their time for the club’s woodturning mentoring program at Cabrillo Middle School. The club has two members at the school three days a week, five hours a day during the school year.  This amounts to about 600 volunteer hours per school year, not including summer session or time volunteered sourcing and preparing wood and supplies. 

I recently attended Cabrillo Middle School’s showcase that allowed students to display their art and woodworking projects. Going around and speaking to students about their work, I could see how proud they were of what they had accomplished and that they had the confidence to explain their work. It gave me a glimpse of what our mentoring program means to the students that our club members work with. When I talk to members that help at the school, I also see that they get a great deal of joy in helping the students as well.  

So again I want to thank all of the club members that volunteer their time to make this program so successful. I hope more members are able to join the team that volunteer at the school, I know that I look forward to being able to volunteer when I retire. 


Posted June 22, 2018 by Chrystal Craver


Mike Mahoney demonstrated for the Channel Islands Woodturners on April 29, 2018

Our April meeting was an all-day demonstration with professional turner Mike Mahoney. Mike turned several projects during his demo. He started by creating four bowl blanks by coring from one block of wood using the McNaughton Center Saver system. He then moved on to turn a platter and hollow form urn with a threaded lid. Mike finished by turning a calabash bowl.  Throughout the demo he discussed how the projects were turned, design, layout and tools. See the photos from the day here.

The meeting also included an instant gallery for members to show their work and a wood raffle. We had a great turn out at this meeting with 41 members, 1 student and 7 guests. I hope all of you had a wonderful time and hope to see all of you in the future.

I wanted to thank everyone who was involved with making this day go so smoothly, including the set up crew (that came in on Friday to set up the video system and arrange the room so more people would fit comfortably) and the crew the day of the demo (that made sure all went smoothly, video, instant gallery, lunch, wood raffle and clean up).  We would not have successful meetings without you.  

If you are interested in woodturning in the Ventura County area and are visiting our website for the first time, please come join us at a meeting.


Posted May 10, 2018 by Chrystal Craver