From Raw Material to Finished Box

English Box, Thuya root burl
English Box, Thuya root burl

When you see a beautiful box like the one pictured above, have you ever wondered what the piece of raw wood it was made from first looked like when it arrived in my studio?

The trees that produce these burls are quite small and grow exclusively in the Atlas mountains of Morrocco in almost inaccessible regions. The wood has also been called Thyine (and is mentioned as such in the Bible in Revelation 18:12). It is also known as Citron burl. These burls have to be transported down the mountainsides to the lowlands by donkeys or mules as there are no access roads. They grow, not on the trunk of the tree as we often see in the woods around us, but on the root systems, very much like a potato, underground. Many of the root burls have been hidden there for very long periods of time as the trees disappeared up to 100 years ago and the roots remained buried. As a result of the dry climate and the resinous qualities of the burl, they remain perfectly preserved, to be discovered and excavated many years later. Because the tree has been gone for so long, it can be challenging to know where the roots and the burls might be.

127 lb Thuya Root Burl arrives in Canning all the way from Morocco.
127 lb Thuya Root Burl arrives in Canning all the way from Morocco.

Where to make that first cut?

I’ve been eyeing this burl up for a long time, hoping it wouldn’t sell, so finally I took courage and brought it home! Next comes the scary bit – where do I make that first cut? It’s important to maximise the wood that will be available to work with and it’s not possible to see the intensity of the figuring until the first cut has been made. There also was a hole on the side that penetrated the burl quite deeply and it was impossible to predict the direction and depth of this flaw.

After seeing my original post on social media about this purchase my neighbour, film-maker Kimberly Smith, was extremely curious and offered to record the moment of the first cut to reveal the beauty in the video you see below. Many thanks to Kim!

And here is the burl open for us to see the beauty inside!

Thuya root burl open in my workshop
Thuya root burl open in my workshop

And a closeup of the cut surface of this burl.

Closeup of the cut surface of the burl

From here the hard work begins, to fashion the box you see above from smaller pieces cut out of this block. I also use this wood as accents, inlay and to line the interior of some of my boxes. Because this wood is so rare and precious, I prefer to use it for these, as it pains me to lose so much in the shavings and sawdust that result from a finished box.

Gift Certificates and Tuition Increase

Sample Gift Certificate for woodturning course with Steven Kennard

This is a brief end of year message to let everyone know that I have gift certificates available for one on one wood turning tuition with me, should anyone wish to give the gift of learning! More information on the courses is on the Tuition page on this site.

Also, I am letting prospective students know that the price of courses will be increasing starting January 1, 2020, from $325 per day (plus tax) to $350 (plus materials). Any courses booked before the end of December, 2019, to be held during 2020 will qualify for the 2019 price.

If you wish to give a Gift Certificate, contact me by sending a message on my contact page and I will arrange it!

Fine Details – Shaping the Snakewood Legs

Smoothing the tops of the legs - Image Ellie Kennard 2019

I was commissioned to remake my “Hat in a Box” as the original is in my own collection and not for sale. It was originally made it 2004 and this revisiting of the process was interesting as I had to work out again how to make it. Here Ellie took a photo of me shaping the tops of the legs in the final stages.

Below you see the photograph of the finished box.

“Hat in a Box” African blackwood, snakewood, stainless steel. This box was included in a “Boxes and their Makers” tour of museums in the USA and is a featured box in the book New Masters of the Wooden Box.

Ellie made a post about her photograph which you can find here:

Turning Tagua Nuts into Pearls

Tagua nut ‘pearl’ being turned

I am remaking one of my older boxes – the “Birthing Box” and these two photos show me turning one of the ‘pearls’ from Tagua nut, a vegetable substitute for ivory. The first photo in the gallery linked below shows an older “Birthing” box made for another collector a few years ago. You can click to view enlarged. The interior of the box contains loose tagua nut pearls.

Tagua nut being turned on the lathe
Tagua nut being turned on the lathe
view the full turned boxes collection

Nourishing Our Creativity

French Horn #2 - Steven Kennard 2011
French Horn #2 – Steven Kennard 2011

Creativity is fed and nourished by the things around us and our experiences. Some of those are visual, some are more visceral. For all of us our ability to create is fed by those things. Photography (making photographs) compels me to be observant of my surroundings and my environment in a broad sense and in a more focused sense in the details. I believe our brains have the capacity to record everything that we see and the subconscious memory of that is often visible in the things we subsequently create ourselves. This can be seen in forms, surface textures or colour, for example.

Composing images requires a careful balancing of elements – what is to be excluded, what included and how these elements are placed within the frame – to create the visual harmony along what, in photography is a two dimensional plane. Three dimensional works whether turned items, sculpture or even furniture all need to have the same consideration applied to achieve successful results. For me, the creating of images and the creating of three dimensional works are interrelated and connected and often this relationship can be seen in my work. Sometimes this connection is clear, at other times more subtle.

We need to keep feeding our brains and imaginations using the elements that are available to us wherever we might be.

Original Post November 21, 2011:

Symphony Nova Scotia had an annual fundraiser and asked Nova Scotia artists to create something using some of their old and unusable musical instruments. I got this wonderful French horn (which I still managed to play as you can see if you look closely at the photograph below) and made a series of photographs of it.

Imagine the music this instrument provided for so many people for years and the pleasure that it gave to those who played it.

French Horn #1 - Steven Kennard 2011
French Horn #1 – Steven Kennard 2011

Celebration of Tradition

Celebration 3 - African Blackwood, Cocobolo- Steven Kennard 2015

    Celebration 3 – African Blackwood, Cocobolo- Steven Kennard

I was honoured to be invited to submit a piece this year for the Professional Outreach Program
(POP) of the American Association of Woodturners “Out of the Woods: Traditional Form Revisited” auction which took place in conjunction with the 2018 AAW A on Portland, Oregon.

This Celebration box is the third in a series of boxes of mine showcasing the rich beauty of the different woods they incorporate – African Blackwood, cocobolo, thuya root burl. Clicking on the picture will take to to my gallery of more of my turned boxes and other work.

Celebration 3 open showing tray - African Blackwood, Cocoboloo - Steven Kennard
Celebration 3 open showing tray – African Blackwood, Cocoboloo – Steven Kennard

Celebration 3 open - African Blackwood, Cocobolo - Steven Kennard
Celebration 3 open – African Blackwood, Cocobolo – Steven Kennard

Salt, Pepper and Spice Mills – Rescued From the Flames!

Pepper Mills by Steven Kennard 2018
Pepper Mills by Steven Kennard 2018

Those who know my work will see that I have begun producing something quite different from my boxes. The story of how this happened is an interesting one.

I have firewood delivered to me every year, and every year while stacking these pieces, I discovered wood that was far too beautiful to end up heating my home. Every year I rescued some of these, putting them aside to dry in my workshop, saving them for… I wasn’t sure what! They were local maple, with lovely figuring, I just couldn’t stand the idea of burning them. So the piles of rescued wood in my workshop grew and grew and grew until this year I couldn’t move around for the stacks of them. I knew the time had come to give them a purpose. And so here they are! I present you with my latest project, the first collection of (for the most part) “Rescue” grinders, for pepper, salt or spices. They are made mostly from the maple from my firewood, with the exception of the few I have made in walnut and cherry. All are lovingly hand turned, polished and finished, each is unique and every mill features a ceramic Crushgrind® mechanism which is guaranteed for 25 years and is a pleasure to use. The finished grinders, though made with material discovered in firewood piles are in no way inferior to those made with commercially available wood. In fact they are superior, as this kind of beautifully figured wood is just about impossible to buy. I guess they are burning it all now. That is such a terrible waste. I wish I could go through all the firewood piles to see what treasures there are to be found. In the “Rescue” mills in particular I see the creation of a useful, beautiful object that will give pleasure for many years to come and I find that intensely satisfying in itself.

You can read more about these on the new Shop page on my site (see the menu above) – (linked here) which I am excited today to announce is open, linking to an Etsy purchase shop.

Getting ready to demonstrate at the New Zealand Woodturning symposium

It’s always exciting to go to a Woodturning Symposium as a demonstrator, with the buzz that builds up around the trip. I like to take some work with me, something new if I can, so you see me here sanding the body of a new box before attaching the finial. I leave for New Zealand on the 25th of this month. Not long now before I go. If you are there, stop by to see it and say hello.

Steven sanding a new box to take to New Zealand- Ellie Kennard 2016
Steven sanding a new box to take to New Zealand for the Symposium- Ellie Kennard 2016

While Ellie was taking the above photograph I moved aside and she spotted my latest student watching sanding techniques from an unusual angle, under the lathe. Joni has recently become obsessed with woodturning, as do so many once they are introduced to it.

My most attentive student - Photo by Ellie Kennard 2016
My most attentive student – Photo by Ellie Kennard 2016