Redwood Empire Woodturners Serves Rural Ukiah Community – Ukiah Daily Journal

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Dave Peck, past club president, demonstrates his technique for burning wood on scraps using a homemade burner made from steel wire. (Chris Pugh — Ukiah Daily Journal)

One table was set with decorative bowls and plates, another with pieces of wood for raffle draws, and a third table filled with members of the Redwood Empire Woodturners Association who were hard at work demonstrating woodworking designs.

The technique of wood turning, using tools to carve shapes and designs into wood, dates back to Ancient Egypt and later became popular in Europe.

Woodworkers in London began organizing into guilds in the early 1300s, and now clubs are popping up all over America.
“In the 1700s, chair makers would go out into the woods, bend down around a sapling, tie a rope, then bring it down and wrap it around a round object,” said Dave Peck, a current club member and past president. This allowed them to push the bottom of the rope with their foot, creating the rotation needed for wood turning.

The craft remains popular among enthusiasts and experienced an explosive revival in the 1970s.

Shortly after the revival, Dave Peck co-founded the Redwood Empire Woodturners Association in 1995, joining 350 other clubs across the country. Each chapter (as they’re called) is run by an independent hobbyist who meets to learn about the craft and socialize with other turners. The American Woodturners Association holds symposiums every year in different parts of the country. Peck usually attends the symposiums on the West Coast. In addition to this, their biannual magazine, American Woodturner, features memorable creations.

In Ukiah, the club started as a small group of about eight people but quickly grew to about a dozen dedicated turners. Members of all ages participate to get a feel for what the craft is all about and learn the fundamentals behind it.

“To be honest, when I started, I didn’t know anything,” Peck recalls. He is now an avid demonstrator, often sharing his skills at clubs. “When I first joined the club, I would demonstrate things like how to take photos, but later I improved to the point where I could demonstrate using wood.”
“On our first trip, we were just fumbling around and had no idea what we were doing, so this was a great opportunity for us to join the club for the first time and learn the proper techniques to do things safely and correctly,” recalled Nick Pearson, a woodworking teacher at Ukiah High School and the club’s current president.

Pearson joined the woodturners five years ago and now hosts a high school woodworking class.
“Turning is expensive,” Pearson says. “We have materials in the classroom for students who are just starting out, so having a turning machine in the classroom is definitely a benefit.”

Demonstrations are held at every meeting. At least 5-6 members share their areas of expertise with the club. The range of expertise is wide, so what is shared is of great benefit. In rural communities, clubs thrive. Their ability to bring together a positive community by teaching different people how to work together and achieve their goals is a unique asset.

“If you were in San Francisco, you might be able to take a class on wood turning, but you wouldn’t have the same community that comes with it. Here, no one is offering classes, so it’s really about knowing someone who does it,” Pearson comments. “Most people are super cool and will lend you their workshops. Some club leaders even invite people into their homes to show you how to do certain things on a lathe. When the community is smaller, people are a lot closer.”

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