Overwhelmed – Provincetown Independent

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I learned the basics of turning wooden bowls in woodwork lab in middle school and have been fascinated by the challenge ever since, but college, then family, and work took up most of my time, and it took a long time before I returned to woodworking, until my kids were older.

Russell Brown says the joy of making bowls is discovering the patterns that emerge. (Photo: Molly Newman)

When I first got back into this business, I found a cheap used commercial wood lathe, which was awesome and a lot of fun. However, when you carve a bowl out of solid wood, it’s normal to have most of the material on the floor by the time you’re done. I was a bit bothered by the waste, and I wanted to figure out a more efficient way to use this precious material if I was going to continue honing my craft.

Being an architect and geometry nerd, I knew there had to be a way to construct a sort of truncated prism-cone shape that would approximate the shape without wasting too much wood.

I spent my days working in architecture and real estate development, but ideas continued to develop in my head.

Moving to the Cape has really helped me get the bowl spinning that I do now.

After vacationing here for years, I had the opportunity to develop real estate in Truro. We eventually acquired an affordable vacation home, and from there I convinced my wife to take a few months off work and come and spend a longer period with me. We never left. I became involved in the community as a building commissioner for Truro and Provincetown, and joined the Outer Cape Choir.

When I signed up for an evening wood-turning class at Nauset Community Education, I started thinking about my little building problem again and learned about a technique called segmental turning. It was exactly what I wanted to do. In segmental turning, the workpiece is made up of multiple pieces glued together, and there are countless ways the pieces can be assembled and turned. I was fascinated by the shapes and designs that emerged.

Brown has the bowls laid out for viewing on the deck at Beach Point, and the piece in the foreground shows his process of gluing together the smaller pieces to create the bowl’s ring.

I’m a natural doodler. I keep a sketchbook filled with ideas and calculations to bring my vision to life in three dimensions. My design process is intuitive and sometimes random, but always with geometry in mind. I work a lot with discarded and found hardwoods – scrap flooring, discarded pieces from commercial sawmills, old butcher block countertops, etc. I often infer patterns and shapes from the size, color and type of wood. Sometimes they’re symmetrical, other times they’re random and abstract. Most often they’re circular.

Each piece is made up of multiple layers that are cut out and glued together, then flipped over and glued again. Achieving the desired shape takes a lot of planning, but the end result is that you can’t predict exactly how the pattern will look when it’s all put together. I embrace that randomness.

Woodturning is a craft where the learning about materials and design never ends. We are lucky to have ended up in the Outer Cape, where you don’t need as much motivation to be creative. I still have a lot to learn.



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