Contemplating The Recent Competition

Well, I finally got a chance to sit down and reflect on the 2009 Nova Woodturners Woodturning Competition that was held last month.

I entered two pieces in the competition, the Ash Bowl With Flanged Rim and the Cocobolo And Ebony Lidded Box. The Ash Bowl was entered in the Face Plate Category and the Cocobolo and Ebony Lidded Box was entered in the Spindle Turning Category. Both, of course, were entered in the Novice Class.

Contemplating The Recent Competition

Neither of them won any award but the benefits that I gained just by entering the competition was more than I could ever have imagined. Because I had never entered such a competition before this really surprised me. I had no idea that just by simply entering my skill level and attitude towards woodturning would change.

The Ash Bowl was turned back in November without any plan of it being entered and the Lidded Box was turned in January, specifically for the competition. It was with the latter, I believe, that took my turning to a new level.

It wasn’t that this project took me out of my comfort zone with the new challenges it offered, like being my first end-turning. No, it was much more than that. Although the challenges certainly added to the fun of the piece it was the very fact that this piece would be looked at, nay, scrutinized closely, by other turners, professional turners at that.

I could accept any piece that I turned prior to this one simply on the merits of my limited experience. I could ignore a bit of torn grain here or a less than perfect wall thickness there, knowing full well that this was merely ‘practice’ and that there would be many more pieces coming where my skills would be honed. Besides, with these other pieces I am normally the only one that would notice. The only other people that would get to view these pieces, even closely, were family and friends who, for the most part, would be supportive if I turned a bat and called it a toothpick! Remember the Spurtles? A case in point. 🙂

From the outset this turning was different. Here would be an item that would be on display in an area frequented by woodworkers and woodturners, would be compared with other pieces, and great pieces at that, and then actually judged! Here, this piece and I, would be naked to the woodturning world! Boy, you talk about pressure! Really! LOL!

Now let me clarify this, I don’t mean that the pressure was stressful. I mean that thruout the turning there was a constant reminder and understanding that I could not, would not, accept any compromise… and I had quite a few opportunities to put this to the test as I turned this project! 🙂 There were countless times while turning this piece where I normally would have stopped and been happy with it. There were also countless times when I normally would have thrown it into the scrap pile too!

One time, in particular, it was just about finished and just as I was putting the final touches to the foot a catch popped the base off the chuck and ping!, across the shop floor it went. I reluctantly went looking for it with eyes squinted, afraid of what I would find. The rim was dinged and the side was gouged but back on the lathe it went. I know for sure that if it wasn’t for the competition this would have been the final straw and that I would have soon been looking at the warming glow of Cocobolo embers.

Most times a turning would only take me a few hours, even a day, but this time I did the turning over a period of a week. Each time, if I got frustrated, had a catch or started thinking that it was good enough I stopped and took a break. During this period of downtime I would reevaluate what I had achieved so far, asking myself, “Are the walls thin enough?”, “Can I make them thinner?”, “Is the finial sized and shaped properly?”, “Would another style of finial suit the piece better?” (I ended up turning three of them!), “Should I sand, sand and resand some more to eliminate the scratches that I can see with the magnifying glass?”. 🙂

I believe that this persistence, driven only by this competition, escalated my turning skill level ten-fold, at least.

So how did my turnings fare out? The Ash Bowl received positive remarks from the judges, including “Simple and unassuming. A pretty little piece which heightens the movement of the grain through the wood. A lovely piece.”, “The lines of the piece flow pleasingly and ends in a practical piece” and “Well finished. The foot of this bowl is just a little too deep and could be made more delicate.”

The Lidded Box, on the other hand, didn’t fare as well. Apparently there was quite a difference in humidity between my home and the Lee Valley store where all the entries were on display. This caused the lid to jam into the base and wouldn’t open. I didn’t realize this until I picked up the piece after the competition and found that the lid was stuck and the finial had been broken, likely when one of the judges tried to open it. (Once I got it home it acclimated and the lid was easily removed. I re-sanded the opening a bit larger, hopefully eliminating any chance of it happening again. A little dab of glue fixed the finial.)

The lid sticking like that was rather funny (in a weird way) because a large part of my intent was to create a tight fitting lid, one that would ‘pop’ when removed. I just didn’t want it that tight! 🙂

Funny as it may have been I was disappointed that the lid stuck like that. I had no illusions about winning anything in the competition but what I had strived for with my entries was to receive feedback from the judges, professional turners and artists, that would further my turning learning.

Here you can see how all but one of the judges comments focused, and rightfully so, on the fact that the lid wouldn’t open – “A stylish piece, taking me back to Victorian times. I could see this in the parlour, or in a ladies bedroom, or on an ornate desk. The complimentary colours add to the overall appeal of the piece.”, “To be more practical the lid could possibly have not been quite so tight. The finial could have been a bit more substantial. Overall, a pleasing piece.” and “Sadly the lid was such a tight fit that it was impossible to remove. The lid should easily removable without being loose. Nice foot.”

Obviously I learned something (Beware Humidity!) but I was hoping to be told something just a bit less obvious. LOL! Oh well, maybe next year.

Participating in this competition has truly been a rewarding experience and I certainly look forward to entering more!

Back to the shop…

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