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Turning wood into a work of art..literally
SOUTH PARIS – On Mount Mica Road you will find chunks of trunks and stacks of wood, both inside and outside Bruce May’s woodworking shop.
All are native hardwoods, with a few exotic woods tossed among the pile, just waiting to see what they will become once May unearths their heart.
Self-taught, May has been woodturning for about 10 years, taking oak, maple, cherry and butternut, as well as some exotic woods and laminates, and creating works of art.
“It’s endless as to what you can make,” he explains. “Bowls, tree ornaments, potpourri containers, salt and pepper mills and candle holders to name a few; each piece being unique. I have even made a chess set, which took 40 hours.”
Each piece of wood reveals its own personality with its natural tone variations, from delicate black lines called spalting to small circles called bird’s eyes.
“You never know what each piece will have once you start to turn,” said the artisan. “Sometimes its imperfections add character and sometimes, after hours of turning you find an ugly burl and it ends up as firewood… but then, I guess that’s what the woodstove is for!”
The wood needs to dry before it’s turned.
“It takes about eight months to a year,” he said. “I rough turn and then let it dry; if you don’t the wood will warp.”
It has been a great hobby and May finds peace in his turning.
“I was a self-employed heating contractor until 2007,” he explained. “In April of that year I was in a motorcycle accident and lost one leg and the sight of one eye. It was quite a shock and it took a long time to heal, both physically and mentally. Turning is now both my relaxation and therapy.”
“I especially enjoy turning burls and spalted woods because of their beauty and character,” he added.
And the results are amazing. Not only can May turn wood into beautifully crafted items, but he has the instinct to imagine what a solid block of wood will transform into.
May pours his heart out in each piece. Some items have naturally rough edges, others smooth as glass. A plate is loaded with burls, giving it a unique spirit, and grains give an earthy feel to a candle holder.
Many methods are used to provide unique outcomes with each piece. Segmenting is a technique where the artisan can use textures and colors of different woods to create a distinctive piece.
“Unlike conventional methods, where a single piece of wood is used, a segmented piece is made by first gluing, sometimes hundreds of pieces of wood together before turning,” said May. “Once turned, the different colors and grains create patterns, such as patchwork for great visual effects.”
It can take between 20 and 40 hours to create just one segmented project.
“If I had to choose one favorite piece, it would have to be a segmented piece that I made for my wife,” he said. “It has approximately 400 pieces of wood and laminates.”
May even finishes each project, not by spraying or painting with poly, but rubbing by hand with tung oil, which is the optimal way to preserve wood while revealing its captivating luster.
“I rub in three to four coats per day, buffing in between each coat for a satin finish.”
May does numerous craft fairs and his work can be found at the Harvest Gold Gallery in Lovell and the Paper Moon in Westbrook.
This artist could have easily given up after his accident, but instead chooses to use this hobby as therapy, “turning” heartbreak into a form of beauty.
“It really has been a great source of rehabilitation for me,” he smiled. “I love it and I’m even thinking of turning my artificial leg into a piece of art.”
“It’s still a hobby too,” he added. “But now it’s a hobby with a lot more hours and I love it!”
CRAFTY TURNING – Bruce May is an artisan who, literally turns wood into bowls, pens and vases to name a few. He attends several craft fairs each year and also sells his products at the Harvest Gold Gallery in Lovell and the Paper Moon in Westbrook.
STACKED – This bowl was made, using the stacked laminated method. All of May’s pieces are finished by hand rubbing numerous coats of tung oil.
400 PIECES – Bruce May turned this segmented bowl for is wife. It has approximately 400 pieces of wood and laminates to give this piece its beauty.