We meet Hampshire-based turner Andrew Stevens
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Andrew Stevens is a retired teacher based in Gosport, Hampshire. He turns bowls, platters and hollow forms. His work can be viewed on his Facebook page - www.facebook.com/TurnForFun.
Taking up turning
Andrew first started turning when he was at school but was unable to get seriously involved as a busy work and home life meant he didn't have the time to start turning. However, an accident 15 years ago brought about a change. "I came off my bicycle on the way to work and broke my collarbone," he explains. "Being off work gave me thinking time and I realised that I had been spending all my time teaching others and little stretching my personal skills, so with my arm in a sling I set about creating a workshop. Later that year my wife and daughter bought me a lathe and I was off. It was great to really get to grips with developing techniques and advancing my understanding. I retired after 35 years of teaching design and technology a couple of years ago and have been able to spend a lot more time in the workshop on the lathe and at the bench."
When asked to name people who have influenced him, Andrew selects the secondary-school woodwork teacher who saw some potential in him and let him 'live' in the school workshop. He also names his wife as she makes him think outside of the box. "She drops ideas into the pot and this has led me to make some unusual and quite demanding projects. At woodyards she is always ahead of me, searching out timber for me to work with." Andrew is also inspired by his collection of antique treen, some of his bowls and plates are 300 or more years old: "The skill involved and the shapes of these early pieces made with such primitive equipment is a constant source of inspiration," he says. He also likes to read books about turning, such as Edward Pinto's Treen or Small Woodware Throughout the Ages, in order to learn more about the craft. When planning a new project, Andrew advises taking time and waiting for inspiration to strike: "Leave your special pieces of timber lying about the workshop. It might be a year or more but it will talk to you and that great project will jump out."
Mistakes and challenges
Andrew told us about the 'silliest mistake' he has ever made in the workshop: "I was parting off a ring to try and save wood when making a plate when the tool twisted. Luckily I was wearing my new Trend Airshield facemask because I still sustained a bloody nose and a black eye when the piece exploded. They say you should learn from your mistakes and I have!" His greatest challenge came when his daughter asked him to make her a dinner set for their wedding present, as he explains: "I managed to find a huge plank of American white oak (Quercus alba)
at a local supplier and used every last bit. Four dinner plates, side plates, pudding bowls and goblets as well as a salad bowl and various other smaller pieces. I like to make one-off pieces but this batch production involved a whole new skill set and one I would recommend anyone to try out to develop techniques."
Apart from the lathe, Andrew says that he could not be without his Startrite 352 bandsaw: "This is an older model but is so well built and, when coupled with an Axminster Axcaliber premium blade, it does everything I ask of it." He has also made some equipment: "I made my own vacuum chuck to work with a pump that I managed to pick up at a car-boot sale. I did make the bearing set as well but it was difficult to get on and off, so when I saw one on a trip to the USA, I treated myself. It all works very well and the last project I used it on was to clean up the copper bottom of a bowl before it was fixed in."
Although he embraces modern technology, Andrew believes that traditional skills are still essential and worries that these may be lost. "I taught design and technology in secondary schools for 35 years and we kept up with technology such as CAD, laser cutting and CNC machines. I don't believe in going back to the Dark Ages, but learning hand skills and playing with materials is a really important first step. How can you design without understanding your raw material? Workshops are being lost too quickly in favour of clean rooms. You can't replace that smile and sense of achievement that a finished project brings."
Favourite type of turning
Andrew told us that his favourite turning is bowl turning with burrs. "I really enjoy all aspects of turning but my real passion is to mount a big oak burr on the lathe and core out as many bowls as I dare. You never know what is inside a burr and that is the thrill for me as everything is revealed."
Andrew's future plans include working with a new material: "I bought some lead-free pewter a while ago and I want to start mixing things up with rims, handles and feet mixed with a lovely burr. Not all on the same item I hasten to add!" He also has a bigger project that is still at the 'thinking' stage: "I have bought an 18th-century brass clock chapter ring and after finding the right piece of timber will turn it into a beautiful wall clock. The mix of old and new can look great." We look forward to seeing the results!