Interview with woodturner George King

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The shelves in George King’s back garden studio at Earthcott are filled with beautifully turned wooden objects in every shade, from the palest bleached sycamore through the warm tones of hawthorn to dark walnut and mahogany.

George is a self-taught woodturner, making vases, candlesticks, bowls, bottles and drinking vessels. He also uses his background in engineering to create bigger more complicated pieces. His most amazing creation is a working model of a traction engine with almost 1,500 individual parts, all made from turned wood, right down to the tiniest rivet. It has been exhibited several times including at the prestigious Dorset Steam Fair.

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Other large projects include a trumpet and a French horn, both of which can be played. The beech and lime wood French horn is particularly attractive with the bell being made from spalted beech. Spalting occurs when the tree is infected with fungi which discolour the wood creating darker swirls and striations.

George finds most of his wood locally, from the family farm and from friends who know about his work. He is always on the lookout for trees being felled. On a recent visit to a local garden centre for a few packets of seeds he came back with a mature beech tree that was being felled in the car park. “The story is, if I can hear a chainsaw I know what type of tree they’re cutting down.”

In his garden is a wood store filled with huge pieces of wood that have found their way to him over the years. He is able to identify the type by sight, and knows where each log originates. Included in the pile are elm, eucalyptus, ash, oak, English walnut, yew, laburnum and holly as well as fruit woods such as pear, apple and mulberry. Each wood has its own characteristics, and every individual piece of wood reveals its own unique patterns when it is worked. He also occasionally recycles more exotic timber such as mahogany.

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Many of the items George makes are useful, rather than gallery pieces that are simply for looking at. “I like things that are fairly practical, not just artistic. Things that people actually want to use.” He also relishes a technical challenge. His latest big project is a scale model of a showman’s tractor, a steam powered road-going locomotive with a canopy and lights, such as would traditionally have been seen pulling fairground rides.

He starts with drawings of the whole machine, and these alone take two or three months. Then the actual turning begins, with each piece being produced with incredible accuracy. As each stage is completed he records it on his website. You can follow his progress, and view a gallery of his work, at http://www.georgekingwoodturner.co.uk.