Turnings by Robert Gessner

I understand in the schools today they call it general technology. Before that, industrial arts. And when I was in grammar school, it was manual training. Mr. Smith, the shop teacher at Public School 68 in Buffalo, was, as I think back, one of a kind. He let his students operate every machine in the shop except the jointer. What a great opportunity for us youngsters.

That was my first wood turning experience. I actually made a coffee table with four turned legs, a tray-type top and a glass insert. It’s now in the attic, but still impressive considering my age.

Thirty years later when I’d retired on the shores of Cayuga Lake, a good friend, Walter Lynn, gave me an old Shopsmith woodworking machine. It lay dormant for a few years in my garage. I decided to build a storage shed and moved the shop smith into it. Don’t ask how, but this somehow became my shop.

About the third bowl I turned was from our own woodpile and the natural edge really caught my fancy. In the beginning, I turned mostly local woods: oak, maple, walnut and cherry, cherry being my favorite.

I also turned green wood, which is a challenge in itself. Sometimes, the water would actually spray out while turning. When these bowls dry out, they often take a shape of their own, making for some interesting configurations. I call these “God-Shaped Bowls.”

Over the past eight years I have branched out, no pun intended, and have purchased special burls and exotic woods from all over the world, like Amboyna burls from the Philippines, but these exotic woods are very pricey.

All in all, turning is a great hobby, and I enjoy progressing with my work. There are a lot of amazing wood turners out there, and I think some of them are much more talented than I. My only salvation is the sign over my lathe, “The race for quality has no finish line.”

Robert’s business, Covert Turnings, is located in Trumansburg. To find more information about his work, send an e-mail to cyndiges@fltg.net or call 607-387-3532.