Woodturning in Ireland. From the Log to the Finished Piece. About Page.
Irish Woodturner from Tralee Co Kerry. I specialize in saving Irish Hardwood and turning it into beautiful, functional pieces for the home. I also make the odd Artistic piece too. If you are looking to start Woodturning then come join me for a Woodturning Tuition Lesson and start off on the right path. Here is my story.
Checkout my Social Media accounts below if you'd like to follow me online.
Welcome to my about page!
Giving new life to fallen Irish Hardwood
Hello, my name is David and I'm a Woodturner and Woodcrafter from Tralee Co Kerry Ireland. I turn and craft pieces using Irish Hardwood, cutting the wood from the trees and drying them myself. My aim is to give you a product that is truly Irish Made to the best quality I'm capable of. Each piece you buy from me has a history which I love to impart to you.
This is me with 2 big Ash Bowls, one from Tralee and one from Glencar.
Since 2019 I have been teaching my craft to Irish people and visiting tourists
First time here?
If you are new to my website and are wondering whether you should take the plunge and buy something from me but are still a little hesitant; please read my story below.
I understand that it can be hard to judge an online item by one or two photos but I can tell you that I'm often told that the photos don't show how good the finished piece is until it's in the new owner's hands. Learn more about the process here True craftsmanship may cost a little more but is infinitely more valuable!
This is me Rough turning a large Ash bowl in 2019 (I think)
Where I Live
The Beautiful Vale of Tralee
I live in a valley at the foot of the Short Mountain just outside Tralee Town. The town itself sits in the main Valley parallel to mine and both vallies open up into Tralee Bay. The picture here shows where the various rivers meet the sea. This mountain is part of the Sliabh Mish mountain range which stretches back about halfway along the Dingle Peninsula. This area is a beautiful picturesque Irish landscape, one of hundreds on our beautiful island. I live about a mile from the centre of Tralee in a rural setting. If you go left from this picture about half a mile or so you will find me. Don't worry, I can easily be found on Google.
I Teach Woodturning Too
I offer a range of Private Tuition Classes for beginner Woodturners right in my Workshop in Tralee. Early on I found there was a niche market to help new Woodturners starting out.
They would often choose poor quality Lathes, Tools, Sharpening Equipment and I offered them advice on what to buy and what to avoid. Showing students a safe way to turn is also very rewarding to me. Since late 2019 I have opened my Workshop to visiting tourists by offering Woodturning Experiences. Check out my Woodturning Tuition page if this interests you.
I've tried several methods for making the business story and none of them seem to work properly. I have returned to text only for now with a picture gallery below corresponding to each paragraph.
My Woodturning journey began in 1996 when I became an Apprentice Carpenter and my interest in woodwork as a career was cultivated. Although it occurred to me when I first started writing this bio that I had an interest in woodworking from a very early age. I seem to remember getting a beginner Carpentry tool kit when I was 6 or 7 and I was always messing around with wood in the garden sheds during my early childhood. I was also influenced by creative people that lived near me as well during my early years which also leaned towards woodworking. Some of my neighbours were always working with wood, building sheds, constructing roofs, garden furniture and other bits and pieces which obviously struck a chord with me sub-consciously. I did not recall this influence until I started my Carpentry training, it had lain dormant and far from my mind until then.
My first lathe
During my Carpentry Apprenticeship in 1996 my friend Phillip Turner (yes, really) briefly introduced me to Woodturning and showed me some of the basics. We were attending Fás (Carpentry School, now called Solas) and he told me about his homemade lathe made by his Father using an old washing machine motor and pulley system. It worked perfectly! He brought me over to his house where I watched someone Woodturning for the first time in my life. When it was my turn, as soon as the chisel met the wood I was instantly hooked. My first spindle turned piece was Pitch Pine and the smell of the wood alone made me want to follow up by buying a lathe and hand tools. I managed to scrape up enough money (£100 old Irish Pounds, I think) for my first lathe, a 4 foot green single barrel bed lathe (I can't even remember the brand name). A truly awful lathe but it was a start nonetheless. I searched long and hard to find a photo of my first lathe which I bought in 1996. There were no camera phones back then so I only have 2 pictures, this one being the best quality and taken by my Father with his camera.
From Humble Beginnings
After some time (1997 maybe) I decided that I needed a better Lathe so I went to the local Tool Shop with my life savings back then, £400 Old Irish Pounds and picked up my second lathe. A Draper WTL100 double bar bed lathe. A step up from my first lathe but still too light for major turning. This was also an entry level machine too but it allowed me to progress a bit further. I got about 12 months out of it before the limitations started upsetting me. My entire chisel collection around that time totaled 4 Woodturning chisels (3 Sorby and 1 Record Power) and they did the trick. These days I have close to 100 including a full set for each of my Lathes for both students and myself to use. I have also branched out into selling Tools direct to students and through this website. Updated note; When I moved back home from Cork, I had no space for the Lathe. It sat outside the house covered by a Tarpaulin for about six months until I could clear a space for it. Being outside rusted the bars but with a little TLC I was able to bring it back into service in 2014. When I bought my new Lathes, this was decommissioned. I later brought it back into service as a sanding machine. The bars are gone and the Headstock sits on a bench where I can use it.
The late 1990s
I moved to Ballincollig Cork in September 1999 and worked briefly for a building firm before going into business for myself for the first time. The Woodturning took a back seat for a while. I did set up my lathe when I first moved there initially and then set it up again when I bought my house in 2001. I had to cut 2 feet off the bed bars so it would fit in my new workshop. I used it sporadically after this point, I was just too busy. My frustration at getting catches and not knowing anything other than what I was originally taught were the reasons for not devoting more time to woodturning during my time in Cork. Had I known then what I found out in 2015, that if I had reached out to a professional; I could have eliminated all my problems in a short space of time. Who knows where I'd be now if I had taken proper lessons and how far along I would be by now! We live and learn I suppose. Some of my early pieces pictured here which were stored in my parent's attic for years after I couldn't sell them. It was so disheartening back then when I couldn't find an outlet for my pieces. It still hurts a little these days when I don't make a sale.
2014, Back to Woodworking Again
I left Cork in 2012, the economic crash in 2007 closed my Carpentry business and forced me to take a PAYE job in Cork Airport for 5 years working as an IT Network Engineer. The long term effects of this job meant I would have serious reservations about returning to PAYE work anytime in the near future. In 2014 I came back to the lathe again. Economic reasons had pushed me back to my woodworking roots and as soon as I mounted a piece on the lathe I was hooked again. Working with greenwood, which was brand new to me also presented a whole new world of opportunities. I had struggled to find wood in my early years and now greenwood presented the possibility of an unlimited supply of new stock. In 2015 I was being pushed back into self employment and although initially reluctant to be self employed again I found it an infinitely better option to working for someone else.
My 2014 Lathe setup
In 2014 I was unemployed, broke and back home in Tralee trying to do something meaningful with my life. Jobs were scarce and I was itching to be useful. I cleared a space for my old lathe, built a bench and an extension for bowls using the bars I had previously cut from the lathe bed. I was able to turn between centres and using the swivel headstock and the extension I was able to turn bowl like shapes using softwood. I was moving from YouTube video to YouTube video trying to learn anything and everything I could. It was ultimately a futile exercise as I needed proper lessons and better equipment.
Glenn Lucas Studio 2015
I struggled to make anything decent during 2014 and early 2015. I watched many hours of Youtube videos and read every article I could find online but it just wasn't enough. In December 2015 I made the brilliant decision to do a day of private tuition with Glenn Lucas in Co Carlow. The picture here is the outside of his old studio. In that single day, Glenn corrected my bad habits, showed me why early pieces failed and showed me how to turn my first bowl. The bad habits mentioned here were poor tool presentation leading to catches. It took many months of practice making bowls and small pieces before my products looked some way acceptable. Many people believe that Woodturning is easy to pick up when in fact it takes hours/weeks/months/years to perfect. My skill levels would be noticeably different every six months or so, at least to me anyway. Back to the present day, I still make the odd careless mistake but now I at least know why. Catches and small mistakes are all part of woodturning and a good fright every now and again reminds us to be safety conscious no matter what job we are doing.
2015, My New Business
My business struggled from July 2015 up to the early part of 2017. I put a lot of groundwork in during 2014 and early 2015 but there was still so much to build and learn before I could find my feet. My only output was through the local Farmers Market and it was extremely hard work. Often, I would sell nothing at all and would have 4 frustrating hours standing around in the wind and rain trying to will customers over to my stall table. Sometimes I had weeks of this repeating itself. For those that have never tried to sell goods at a market, this may be hard to understand. I have added a photo of one of my first markets in November 2015. The wind and rain were going horizontally. I eventually got into a local Tralee craft shop but trade wasn't brisk there either and the commission was very high. I spent a lot of time gathering as much greenwood as possible between November 2016 and April 2017 so that my business could have the stock needed for the future. I was advised against doing this all at one time but due to the lack of Hardwood trees in Kerry I felt I had no choice but to collect any and all wood offered to me. As a woodcraft business, I need to have a surplus of dried wood on hand for regular and custom work so it would pay me to do more of this gathering at the start even if it hurt my business initially. Going forward, I will periodically have to replenish my stock levels. A careful balance between collecting new stock and finish turning will have to be maintained in the future to be a viable business.
Since January 2017 things have started to turn around. I was accepted into both the Original Kerry Craft group and the Design and Crafts Council of Ireland (DCCOI). Supplying shops has come with it's own challenges as demand has increased, I have had to work harder and longer to keep up. I will have to spend a good portion of the winter months building finished stock so that I won't be under the same amount of pressure next summer. Pricing products and dealing with high commissions are two aspects that continually bother and frustrate me. I am aiming to be a direct seller at some point in the future but for now I have to keep doing selling through Craft Outlets. I am extremely proud of the massive journey I have taken in just 3 years at the time of writing and I hope the future will be a little easier.
2017-2018. New Wood Drying Racks
As I start 2018 I have made a number of new changes to my business. New drying techniques and drying storage areas have been developed and built over the Christmas period. I realized that mistakes were made again in 2017 and I have hopefully corrected those issues once and for all. I have enough wood to work with and enough drying at various stages to give me workable pieces for the next 2 years but I will still have to cut for bowls regularly. Update; I dismantled and changed most of these new areas over time upon discovering new and better ways of doing things. Isn't hindsight wonderful lol.
Hometee.ie Photo by Matt Smith
For the want of a better world and the continuity of hardwood trees I have chosen to support the Hometree organisation in the west of Ireland. They plant hardwood trees on inhospitable ground with a view of reforesting this country. I aim to donate a portion of my sales to this great and worthy cause. Why not donate? Go visit their site today. As of 2022 I have contributed to planting about 30 Hardwood trees. I would have donated more but 2020 and 2021 were lean years due to Covid-19. I aim to make up for this as business improves post Covid restrictions.
2020 was going to be my year!
Roll on to 2019 and my sales reached new highs in the shops and I was making more sales through my website too. 2019 saw the beginning of my teaching and after a shaky start I managed to gain some students through the year. I joined Airbnb and dipped my toe into the tourist experience market although too late in the year to get the tourists. Not to worry, I had laid the groundwork for 2020. The plan was to host the tourists and maybe sell some small pieces at the end of their experience. Everything was set for my best year yet and then...................................
2020 Workshop new Covid-19 Precautions layout
2020 was supposed to be my year to turn profitable after 5 long hard years. I was all set up to take on more regular students and an increasing number of Airbnb bookings which started coming in during January and booking towards March. I wanted to pull away from Sale or Return selling and concentrate on making more direct sales to visiting customers. Unfortunately, Covid-19 has decimated all those plans. Rather than sit and wait for the virus to go I have moved towards my next step a bit sooner than expected. I invested in a camera system that will allow teaching with social distancing but also allow me to record my woodturning projects and post them online to my Patreon account to try and drum up some subscribers. Some of the system with live images here.
2020, the Year that Time Stood Still
I am writing this in Late September 2020 and the virus is still here causing problems. The worldwide economy is in a major recession and the politicians do nothing but make it worse. I am still driving forward regardless trying to improve and advance my business because the virus will one day be gone and we will once again return to normal. If you would like to help, you could buy something small from my shops. Your support would be much appreciated. David
2022, A Year of Hope Surely?
It's now end Jan 2022 and the last 2 years are a blur lol. You may have noticed that I skipped 2021, it wan't an accident or omission lol. Ireland has finally announced the end of Covid 19 restrictions and I hope that tourists will return this year. It has been so difficult trying to survive without tourist sales over the last 2 years and although I had to branch out, it was not enough. I am cautiously adding new dates to my teaching and Airbnb calendars. Fingers crossed this will be a good and uneventful year. If I didn't lose you so far.. After reading about my business maybe you are just curious enough to take up a lesson or two yourself or maybe try one of my Woodturning Experiences. Go to the Woodturning Tuition page and have a look.