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beauty in imperfection, CREATIVE FIXES IN WOODTURNING.

Updated: Mar 27

To fix or not to fix, that is the question!

Is there beauty in imperfection? Are Creative Fixes in Woodturning acceptable?

In spite of the advice of many experienced turners, I have always believed in "giving every piece of wood a chance". My thinking was along the lines that warped, punky, spalted, split and cracked pieces simply offered the possibility of finding REALLY creative fixes.

Sometimes they have worked out beautifully well resulting in a very interesting piece and then, sometimes not so much:)

On the little Maple box below. an entire chunk of the lid broke away. I did not want to simply glue it back in place, this would have been obvious and ugly, so I made up some epoxy putty, added my favorite turquoise color and filled the cracks. Because it was a pretty big void. even after careful drying and sanding, the result is rougher than I would prefer. But it is, as they say in the classics "real"!

Green Maple Box with Epoxy Putty Repair
Maple and Turquoise Box with Epoxy Putty Repair

I am now finding myself revisiting these concepts and beginning to wonder if spending hours fixing a piece is time well spent or time wasted.

I confess that I rather like the heightened sense of the ORGANIC that these fixes create. In the true sense of the word. The viewer is forced to see the wood as something natural, something grown, something with warts.

I think of some of the most stunning beauties of our time, a woman with a large nose that remains an icon after all the traditional gorgeous people have long since faded from sight illustrates this concept rather well.

I have been watching instructional videos by a very famous woodturner from the Antipodes, he spends an inordinate amount of time carefully removing all bark and cutting out any cracked wood from the pieces that he turns. I appreciate that he has made his living as turner, which means that time is money and that he cannot waste time on fixes. His work is very beautiful, but does it have soul? Is it especially unique?

The one-of-a-kind aspect of a "fixed" piece cannot be underestimated, it is almost impossible to recreate the same conditions to "do it again" in an exact replica. I am sure that the clever little people who produce "fake" pieces on a grand scale can probably do exactly this, but those that know, know the difference!

I must mention that I appreciate the safety aspect, or lack thereof, of turning pieces of wood that are liable to disintegrate, having bark fly off and hit you, or worse, something large and sharp flying off the lathe and hurting you or your turning environment, this is not where you want to go.

I have heard any number of turners talk about the chunk of bowl that flew off the lathe and is now embedded in the ceiling that they leave there as a reminder to themselves to take care and beware!

If one needs encouragement to don safety equipment, especially in the initial stages when there is a rough and unbalanced chunk of wood on the lathe, this is a good one!

So, back to the bottom (or top) line, to fix or not to fix?

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There’s something to be said about a successful repair. While every creation has a story to tell, I think there’s a certain kind of triumph on display in a piece that has come apart unexpectedly and yet has been brought back to wholeness. It isn’t the same, but the work wears its scars for all to see. It doesn’t appear to be effortless; it struggles and pushes back. And while the piece might resist the intent of the artist, it also accepts the ongoing process of transformation. I think there’s something worthwhile in this kind of exchange.


Some of my favorite music involves taking dissonant sounds and working them into a piece until they work. Stravinsky - Right of Spring, Shastakovich - String quartet no 14. Even Phillip Glass to some extent. It's not what happened to the wood that matters - it's how you deal with it.

The same is true in life.

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