Both are wood projects, after all, and both involve years of skill, patience, steady hands and lots of sawdust, Roland Martin of Lewiston said.

“But of course, in carpentry, the saw turns and you shove the wood through,” he said. “Here, the wood turns and you shove the sharp object to it. It’s really backwards of every other kind of carpentry.”

There are more fundamental differences, too, for Martin. Cabinetry is a craft, all about right angles, lines, cuts and joints.

Wood turning is more like art and sculpture, pulling a form out of the wood.

“This is something you pick up and feel; cabinetry you don’t,” he said. “If there’s a little imperfection in your cabinet, you’ll never see it. There’s just too much to look at and you use it every day. But this, you pick it up and if there are imperfections, you’ll see them right away.”

One example is a gallery piece he just set aside, a hollow vessel. It started as a block of red oak, but he carved it into a fat, round globe and then began hollowing it out, shave by shave, until the piece had uniformly thin walls and a narrow opening.

“It’s the first time I’ve made this kind of hollow form of this size with red oak,” he said. “The grain is all up and down here and the pressure made it real weak.”

It’s left a barely perceptible rough spot — but he can see it.

“So, it’s kind of ruined,” he said. “I just put it aside. That’s as far as it’s going to go.”

Martin traded in a lucrative cabinetry business in 2011 in favor of his hobby and new business, turning wood. It’s the act of taking a block of wood and spinning it so you can slowly shave off bits — inside and out.

A rectangular column of oak becomes a clay-like vase. A knotted burl can become anything — a tray, a bowl, an urn or an artistic vessel, destined to be displayed in a gallery.

And the pens he carves have become a favorite of the Maine government as mementos given out to dignitaries from away. He makes about 40 to 50 per year.

“They buy them from me, and I put them in a nice leather box,” he said. “I try to use more interesting pieces of wood, all local woods. Of course, they always surprise me. They call and say, ‘Do you have a dozen pens? LePage is going on a mission.'”

Martin operates his business, Woodturnings North, out of his Pond Road garage. He has a variety of tools, ranging from chain saws to chisels and gouges. A lathe holds the blocks of wood, and he’s customized it with a vacuum-powered chuck to hold the pieces securely without marring the wood.

It all started with a dining room chair, he said.

“I had a client who had a dining room set, custom made,” he said. “He had a chair that broke and the maker had gone out of business, so he had nobody to repair it. He asked if I could, but I’d never turned. I borrowed some stuff from a buddy, fixed the chair and just got hooked.”

He’d made other similar, simple columns.

“There are a lot of old buildings and the stair spindles break,” he said. “I get people trying to remodel but keep with the same design.”

But his art pieces are the favorites. The similarities to clay are intentional, he said.

“I like doing a lot of mock pottery,” he said. “I like duplicating some Native American forms. I have a piece that has quite a bit of Native American flair to it.”

But wood brings its grain along, adding details to the finished piece you can’t find in another medium. In those cases, the knottier the wood, the better.

“A nice clean piece of maple, you see it and it’s pretty much going to look consistent the whole way through,” he said. “But the grain on the burl just goes any which way and makes all sorts of patterns. It’s why I like working with burls. There are so many things you can do.”


Do you know a creative person with a technological bent? We’d love to talk to them. Contact Staff Writer Scott Taylor at [email protected], on Twitter as Orange_me or call 207-689-2846.

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