In our continuing series of virtual shop visits, we visit Chuck Ellis, a lathe artist working in the beautiful Cherokee National Forest.
My shop is a dedicated building my wife and I built when we first moved to Tennessee in 2005. It's a dedicated building just for my wood working. Our original plan was that we would share and she would have a corner to do her painting and craftwork, but due to a health problem, she isn't able to work in the shop and because of the dust I generate, painting and craftwork wouldn't work in the shop anyway.
This shop is over twice the size of the shop I started with... before I moved to Tennessee I worked in a small shed in my back yard in Texas... that shed was 10x9 and held almost the same number of tools I have in my new shop. I actually had to take tools out of the shop in order to change lathes about when I would switch from the little lathe to the larger one or if I needed to use the table saw I had to set it in the yard as there was no room to maneuver lumber pieces inside the little shop.
I'm in my shop most days, weather permitting. The shop isn't heated, so on cold days, I don't work out there. Since I am retired, I can work as much or as little as I want... usually from about mid day until evening when I come in for dinner. My work day is usually about 5 or 6 hours per day.
As a wood turner, I'm always on the look out for wood. I don't cut living trees. I get wood that has been cut by tree trimmers, friends and neighbors. And if I need a special wood or some sort, I have a lumber yard in East Knoxville that I do buy wood from. I also belong to several wood working forums and sometimes the members will trade woods. Just last week, I received a box of pen blanks from a forum trade from Australia.
I had a customer come by my show booth last summer and offered some wood she had in her back yard. She told me she had a tree that had "that disease" and she had it taken down.... I looked at the wood, discovered a whole tree of spalted maple... Maple is a light wood that when spalted will black lines running in a helter skelter pattern through the wood... it was a fantastic find... I had to make two trips to haul all the wood home.
I also picked up some flame box elder that I discovered in a brush pile along side one of the back country roads. I actually had to go and buy a chain saw to get that tree. When I first saw the butt of the log I thought it was another maple, but when I cut the first section to load, I discovered the flame in the wood... Box elder is normally a pale yellowish wood that is relatively soft and not useful as a timber, but turns beautifully. The flame is a fungus in the wood that makes red blotches in the wood... this log had a flame in the center that looked almost like a Phoenix rising.
As I've collected wood, I have a huge pile of wood behind my shop. I'm trying to get the pile cut into turning blanks and getting them stored in my shop and on a drying rack. I have Cherry, Hackberry, Cedar, Maple, Box elder, Mimosa, Oak, Elm, Willow, Bradford Pear and others I can't recall right now. If I had to choose a favorite wood in that list, I would probably choose either the Flame Box Elder or the Spalted Maple.
My shop is pretty well organized... I have an area that is an open work area more or less in a circle with the lathes on one end, with work benches circling the open area. This takes up about 1/2 the shop... the other half has wood storage racks, and some tool storage, plus my table saw, band saw and a chop/miter saw.
I do all of my creative process in the shop... I turn whatever I'm turning at the moment... bowls, hollow forms, peppermills, pens, etc… including the finishing. I love the turning part and do the sanding and finishing as part of the process... my favorite part is the turning.
I have a new collection of woods that I actually bought to make some new style pepper mills. I have two or three of those in process as well as some bowls. The new woods a multi-color laminate wood. I am doing a test of the woods to see how they will work and then have been in conversation with the supplier to perhaps represent the company in this area as a vendor.
More of Chuck’s work can be seen in his gallery