As the wood turns

P.E.I. Wood Turners Guild putting forth some of their prized pieces for a special exhibit at the Eptek Art and Culture Centre until March 28

Mary MacKay
Published on March 3, 2012
Darrell DesRoches of Miscouche shows some of the eclectic mix of wood-turned pieces he and his fellow P.E.I. Wood Turners Guild members have contributed to an exhibit on now at the Eptek Art and Culture Centre in Summerside.
Guardian photo by Mary MacKay

Prince Edward Island wood turners are coming out of the woodwork for an exhibit at Eptek Art and Culture Centre in Summerside.

A good portion of the P.E.I. Wood Turners Guild membership has put forth some of their handcrafted pieces, which include everything from bowls to bird’s nests, for a special showing in the centre’s lobby until March 28.

“I’m interested in the weird, the wild and the wonderful — the stuff (people would) pick up and think ‘What? How did you do that?’ ” laughs guild president Glen Pye of Charlottetown, who admittedly leans more toward the artistic side of woodturning than the utilitarian end.

The P.E.I. Wood Turners Guild began with a slow start three years ago but recently has grown to its present membership of 30 to 35 who meet to share their knowledge, learn new skills, swap stories and more.


“(Wood turning) is a creative outlet for me. I never really thought of myself as an artist, never even thought of myself as creative, but I’ve come to realize (through woodturning) that there are things that are creative about me,” says Pye, who was briefly exposed to woodturning in the cabinetmaking program at Holland College about five years ago.

After checking out a woodworking show in Moncton, N.B., Pye decided to buy a used wood lathe and start hacking away at it.

“I find it very relaxing. As much as I enjoy woodworking it’s different from traditional cabinet/furniture-making in that instead of introducing the wood to the tool you’re introducing the tool to the wood; the wood is what moves,” he says.

“(And I enjoy) the immediacy of it. As you’re cutting you can hear, you can feel and you can even smell, in some cases, how this thing is shaping up. By a micro-turn of your hand you can completely change how something looks.”

Pye also enjoys experimenting with different materials.

Instead of using an ordinary block of wood he might craft a turned piece from an old chunk of firewood or salvaged sections of corian countertop

“It’s a technical challenge as well. If I see something, I want to know how it’s done, and once I know how it’s done I want to be able to do it. So most of the turning I do is unique, one-of-a-kind. I try not to do the same thing twice,” he says.

A frequent volunteer for local Habitat for Humanity builds, P.E.I. Wood Turners Guild secretary Natalie McDonald of Bedeque started woodturning in 2010 after learning about it from a friend.

“I think it was more the creativity (that appealed to me), the things you could make. Some of the products are so beautiful you can display them in your house,” she says.

She found a lathe for sale in Moncton, purchased it and received an unexpected bonus.

“The man who was selling it had turned for 35 years, so he gave us a few lessons actually. We went over for the afternoon for a couple of Saturdays,” she remembers.

“I really got a lot of good information to start. This is completely new to me.”

Woodturning is traditionally, a male-dominated hobby but that didn’t deter McDonald in the slightest.

“I think it’s from my childhood. My dad was into building, and I’d stand on the other end of the chalk line. When you’re a kid you want to hang out with your dad, so I spent a lot of time in the workshop. He’d be doing things and I’d be watching,” she smiles.

McDonald joined the guild in the spring of 2011 to learn even more.

“I thought it was an amazing opportunity because there are so many people with so many years of experience turning in this group . . . ,” she says.

“It’s all that experience that is going to help people learn. Reading from books will tell you (some things), but it’s the actual getting to work with these people that is the exciting part of it.”

One of those longtimers is Darrell DesRoches of Miscouche, who has been a wood turner for nearly 20 years.

“The point about the guild is that there are people there from every skill level. We have novices to the intermediate and some semi-professional wood turners,” he says.

“And the one thing I found about being a wood turner is you’re always willing to share. You don’t keep secrets. If you got a cool way of doing things then you’re always willing to share with others.”

The guild also provides people with the perfect opportunity to swap sections of wood to branch out into new material territory.

For DesRoches the wood comes from trees felled by storms, bulbous burls and other salvaged material, much of which will lie in wait till an inspiration hits.

“When you’ve been turning a long time like me, you know it’s a special piece of wood. So you treat it like that. You have to wait until you know the time is just right so that your frame of mind is just right,” he says.

“If I’m turning something like this, if you’re not in the right frame of mind it’s going to burst apart on the lathe.”

Matt Murley has a whole lifetime ahead of him to add to his already extensive stockpile of woodturning knowledge.

At the age of 15, this Stratford teen is the guild’s youngest member.

His grandfather, Jim Wicks, who is also a member, always had a lathe in his shop at home, but when Matt, at the age of 10, took an interest in woodturning he upgraded to accommodate their evolving skills.

“I used to do some turning but never took it too seriously, but since Matt started we’ve started to look at our technique to try to do things the right way,” says Wicks, who is a big fan of segmented turning,

Segmented pieces are made up of dozens or hundreds of small wooden blocks, which are glued into rings.

“It’s just more of a challenge than a chunk of wood . . . . You’ve got to cut every piece, the angles have to all be right and glue it back together,” Wicks says.

“It takes a lot of patience to do, patience that I don’t have,” Matt adds with a big grin.

That patience will come with time, but Matt proves that one doesn’t need age to have developed some woodturning wisdom.

“Never open your mouth when you’re turning,” he laughs. “You get a mouthful of chips.”

The P.E.I. Wood Turners Guild exhibit is on in the lobby of Eptek Art and Culture Centre in Summerside until March 28.

All are welcome to the P.E.I. Wood Turners Guild meetings, which are held on the last Wednesday of each month from 7 to 9 p.m. Locations alternate between the Holland College’s Centre for Applied Science and Technology in Charlottetown and Holland College’s Slemon Park campus in Summerside.

For more information, contact guild president Glen Pye at or call 892-7144.