This last weekend was one of my dreams come true!  I went to the John C Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC. for a class in woodturning.  It was everything I’d hoped it would be and more – and those are the best kind of dreams come true!

The hardest part about this blog is knowing where to start in sharing all that happened.  Adjectives are good – wonderful, intense, fun, tiresome, exhilarating, filthy, quiet, cold, fulfilling, funny, introspective, and that’s just the beginning!  I went with a friend and that just added to the charm of the weekend because we now have memories to share and reminisce over.  Mention a certain name and there will be eye-rolling and laughter from both of us!

This school is like camp for adults who want to learn a new craft or skill.  Some come to hone their skills and excel to the next level.  But the bottom line is, there is an energy of excitement from all who attend, like little kids going into their favorite toy store!

The teachers are phenomenal and the school’s reputation has been built on the skill of the teachers and their ability to communicate with the students.  I was truly amazed at the projects people accomplished in just one weekend.  Let me show you…

On Sunday, the last day, we were asked to bring our “creations” to the Field House.  They were displayed around the room by classes and we all walked around and “oo’ed and aw’ed” at what had been done in so little time.  These are pictures from some of the classes that were held this past weekend.

This was from the Book Art Class.

The book’s pages are made out of mica.

The books were beautiful and so unique.  I’d read the description of the class and never imagined what these books would look like finished.

This is the Pottery Class…


They also built a kiln – that’s the big object in the back of the table.

Basket Weaving – some of the people in this class had never done basketry before!

Blacksmithing… this was my first choice but the class was full.  You have to sign up well in advance for Blacksmithing!

They had a Clogging Class and you could tell they had a ton of fun in this class!  One of the ladies in our dorm room flew down from NH to attend this class.  They performed a routine for the rest of the school.

These were the musicians for the class – there was great music all weekend long.  You were never sure where it might be coming from – the lodge, the rooms, the classes – it was great!

This is the Woodturning Class!  And, I might add – most of the class had never turned on a lathe before – must have made the instructors incredibly nervous 🙂

This is our class…except I’m not in the picture cuz I was taking the picture!

The Class was estrogen heavy – a bit unusual for woodturning.  Our instructors handled it all very well.

Okay, so let me walk you through the process of turning a bowl.  You do realize this explanation is really for me so in case I ever get to work on a lathe again, I can refer back to these notes!

This is where it all begins…

Each piece of wood has a grain pattern which shows up on the bowl.  With an experienced eye, you can get some idea of how the bowl will look.  I definitely wasn’t there yet – I just wanted to know if the wood smelled good!

Kim Blatt, our instructor, measured the log so he could chainsaw 11″ sections for 11″ bowls.

Ahhh!  The chainsaw!

The sections of log were carried closer to the shop where they were cut in half.

Next, we used a template to draw an 11″ circle on the wood.  I think this wood is Maple.

The guy in this picture is Marty – he was the other instructor for our class.

He used a Bandsaw to cut the edges of the wood.  Only the instructors were allowed to use this machine – it was understandable!

So that block of wood from the previous picture is held onto the lathe with a “chuck.”  The machine spins the wood at considerable speed and long handled tools with sharp ends are used to shave the wood while it’s turning.  Every now and then, a chuck would give way and this huge chunk of wood would go flying across the room.  It was a bit unsettling!  The guy in the bay across from me lost his several times and my nerves were shot!  Every time I heard that “certain” noise, I felt like running for cover.

The outside of the bowl is turned first.  The piece of wood is then turned around, and the inside of the bowl is done.

The piece of metal in the picture that runs perpendicular to the bowl is called the tool rest.  It helps to keep the tool steady since you’re shaving the wood in the opposite direction it’s spinning.  Another caution – don’t ever let the tool “catch”  in the wood otherwise it too goes flying and gouges the wood in the process.

The outside of this bowl is almost finished.  We were required to wear the face shields and I was so grateful for them.  Shavings and sawdust are flying everywhere!  And to add to the “mess”, the wood we were turning was very wet and the centrifugal force from spinning caused the water to sling everywhere!   …made the sawdust stick even better to us.

Notice the tool in her hand – the left hand is guiding and holding down the sharp end for shaving the wood, the right hand guides the tool’s direction.

These are some of the shavings that gathered on the floor.  The other shavings were strewn across my working area and on me!  That first night, I found sawdust in my ears!

The instructors were so patient with those of us who were beginner beginners.

Here, Kim’s showing me how to finish off the bottom of the bowl.

This is my first bowl!  I must confess, I had quite a bit of help – mostly, they fixed my mistakes!  Remember that “gouging” that could happen??  Well, I did that several times on this bowl.

However, by my third bowl, I had hardly any help at all.  A great sense of accomplishment!

Ya like the outfit???  I figured out that an oxford shirt worn backwards kept most of the shaving from flying into the front of my shirt.

Those that were more advanced in their skill, gave a try at turning a “natural edged” bowl.  The bark is left on the outer top edge of the bowl.  I love these bowls.  Often the bark goes flying off the wood the thinner you make the walls of the bowl.

Uniformity in thickness is a goal for making bowls.  We had calipers to use but “touch and feel” is better.

Because the wood was so wet, these bowls will have to dry for a few months and you hope and pray they don’t crack in the drying process.  I was told to use Walnut oil on the wood to help with preserving the wood.  I covered them liberally with the oil…

I love how the oil brings out the grain of the wood.  My kids were so excited that we’ll have more serving bowls for the table.

I’ve packed up the bowls with the shavings stuffed in each one.  They’ll sit in the paper bag for 2 months and should be dry at the end of that time.

So there you have it –  my weekend at the John C Campbell Folk School.  Needless to say, I’m going to start saving for another weekend – or maybe a week the next time!

I loved this “room” on the grounds…the trees surrounding the gate are grafted and growing into a “wall” of sorts.  The stone walkway leads to the handcrafted gate which opens to the meadow…

…I opened the gate and stood there feeling the expanse of the moment, so grateful for the opportunity to be at the folk school, to expand my horizon through the people I met and the new skills I acquired.

Life often leads us down many different paths, some by choice, some by uncontrollable circumstances.  And yet, it is our decision, our choice, to stand behind a locked gate or, by finding that courage within, to fling open the gate and embrace the wonder, the unknown, and beauty of life and all it hands us.

It sure was a great weekend!