Woodturning grows from hobby to passion for county resident | TheUnion.com

Woodturning grows from hobby to passion for county resident

Local woodturner Bill Juhl lets the shavings fly in his woodshop last week in Nevada City while making a bowl. Juhl is working with a piece of cypress attached to a lathe.
Elias Funez/efunez@theunion.com |

Know & Go

If readers want more info on woodturning or have questions, here are two websites: http://www.billjuhl.com for general info, contact and info on classes; or http://www.goldturners.org for the Gold Country Woodturners. The group is always open to first time visitors and guests. Meetings are generally the fourth Wednesday of the month at 6:30 p.m. at the Nevada City Elks Lodge.

Also, there’s an event scheduled for May 6 when the Gold Turners will host an all day “Shavings Session.” More details are available at http://goldturners.org/event-2504439

Bill Juhl has made some of the most beautiful wooden bowls you would ever see.

But don’t call him an artist.

“I shy away from saying I’m artistic,” said Juhl, a retired Air Force engineer. “I’ve worked hard to become a good craftsman. I feel like I can do that without a sense of art.

“But if sometimes artful things occur? Well, then I’m very grateful when that happens.”

What keeps him from calling his work “art?”

“The issue comes about from the argument that if an item is functional in any way, it’s no longer considered art,” Juhl said. “Conversely, if it serves no useful function then it must be art. These may be kind of crazy ideas, but they permeated.”

Juhl is a lot of different things. At the top of the list is woodturner. He’s a member of the Gold Country Woodturners and knows more about different types of wood than most people know exist.

Along with being a retired veteran, Juhl also spent a little time chasing hurricanes and doing weather reconnaissance. He taught some classes at California State University, Sacramento and even started a couple different businesses.

He’s not any sort of official historian or philosopher, but you might think so while chatting with him. He enjoys talking about history, and can going deep into subjects especially having to do with wood and woodturning.

Honing his craft

“I’m driven to become very good at it,” Juhl said. “It’s the same if you’re playing sports or music. You’re not going to be very good if you don’t practice.

“With woodturning it’s the same way. Practice makes you better.”

There are some of the simpler aspects of the craft that seem to appeal to Juhl. For instance, he likes the fact that it’s different from many other trades in a very obvious but subtle way.

“In all other forms of working with wood, the wood remains stationary or slides through while the tools move,” Juhl explained. “In woodturning, the wood is what moves while the tool remains stationary.

“This is woodworking in one of its earliest forms. It goes back to 5,000 B.C. when they were using lathes to create round objects.”

Another aspect that keeps Juhl on his toes is the makeup of the wood itself. Once he digs into a piece of wood, he has no idea what he’s getting into.

He can be most of the way done with creating the perfect bowl, but if he runs into a knot that just crumbles when he hits it, the bowl can go from perfect to useless.

Of course, if the grain of the wood is particularly pretty or the knot left a decorative void, then Juhl may have turned what was going to be a bowl into a work of art.

That becomes easier to understand when one gets a glimpse at the process he goes through to create a bowl.

As it turns out, starting to work on a piece of wood when it’s still fairly wet means that over time that moisture will exit the wood. How fast the water leaves, how dense the wood is and what type of wood he’s working with will all enter into the equation.

So after starting the process of creating a new piece, Juhl will then let it sit for a span to allow the moisture to escape. Sometimes it’s a matter of months, but in some cases that process can go on for years.

Personal passion

Near the end of months- or years-long process only to have an unexpected knot or imperfection or flaw pop up doesn’t mean Juhl immediately gives up on a piece and starts over with a new piece of wood. Instead, he’ll work with it and see what happens.

Regardless of what happens, Juhl’s knowledge and passion to create is obvious even to a casual observer.

Where does his drive come from?

“I guess it’s personal,” Juhl said. “Go big or go home. If you’re going to do something, do it right and don’t hold back. I know it sounds kinda crazy, but …”

Juhl’s face lights up when he starts talking of conceiving and creating something from a piece of wood.

“It’s just a real gift,” Juhl said. “It’s a real gift when you get to work with a piece of wood. When you start shaving, you can’t put those shavings back, so it’s a gift when you are given a chance to explore and see what’s in there.

“Sometimes it’s good, and sometimes it’s not.”

Ross Maak is the City Editor at The Union. He can be reached at rmaak@theunion.com or (530) 477-4229.

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