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“I started when I was thirteen, I’ve still got my indenture papers”
January 25, 2011 11:14 AM   Subscribe

“I wake up every day and I stretch out my arms and if I don’t feel any wood on either side, then I know I can get up.” The remarkable story of Maurice Franklin, Wood Turner.
posted by essexjan (23 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite

 
[this is good]
posted by Rumple at 11:21 AM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow, great photos and a nice story, as well. Amazing to think that the lathe work is still done by a person, rather than being computer-controlled.
posted by kaibutsu at 11:23 AM on January 25, 2011


Great story. I hope I'm that able when I'm 91. Amazing man.
posted by Solomon at 11:28 AM on January 25, 2011


Lovely.
posted by pjaust at 11:31 AM on January 25, 2011


When rooms at Windsor Castle burnt out a few years ago, the Queen asked Maurice to make a new set of spindles for her staircase and invited him to tea to thank him for it too. “Did you grow up in the East End?” she enquired politely, and when Maurice nodded in modest confirmation of this, she extended her sympathy to him. “That must have been hard?” she responded with a empathetic smile, although with characteristic frankness Maurice disagreed. “I had a loving family,” he told her plainly, “That’s all you need for a happy childhood, you don’t need palaces for that.”

This guy is a champ.
posted by kingbenny at 11:34 AM on January 25, 2011 [13 favorites]


Just awesome. Thanks.
posted by Brodiggitty at 11:38 AM on January 25, 2011


The only time Maurice left his lathe was to go and fight in World War II, when although he was offered war work making stretcher poles, he chose instead to enlist for Special Operations.

Pure speculation, but I wonder if he worked at Station IX?
posted by zamboni at 11:42 AM on January 25, 2011


By the time you know how to live, it’s over. This life is like a dress rehearsal, you just make it up as you go along. One life is not enough, everyone should live twice.

I really like the way this guy thinks.
posted by quin at 12:07 PM on January 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm just the opposite - when I wake up and feel wood, I know I can get up!

ba-dum, tissshhh
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:10 PM on January 25, 2011 [7 favorites]


I love craftsmen, and I love watching them work. I can spend a day watching video (or better in person, though I often feel like I'm in the way) or someone with skill doing their work. Doesn't really matter what it is.
posted by maxwelton at 12:24 PM on January 25, 2011


Turning wood by hand is one of the most amazing things I have ever done in my entire life. It sounds simple; spin the wood and apply a knife to shape it slowly.

What people do not tell you is the absolute magic involved. While the photos are great, I really wish there was a video, watching a master turner do his stuff is like watching the world's greatest ballerina perform. They can take a block of wood and in seconds turn it into whatever they want. It's a skill an art and a performance all rolled into one.

I remember watching my teacher turn rings into a piece, its absolute magic. It took me about four months until anything I made started to look right, yes anyone can make something on a lathe, but it take real skill to make something you wanted to make. I can turn rings, but I still snap half of them.

I have watched a bowl, perfectly turned, in less then thirty seconds. The first one I turned took me three hours. I am now down to about 15 min, but that seems blazing fast to me. Thirty seconds to create a masterpiece.
posted by Felex at 12:26 PM on January 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is lovely. In this world of computer-generated perfection it's a real treat to see a true artisan at his craft.

Not far from my home is the factory where Stickley furniture is produced. It's a big, soulless pole-barn of a place packed with automated machines that can crank out things like spindles with little human involvement. 30 years ago, Stickley furniture was produced by hand, in an old fire-trap of a building a few miles away. Ancient men carved chair-backs and ornaments by hand, not needing to glance at sketches, shaping the wood with a masterly touch; it was awe-inspiring to see. And it was clear that the old carvers had been at it for so long that the tools had nearly grown to their hands.

Stickley still makes nice enough furniture, but, like so many other things, it no longer bears the handprint of man. Thanks for this--it's good to be reminded of the value of human skill, before it vanishes completely.
posted by kinnakeet at 12:34 PM on January 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


leaves a list for Maurice detailing the work that is required and when he returns next morning, he finds the completed wood turning awaiting him, every piece perfectly achieved.
He's like a woodworking Robin Goodfellow! Great post, thanks.
posted by Abiezer at 1:08 PM on January 25, 2011


Beautiful post. Thanks.
posted by nevercalm at 1:32 PM on January 25, 2011


Looking at that photo of stacks of identical spindles made me realize that I've got a lot to learn on the lathe. And I'm happy to see he's got all of his fingers.
posted by hydrophonic at 2:11 PM on January 25, 2011


Fabulous!
posted by OmieWise at 2:55 PM on January 25, 2011


Looking at that photo of stacks of identical spindles made me realize that I've got a lot to learn on the lathe.

I'm mystified at how he made those spiral spindles by hand. Not that I know much about lathes.
posted by chundo at 3:50 PM on January 25, 2011


I love his lathe. Given the tube that runs down the center of the headstock, you could probably build on just like it with a motor, some pulleys, a hundred bucks worth of steel and a some babbitt metal for the bearings. It's not got a lot of swing, but it looks like it could manage a 10 foot turning with no problem.

It probably vibrates a little bit more than the big Oneway lathes but I'm not sure they even make a lathe with that kind of capacity and they're pretty much THE top dog lathe maker these days.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 4:01 PM on January 25, 2011


To do a spiral you use a combination of careful layout, a saw, and a rasp to start with. Once you get it roughed out, you let your tool's natural tendency to follow the groove you've cut even out your work for you.

Whenever I do turning I always find myself in the meditative state - alert but unfocused - just letting the workpiece become the thing I'm making without trying to force it. I've not done the spiral thing myself, but I have to assume it's like that but more so.

In turning, never try to force a piece of wood you wouldn't want someone to throw at your head as hard as they can. Just saying.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 4:19 PM on January 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


“I had a loving family,” he told her plainly, “That’s all you need for a happy childhood, you don’t need palaces for that.”

He said to the Queen. Great post, thanks.
posted by rog at 4:44 PM on January 25, 2011


There was only one obvious question left to ask Maurice Franklin, so I asked it, and his response was automatic and immediate, with absolute certainty. “Yes, I’d be a wood turner again.” he said.
posted by jason's_planet at 5:59 PM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


“I had a loving family,” he told her plainly, “That’s all you need for a happy childhood,

I don't doubt that the Queen would agree with him. And seeing she's only about six years younger than he is, they are much of the same generation and may share more memories and outlook than you might at first think.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 11:25 PM on January 25, 2011



"By the time you know how to live, it’s over. This life is like a dress rehearsal, you just make it up as you go along. One life is not enough, everyone should live twice."

This is moving, thanks for the post.
posted by ruelle at 10:59 AM on January 26, 2011


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