While in high school I turned a pair of walnut candlesticks as a woodshop project. I watched the form of each candlestick develop as piles of shavings grew around me. The intoxicating scent of black walnut filled the air. A film of French polish applied to the revolving pieces seemed to bring the swirling grain to life. Something inside of me came alive too. I had discovered a passion for woodworking that would endure for a lifetime.
Immediately after graduating, I received employment in a large cabinetmaking shop. I was assigned mostly menial tasks, from stacking lumber to sweeping the floors. I started at the bottom, but I had no intention of staying there. I studied the master woodworkers. I observed how they sharpened their tools. I listened to their finely tuned hand planes as they effortlessly produced translucent ribbons of wood. I asked annoying questions, and I watched. And I learned. I took pieces of scrap wood home after work and I practiced. I read every book on woodworking and design I could find.
I eventually became assistant to the company President, where I was responsible for designing and building prototype furniture pieces, and the jigs and fixtures required to put them into production. I was granted several design and utility patents for this work. I was also responsible for training new employees and overseeing production in the shop. I later began my own custom furniture business. Gradually, my interests have evolved from making functional furniture pieces to creating artistic wood turnings. Working at my lathe gives me a great sense of freedom; and allows me to explore my creative side. I expect my work to reflect my experience as a cabinetmaker as well as a woodturner, and I strive to create bold, dynamic pieces that reveal a small part of me.
My wood turning career continues to lead me in new and sometimes unexpected directions. I believe the best is yet to come.
Keith P. Tompkins