Woodturning by Christopher Goodhand: Turning Nature’s Imperfections into Art
When Christopher Goodhand and his family were relocated to Ontario by Christopher’s employer, their first priority was to find someplace that matched the rolling green hills of their native Kent in the UK. They found their ideal locale in the famously idyllic Headwaters region in Caledon – a combination of rolling hills, forest, and farmland just an hour north of Toronto. Their home – and more specifically, the converted stable on the property – now serves as the de facto headquarters for Christopher’s woodturning endeavors. More than a hobby, Christopher’s passion for woodturning is a personal escape (an award-winning one at that) as well as an opportunity to connect with the natural surroundings of Caledon.

Christopher’s introduction to woodturning came two decades ago when he was searching for a relaxing diversion that would help him create an “estrogen-free space.” With a wife and three daughters (and a steady stream of their female friends) in their home, Christopher enjoyed the peace and quiet that his purpose-built woodturning workshop afforded him. After courses with local experts in neighbouring communities, Christopher purchased his own top rated lathe, which he shipped to Canada when he moved.
Although he only uses salvaged wood, Christopher is still particular about the type of wood he chooses. He will invariably work with hardwoods (as opposed to softwood such as cedar and pine) and is always on the lookout for timber that contains interesting grain patterns or characteristics such as burls, bark inclusion, knots and even decay. Even when making functional pieces such a salad bowls, if circumstances allow, Christopher will often include nature’s imperfections into the finished article. It is for such artistic and eye catching adornments that his work has received much popular acclaim and recognition. From a purely sensory perspective, Christopher has a particular attraction for certain types of woods. For example, he enjoys turning ash and juniper for the aromas that waft through his studio as he works with them.

Most of the wood that Christopher brings home cannot be finish turned right away due to its high moisture content. Wood that isn’t properly dried will, in a short period of time, warp or crack. Left to age naturally, the rough rule of thumb states that it takes one year of drying for every 1” (thickness) of wood; so it could take many years to dry out a piece of wood for a larger piece. In short, a totally impractical option for the woodturner! However, Christopher speeds up this process by “part turning” the wood which involves turning it to the approximate shape of the intended finished piece by removing most of the unneeded material, but leaving the walls of the piece very thick and then storing it for several months until the moisture content has decreased to a level sufficient to ensure that it will remain stable once finished. Once the moisture content is low enough (usually below 11% for most hardwoods), he will remount the rough turned piece onto the lathe and turn the piece to its finished state, including adding a beaded foot, which has become a signature feature on most of his work.
Christopher uses several techniques to create his pieces. There’s open-faced turning which he uses to create salad and decorative bowls (with either a flat, uniform edge, or a bark, natural edge). There’s spindle turning, used to create a variety of items such as bottle stops, decorative wooden fruit and salt and pepper mills. Finally, there is the far more advanced and challenging closed form turning, which is the technique used to hollow out timber and create spectacular decorative vases.

Even though much of his work is functional, each piece is unique and beautifully crafted. His pieces feature a high quality of workmanship that even an untrained eye can appreciate. He also has a time- and effort-intensive method for finishing his wooden bowls. He applies up to five coats of food-safe oil so the bowls are sure to maintain their beauty and lustre for years (his salad bowls have been used by his family for 20 years and continue to look great). It generally takes him a week to apply each coat of finishing to his pieces (longer than it took to create the piece itself). This craftsman quality and distinctive elements in his pieces make them popular gifts – particularly for weddings – for people that appreciate functional art that they can’t find anywhere else.
He also creates purely decorative pieces, some of which have appeared in juried art shows (such as the Made of Wood show) and won a variety of awards, including, on separate occasions, the Headwaters Arts Festival People’s, Artist’s and Juror’s Choice Awards. His vases, in particular, are spectacularly eye-catching. In many, the natural knots, burls, and imperfections are not hidden and, in fact, are celebrated as a key aspect of visual interest. The thin walls of the vessels demonstrate his skill with the lathe: the rule in woodturning is the thinner the wall, the more challenging the piece is to create. The pierced hollow forms used in some of his vases are particularly difficult as he must work blind, with the cutting end of the tool buried in the piece and hidden from view so has to rely on touch and sound to achieve the desired result and not cause a “catch,” which can often end up with a sudden explosion as the piece fragments into multiple missiles around the workshop (a frequent occurrence when learning the technique)!

Although some wood is imported from around the world, reclaimed wood from the local area in Caledon provides the source for most of his work. For example, Christopher receives tips from neighbours when a tree falls down so he can harvest some pieces. On one salvage mission many years ago he came across some apple trees being removed, so he arranged to purchase some of the wood from the orchard. Several years later, the orchard owner and his wife, Tom Wilson and Nicole Judge, opened the Spirit Tree Cidery, a purveyor of apple cider sold in their charming Caledon café and local food market.
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