Thursday, January 19, 2012

I Stretch Out My Arms and If I Don’t Feel Any Wood On Either Side, Then I Know I Can Get Up

Lathe turning is my kind of work. It's quiet, and contemplative. Most all the other machines in the shop shriek and bark at you. The lathe hums and whispers. It feels more like art than heavy lifting. My little son says "daddy is sculpting again" when I do it.

And Maurice Franklin, woodturner, is my kind of guy.
If you were to rise before dawn on Christmas Eve, and walk down the empty Hackney Rd past the dark shopfronts in the early morning, you would very likely see a mysterious glow emanating from the workshop at the rear of number forty-five where spindles for staircases are made. If you were to stop and press your face against the glass, peering further into the depths of the gloom, you would see a shower of wood chips flying magically into the air, illuminated by a single light, and falling like snow into the shadowy interior of the workshop where wood turner Maurice Franklin, who was born upstairs above the shop in 1920, has been working at his lathe since 1933 when he began his apprenticeship. In the days when Maurice started out, Shoreditch was the centre of the furniture industry and every premises there was devoted to the trade. But it has all gone long ago – except for Maurice who has carried on regardless, working at his lathe. Now at ninety-one years old, being in semi-retirement, Maurice comes in a few days each week, driving down from North Finchley in the early hours to work from four or five, until eight or nine in the morning, whenever he fancies exercising his remarkable talent at wood turning. Make no mistake, Maurice is a virtuoso. 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.”
Read the rest of the story of Maurice at Spitalfields Life. Great pictures, too.

(Thanks to reader Rob W. from Rowe for sending that one along)


Sixty Grit said...

I have turned over 1,000 bowls in the last six years. Couldn't turn a spindle to save my life. Next, I always say, next year I will learn to use a skew.

I am on a roll - next year!

Thud said...

It would be nice to think that some of us could continue such a work ethic, one can but try.

John Frary said...

My father, grand-father, great-grandfather, uncle Hubert and great-uncle Ned all had wood-turning mills and I worked intermittently at Frary Wood-turning between ages 12 and 22. My experience with hand lathes was lest restful to tell the truth, although the spindle lathe and automatic lathes were usually so regular in operation that I could memorize German vocabulary while running them.

SippicanCottage said...

Hi 60- I've never turned a bowl, but I've emptied a few.

Hi Thud- My money's on you.

Hello John- Thanks for reading and commenting.

For those of you in the audience that are flatlanders and straphangers, John is a local celebrity/politician/raconteur.