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Years ago, I turned a series of tall bottle/vases on the lathe. The idea behind the pieces was to use them as tools to help me slow down and keep my life in balance. If I built these objects that were balancing on a small foot, I surmised, and would topple over with too much vibration on the floor, then I would be forced to change my physicality to them lest I would be picking them up all day.

I envisioned them as resting upright in the corners of my home and shop.  They ranged from 12″ to 36″ tall. I used all types of wood. As you can see from the photo, I even glued up some poplar for some of these.

I enjoyed making the bottles because each time I went to the lathe, I got into a zen-like trance. Before I knew it, three or four hours would pass.  There is something contemplative about removing wood at such a slow pace. You enter a  different mindset when you are subtracting material. It is different from most woodworking projects, where you are using an additive process – connecting multiple pieces of wood to each other.

At the top of each bottle, I drilled a space to house a small glass vial, about the size of the tubes they use when you have your blood taken at a lab. I added the vials to the design so that I could add some water and place a single cut flower in them.  The little bit of water would allow the flower to last a couple extra days. I needed the extra incentive to not allow these forms to flop over.

Nature has a way of doing the same thing – forcing me to slow down.

This morning, I rode my motorcycle in to work. The forecast looked good, and the temperature was in the low 50°s.  I come in early with “the boys,” so traffic is low – just a few trucks with contractors getting a jump-start on a job. Perfect riding conditions.

I live in an area of Cincinnati that is quite beautiful. It has a lot of hills and trees and is borderd by the Ohio river. It has the kind of roads that motorcyclists read about in the magazines. Lots of twisty bits. All things considered, I should be able to knock 10 minutes off of my commute when I ride in on the bike. But that never happens.

I need take it easy on the back roads because they are home to countless deer. Every morning they stand on the side of the road munching on their breakfasts and they watch me pass. They have such a serene look in their eyes – how could I not slow down to take a look?

This morning, there was an incredible fog hanging over a public golf course. A little later on in the ride, I cross the Little Miami river. While it doesn’t have the width of the Ohio, it is still a sizable river. Invariably, I check it out, both directions, almost as a sign of respect. Unless we are having a heavy rain, I know it won’t be very different, but when I am on the bike, I feel even more connected to it.

I usually don’t recommend motorcycles to anyone because I believe it is a personal choice that the rider needs to come to on his or her own, without being influenced by others. But when I ride, without the radio and the insulation of the windows and doors, I enter the same contemplative state that I enter when I am turning on the lathe.

– Ajax Alexandre

If you are interested in turning, check out these great titles on our ShopWoodworking web site.


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Showing 5 comments
  • Ajax Alexandre

    I find it interesting that both turning and riding are inherently dangerous, yet relaxing. The lathe is the woodworking tool that has the most deaths each year.

  • Steve Shanesy

    I’d have to agree with Clay. With both riding and turning you are in and of the moment. Both require focus and concentration and being aware of everything going on at once. And both are very relaxing. Of course, one difference, I don’t watch the front wheel spin while riding.

  • archae

    It seems to me that a there is a book possibility here: The Zen of Wood Turning and Motorcycle Trekking.

  • Clay Dowling

    Honestly, I find riding to be not unlike turning. You’re much more connected to what you’re doing than we might be otherwise in our lives. It’s a very rewarding experience, and takes a fair bit of effort to really get into it. But then again, I don’t recommend turning to just everyone either.

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