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Woodturner turns nature over
by Krystal Bick
Jul 30, 2008 | 891 views | 0 0 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune/Krystal Bick- Joe Donohue, a woodturner for 15 years, works on a piece of redwood on his wood lathe at his home in Sparks.
Tribune/Krystal Bick- Joe Donohue, a woodturner for 15 years, works on a piece of redwood on his wood lathe at his home in Sparks.
While most men might have their home garages dedicated to hardware, tools and odd car parts, Joe Donohue has a 900-pound wood lathe. Instead of gasoline or exhaust odors, there is an overwhelming scent of freshly cut wood from stacks of elm, maple and redwood that line the stucco walls. Where spare tires may have cluttered the shelf space, hand-carved and sanded pots, cups and decorative plates showcase one man’s hobby.

And Donohue just shrugs it off, spending his Tuesday morning just like any other — in his shop, carving wood that is spinning at speeds reaching 500 rotations per minute.

“I just work wood where I see interesting grain,” said Donohue, a woodturner for the past 15 years, producing wood artwork for gallery display. “The art really is in nature. The wood tells you.”

Donohue, a Sparks resident, originally became interested in woodturning when he watched an informational video featuring David Ellsworth, a renowned woodturner from Pennsylvania. Donohue was so curious that he arranged to spend a week studying under Ellsworth.

“Ever since then, I was infected with this desire to do it,” Donohue said, explaining that takes at least five to six years to master the skill of woodturning. “It really is an ancient art, dating to Egyptian times. That really interested me.”

Now retired, Donohue is part of the Nevada Wood Chucks organization, which brings local woodturners and carpenters together. Donohue also teaches several woodturning classes several times throughout the year for only one purpose.

“My job is to get other people infected,” Donohue said with a laugh.

Much of Donohue’s work, for which he prefers to use maple, is done at his wood lathe, the woodturner's answer to a potter's wheel where the wood piece, or "root ball," is clamped in place. As the wood rotates, Donohue uses a sharp carving tool to shave away the wood and hollow it out.

While the process is lengthy, often taking him a week and a half to finish one piece, Donohue said he takes great care to pick out wood pieces that have interesting grain patterns, burrows and even natural decay to bring out the beauty of the bark itself.

“This is quite different from pottery where you make and shape everything from scratch,” Donohue said. “I’m just uncovering what was already there. The wood really cuts itself.”

Leaving most pieces with a simple lacquer finish, Donohue said he often adds in bits and flakes of mica to add a splash of color to the grain or even leave one side of the work as unfinished tree bark, to add an interesting juxtaposition.

“I really get my inspiration from nature,” Donohue said. “My goal is to bring out the art that nature put into the wood originally.”

Having sold nearly 500 to 600 pieces to date, Donohue’s work is on display at the Sierra Artists’ Guild, of which he is a founding member, at 530 California Ave. in Reno.

For more information about Donohue’s work and the Sierra Artists’ Guild, call the gallery at 829-2787.
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