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Dakota Woodturners

Many people are familiar with the art of the pottery wheel. However, people are less familiar with the art of woodturning -- the process of carving a piece of wood with hand tools while spinning it on a lathe. Through doing this, people can make all sorts of things, like candlesticks, lamps, bowls, spindles, thimbles, and even chess pieces.

Due to its versatility, woodturning has been used throughout the ages to create simple household objects. While there is no extra step of firing the finished pieces like its cousin pottery, there is the disadvantage that wood rots, so fewer pieces have survived the ages. Consequently, less is known about the history of woodturning. However, people have found traces of it in Egypt, Persia, Rome, and China. In fact, many speculate that Europe relied on woodturning for most household objects from 500 to 1500 A.D.

In 1310 woodturners organized into a guild in London. Local woodturning became less common in the 19th and 20th centuries. Today, however, it has a strong hobbyist presence and one group that strives to keep it alive is the Dakota Woodturners.

It all began when five men came together to organize a club. Those men were Duncan Warren, Leonard J. Ressler, Art Tokach, Pat Schweitzer, and Tom Walters. They started holding meetings in fall and winter. The first meeting in September 1997 attracted 14 people. They later held a meeting in December 13 with 16 members, and they discussed by-laws and prepared a chapter application to join the American Association of Woodturners. They set meetings for every second Saturday of the month in the Mandan High School Vo-tech shop. Eleven of sixteen members voted for the name, “Dakota Woodturners,” and a month later, on this date, the newfound group held their first official meeting as a chapter. By July they had 29 members. By 2007 they had 77 woodturners paying dues along with 20 complimentary memberships to other organizations, like libraries, which supported the chapter.

The group is still going strong today, holding other events alongside their second Saturday meetings, such as “Women in Turning.”

The ancient craft lives on in a high school tech shop in the middle of North Dakota, and in chapters throughout the country with 16,000 members and over 365 local chapters.

Dakota Datebook written by Lucid Thomas





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