Reneau Dubberley spent his professional career designing precision machinery for manufacturing. Now retired, he combines his vocation, functional design, with two life-long hobbies, nature studies and woodworking. The combination of the unique one-of- a- kind markings that nature imposes on wood and Dubberley’s skill at precision turning results in the creation of a functional artistic form.
With over forty years experience in working with wood, he is able to envision the design and function possibilities that are locked in a tree. The actual turning is a dynamic process--- the natural figuring in the wood evolves into a functional form.
The tree sections used for turning are salvaged from trees that otherwise would end up in the landfill. Friends and neighbors are eager to alert Dubberley when they have a downed tree. His labor to cut up and remove usable wood is free to the owner. The environment also benefits by reducing the amount of wood going to the landfill. He salvages all usable logs.
Downed trees are gathered while they have very high moisture content. The ends of each log are sealed to retain moisture so that the log will not dry out and split. Log sections are turned while green. The turnings then dry to a finished shape. The non-uniform shrinkage of wood in the radial and lateral directions causes the finished piece to develop a unique natural shape.
Dubberley uses wood that has natural defects. One favorite wood is elm, especially trees that are attacked by the Dutch elm disease. The dark stain from the disease randomly marks the beautiful close grain of elm. The stain highlights new patterns in the grain that combine with the vessel’s form to make uniquely beautiful bowls, vases, and platters.
Insects, especially the ambrosia beetle, leave their design on ash maple. The beetle leaves not only a hole, but also random dark stains that can be accentuated by careful turning.
Mold and bacteria are present in wood as it decays. The resulting patterns of black streaks throughout the wood, known as spaulting, add an additional design factor to a turned object.
Other interesting natural markings are made by the contrast between sapwood and heartwood, especially visible in cherry and walnut trees. The tree’s natural burls and branching, as well as scars left from storm damage, add natural elements to Dubberley’s carefully crafted design.
All of the turnings have a two-fold purpose—artistic display and functional use.