Transition to a Normal Life

I first picked up a woodturning chisel as a schoolboy aged about 15 or 16, inspired by my father who has been a wood turner since the 1950’s.

His friend the legendary Ray Key, whom I met at Yandle’s Spring Show this year, largely stimulated and developed my father’s interest.

My woodturning hobby had barely got underway when I decided to take up an army apprenticeship as an Ammunition Technician, scarcely acknowledging that the high-profile element of my future responsibility was the rendering safe of terrorist bombs.

At age 19, less than three years after joining the army apprenticeship programme, I found myself on the streets of Northern Ireland responding to reports of suspect devices and managing with the aftermath of bomb explosions. My army career (’72 to ’98) spanned almost the entire period of the Northern Ireland troubles, which spilled over to the UK mainland, the former West Germany and Gibraltar. There were other overt conflicts in the Falkland Islands and the Middle East, plus the covert wars, hidden away from public eyes in far off places.

My army career as both soldier and officer progressed surprisingly rapidly and spanned a total of 26 years. During that time bomb disposal remained at the forefront of my duties that provided me with a long, adrenaline-fuelled adventure, which took place on several continents and many countries.

In my post military life I formed a bomb-disposal company, which led me more risky environments such as Far East Russia, Albania, Niger and Iraq, clearing unexploded ordnance from post conflict areas.

In mid-2015 I returned to the UK after many years absence and 36 different addresses, to South Somerset in semi-retirement. My father gifted me his elderly Axminster Tools Perform lathe, which I installed in my garage/workshop. Roughly the same I discovered several pieces in my father’s workshop that I started in the late 1960’s and decided to complete them, no matter how dreadful they turned out.

I quickly discovered that YouTube offered vast resources on techniques, advice on equipment choices along with ideas for projects. I’m truly appreciative to those skilled individuals who have willingly and enthusiastically donated their time and resources in sharing and encouraging the proliferation of woodturning. There are too many to mention but Mike, Martin, Yuval and Carl are just a few!

Moreover, in my own case, which is a technical guy with little artistic aptitude, YouTube has provided me with a boundless source of inspiration for projects and encouraged me to try techniques that otherwise I would not have considered.

You cannot learn everything from YouTube of course and this is where the Black Dog Workshop can fill the gap. Nothing can beat hands on, face-to-face tuition delivered by those who genuinely care about people and are passionate about woodturning.

I do not consider myself an individual who suffers from any significant form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a consequence my military service, but I know of many former army colleagues that do. However, involvement in counter terrorism means frequent exposure to things you would prefer not to ever see and I believe it’s impossible for this exposure not to leave a lasting, negative impression.

I do believe that the relentless pressures and exposure to everyday to modern living can cause at least as much mental torment as military service. Severe anxiety or depression, for example is often a result a problematic relationships both at home and at work. These types of disorders can often be alleviated though adopting creative hobbies such as wood turning.

The rediscovery of woodturning, after a hiatus of 45 years, has helped ease me defocus from my working life in conflict or post conflict, hostile and remote environments, in a transition to a more normal, peaceful existence. Many of my friends have commented on how chilled I’ve become in the past year. I can attribute most of that to woodturning, maybe a small percentage to having the village pub as a neighbour!

Fore sure woodturning has helped me along the road to normality.

Having truly been bitten by the woodturning bug I’m currently at the beginning of a month-long project constructing a small, but dedicated workshop for this purpose. This will provide me with some working space with good, natural light in which I can develop my turning skills.

I don’t think I’ll ever be a traditional wood turner. I love live edge, knots, inclusions and cracks, emerging pieces and it’s in that direction I’m heading for sure. Bomb disposal is all about improvisation and I hope that particular capability will serve me well in the future.

Leave a Reply