Bruce Hobson has always enjoyed and dabbled at woodworking, although to pay the bills he worked in the mining industry for 40 years.
Once retired from mining, he turned to full-out woodworking making everything from unique furniture to, more recently, working with burls (mostly spruce and birch) to make bowls, urns, memory boxes, cups, plates and many other beautiful creations.
“A burl is an abnormal growth in a tree, that makes a big knot, so to speak,” Hobson explained.
The trick to working with live burls, (just cut) is trying to make an outline of what you are creating and then waiting to see how the moisture when it escapes, changes the wood.
“It warps, it cracks, it always changes, which is the challenge of it all,” he explained.
When he starts out, he has an “idea” of how he wants an item to be when it is dry, but sometimes Mother Nature has a different idea. That process, though, is also what gives each piece an individual look.
You can make two or three bowls from one big burl — Hobson calls them mother-daughter bowls as they come from the same piece of wood — but they are going to look different from one another.
It is very physical work, as the burls can weigh a hundred pounds, and when Hobson begins the process of taking off the bark, the burl is off-centre and wobbles on the lathe until he peels enough of wood off to make it a balanced circle. He also gets sprayed with a lot of sap and moisture from those rounds.
“I’m often soaking wet, but it sure smells good,” he laughed.
The tools he uses, most of which he made the handles for, line the walls of his shop. There are so many different tools, it boggles the mind, yet Hobson knows each and every one like an old friend.
“I sharpen my tools often, like every five minutes when I’m working with the lathe, if you don’t they dull and catch on the bark, and then the whole thing can go flying,” he said.
“Believe me, that has happened more than a few times, where the tool, the wood or both have come off and gone flying across the shop.”
The danger, he seems to take in stride, but has made countless adaptors for the lathe to keep those events to a minimum.
“I’ve only been working with the burls for about a year now, so for every challenge, I have to come up with a way to work with them, by making adaptors or specialized tools for the size of them,” he said. “It has been challenging, but fun at the same time.”
He obtains the burls from loggers when they come across them in the woods.
Sometimes a very lucky logger will receive a beautiful creation from the burl, as a thank you from Hobson.
Once the burls arrive, Hobson has three “staging” sheds he uses, but he must turn the burl on the lathe first.
After the burls are turned out, he cuts them in half and may let them sit to let evaporation of moisture take place.
Then he will roughly draw out a pattern. If it is for a bowl or cups, he will then use another tool to cut the bowl out in rough form, leaving him with the core of the burl he can make another bowl from.
Then it’s off to the drying shed to join the rest of the inventory drying. It is a very full shed.
In another shed, there are different sizes and shapes and kinds of wood he can make into tables, chests, furniture, and even a mobile office desk for a certain MP who lives in Smithers.
His creations are extremely varied, unique and are often made to order to fit the specific needs of the client.
There are other problems Hobson is currently trying to solve, like what kind of epoxy do you use that is safe for people eating out of the bowl or plate or drinking from a cup. The bowl, for example, may have a slight seam that needs to be filled, but you cannot use regular wood epoxy as it is poisonous.
The myriad of things one has to consider reaches every part of Hobson’s process from the epoxy down to the identifier for each piece in order to sell the items online and including the stamp he uses to identify his creations as being from Canada.