Angles Into Curves
Artist Profile — Kevin Neelley
It’s clear Kevin Neelley paid attention in Geometry class. That’s a given for the Lexana, Kansas mechanical engineer. But glance at his elegant turned wood vessels and you’ll agree that he must have aced an art class or two.
I stared at each image and kept having the same thought. ‘How did he make that?’
Kevin is a master of segmented woodturning and he showed me that his pieces are made from many small blocks of wood cut at precise angles, and glued up in stacked ring segments. The assembly is then turned on a lathe to fashion its graceful shape.
Here’s a slide show that shows a bit of the process. (Lots more detail at Kevin’s web site.)
Click on the photo to start or pause the show. Mouse over the bottom of the photo to bring up the controls. Click the square icon on the bottom right to watch full-screen.
Kevin has crafted more than two hundred bowls and vases over the past twenty five years. He started when he bought a used lathe from a co-worker to make turned spindle legs for a secretary he was building.
He enjoyed the woodturning. So after reading a woodworking magazine article, Kevin tried turning a weed pot (yep, that’s what it’s called) from the wood of an oak in his backyard. Then he attempted what would later come to be known as segmented woodturning.
“I had a lot of scrap oak lumber lying around, mostly 1” x 2” pieces, but no large blocks,” said Kevin. “I experimented with cutting and gluing until I had made a small segmented bowl. At the time, there were no books on segmented woodturning. It turned out that I was one of, probably, many other people that had independently invented segmented woodturning.”
An advantage of segmented woodturnings over turning solid wood is that you aren’t limited by the size of the wood. And since small pieces are used, it’s a brilliant opportunity to reclaim and recycle wood.
I was struck by the contrasts in the woods. Kevin pointed out that most wood species are in shades of brown and may have gorgeous grain but not striking color. He said, “Many of the most colorful or contrasting woods don’t have pronounced grain. Segmented construction allows me to combine nicely-grained brown wood with colorful wood to bring out the best in both woods.”
Kevin finds abundant design inspiration. “Websites like World of Woodturners and the new Segmented Woodturners show the great…talent and creativity among woodturners,” said Kevin. “Ray Allen set the standard for American Southwestern style segmented woodturnings.” He also called Mark Kauder’s and Malcolm Tibbetts’ work extraordinary.
“Shape is the easiest thing for me to visualize and the most difficult thing to sketch,” said Kevin. “Tiny shape details make such a big difference. I probably spend more time on refining shape than any other aspect of the design.”
Computers have simplified the process and Kevin wrote and sells his own miter angle software to minimize calculation errors for segmented woodturning designs. “My software is pretty simple and is a good tool to start out with,” said Kevin.
Kevin advises other woodworkers to join a club. “Form one if you have to. At my local woodturning club, I have seen some amazing transformations of novice woodturners into nearly professional woodturners in a very short time.”
Although like many artists Kevin’s favorite piece is his next one, he conceded that this one is extra-special. “If my house was on fire and I only had time to grab one bowl and run, I would grab my Southwestern Bowl # 743.”
Like other woodworking artists I’ve interviewed, Kevin is passionate about the material of his craft.
“I love wood,” said Kevin. “I love the aroma of freshly cut rosewood or cedar.”
“I love finding a particularly beautiful board and then visualizing it as a woodturning. Working wood gives a lot of sensory stimulation.”