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.

Sculptural. Graphic.

Ancient Kauri bowl 792

I stared at each image and kept having the same thought. ‘How did he make that?’

Southwestern Squash Blossom Bowl 729

Open Segment Vase 723

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.

Bolivian Urn on Lathe with Steady Rest

Bolivian Rosewood Urn 766 front

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.

Wenge and Birdseye Maple Bowl 716

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.”

Bigleaf Maple Burl bowl with Open Segment Ring with Turquoise Inlay  747Kevin inlaid turquoise into this bowl.

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.

“A bookstore’s art or pottery section has racks of books with beautiful color photos of containers from Rookwood to Zuni.” Pottery can also inspire shape.

“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.”

Blue Mahoe and Bloodwood Open Segment Blue Mahoe and Bloodwood Open Segment Vase  791

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.”

Kevins Favorite Turned Wood Bowl

Kevin Neelley


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.”


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5 Comments for “Angles Into Curves”

Wow! That is really beautiful.I could see how he loves the smell of wood. I love the feel of wood bowls that are sanded and smooth. That piece with the turquoise is exceptional!

WOW & another WOW! Absolutely Gorgeous! Thank you for sharing with all of us. It is truly incredible Artwork. I hope Kevin knows how much enjoyment even getting to look at his pieces give to others. And may all that joy be returned to him. I would love to own a piece some day. The turquoise one also caught my eye but they all do. BEAUTIFUL!

Chris and Lynn,

I’m glad you agree about Kevin’s artistry in his woodworking. It’s clear he has found his creative passion; I am constantly amazed at the artists we meet and the work they produce. The turquoise piece made my jaw drop too!

Thanks for visiting!

[…] You can see more of his work and some in-progress photos as well as read the whole article at Home Workshop. Artful bigleaf maple vase with turquoise inlay. (via home […]

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