My day with David Ellsworth

For those of us who are in the lessor known ranks of wood turners, a visit from David Ellsworth is certainly a big event.  I was lucky enough to host David when he came to Baltimore a couple of days ago to do a demo at the Baltimore Area Turners club.

For those of you who do not know who David Ellsworth is, this will give you a tiny glimpse of his rich bio:

Over the past thirty years, David Ellsworth has become known as one of the premier designers of turned wooden vessel forms. His work is included in the permanent collections of thirty museums and numerous private collections.

He is a Fellow of the American Craft Council, is a Trustee of the American Craft Council, and has received fellowship awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Pennsylvania Council for the Arts, and the PEW Fellowship for the Arts. He is the recipient of Lifetime Achievement Awards from the American Association of Woodturners and the Collectors of Wood Art, and he runs his own private school of woodturning at his home and studio in Buck’s County.

I know this might sound silly because I am a grown man, but I was down right giddy and nervous waiting for him to arrive. We had exchanged a number of emails, but meeting him in person is very different. I was going to meet and host “The David Ellsworth.” I guess if you were a football fan, it would be like having Joe Namath spend the night with you and give you pointers. At just after three o’clock, my wife called from upstairs, “He’s here”, so I ran upstairs taking two at a time, and there he was in my front yard.  Now I have met other well known turners, but David is in a different league. From the moment we shook hands all my nervousness when away. There is something about David that makes you feel like you have known him for a long time. Goodness knows I have read enough about him, but his natural charm and humor put you right at ease.

We had an hour or so just to sit on the couch and chat, then my wife made us a great dinner of homemade fried chicken and a made from scratch apple pie (one great pie I might add), then David and I headed off to the local WoodCraft store for the Turner’s Club meeting. In his van as we were riding along, I said out loud, “Holy crap! I’m riding in a van with David Ellsworth!” And I received a hearty chuckle in return.  He might not be a celebrity like Brad Pitt, but in the turning world he certainly is. We spoke about that, and he said that it was good to have heroes, and then he listed off a number of artist he had as heroes (of whom I only knew of a few).

David Ellsworth

The demo at the turners club went well, and I was amazed at how fast he could make a natural edge bowl. I never knew much the good technique makes the process happen much faster. He turned one bowl in 40 minutes plus talking and technical issues that would have taken me a couple of hours or more. He mentioned a number of small things about design, tools, and techniques that I would have never thought of. I guess after you teach turning for 35 plus years, you know a thing or two.

David at my lathe

David is an early riser like myself, and after breakfast the next day we headed out to my shop for some one on one teaching time. I recently acquired a load of American Holly and we picked out a nice piece to make as a natural edge bowl. I broke out my chainsaw and cut out the blank. I let him trim it the way he likes it, and even his chain saw work technique looks better than mine. Granted; Jews aren’t known for their chainsaw work.


I purchased one of his signature gouges and we used it for most our time making the natural edge bowl. Its handle is much longer than any of my Sorby tools which really made a difference. That added length helped me learn his techniques. The gouge’s steel is a powdered metal that holds its edge better than my other turning tools. I am definitely sold on his tools.

One happy Yaakov!

Working with David one on one in my shop was great. He is such a good teacher and he gave me so much good advice, and better yet, it was so much fun working with him. I was, and have always been a comedian, and we had a lot of good laughs. Together we made a lovely bowl (that I can’t wait to sand after it dries out).  At one point he said, “it’s okay if we blow the bowl, it’s just wood.” So I told him “oh no it’s not! This isn’t just any bowl! It’s a bowl I worked on with David Ellsworth!” This is a bowl I will show my grand kids. And we had another good laugh.

One way to use collaborative Bar Am / Ellsworth bowl

What a great twenty-four hours it was. I got to meet and become friends with one of my woodworking heroes, I learned a load of new things, and we shared a lot of laughs. What a great day and a great guy. Thanks David!

About yaakov

Husband, Abba, Furniture Maker, Turner, Bookseller, and all around working stiff.
This entry was posted in In Yaakov's Workshop and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to My day with David Ellsworth

  1. Bob says:

    It sounds like you had a great time with David, i really liked taking the class today with him. He is a very good teacher. Tomorrow i am going to his all day demo.

  2. Ellis Hein says:

    This is a great treasure! I look forward to seeing what happens to your turning as a result of your work with David. Did you show him your Tiki 1 and the similar vessels? If so, I would like to know what he thought.

    • yaakov says:

      Ellis, David did see my Tiki series. I did not out and out ask him if he liked them. I told him how I was inspired by the work of him and two other artists for the pieces. He noticed Graeme Priddle’s influence right away, then I told him about how the peircings were influenced by him. Then we started talking about his Sphere series and wonder off from there. I think I am going to try another version with ash and try torching.
      Thanks for all the comments!

  3. Arrgh! I’m jealous! Having time with David Ellsworth in my own shop is something I couldn’t even DREAM about!
    What a fantastic opportunity. He was one of the first masters whose work I studied, and his principles influence me to this day. This was truly a wonderful thing for you. Congratulations!

  4. jackbaumgartner says:

    I am happy for you, Yaakov. To learn from a great man is an honor, and I really enjoyed reading your account of the day.


  5. We rarely get to meet our heroes, Yaakov 🙂 So pleased you got to spend some time with one of yours.

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