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Woodturning with Metal Inlay

Learn about the vessels this artist creates through woodturning.

Alfred Sils has been woodturning for almost 30 years. He began as a hobbyist making furniture. After selling many pieces, one day he picked up a spare chuck of wood and experimented with making a vessel. He found the process inviting and began working on vessels primarily. After almost 15 years of doing that part-time, he left his profession in medicine to work in art full-time. His vessels are highly refined and feature inlaid metal pieces that add an element of elegance.

One of Sils' vessels can take up to a year to make. He begins by coming up with a pencil-sketched design and then getting the wood that will suit the design from wood cutters he has known for years. This wood is still in a wet stage, so it is put on the lathe and rough-turned to get the basic shape to meet the design. It is then set aside to cure for 8 to 12 months. This allows for any warping or shrinkage to occur before the piece is really created, preventing future damage.

The cured wood is put back on the lathe and turned to final shape. This process requires many different tools, some of which Sils has designed himself. Each tool adds a different element to the design — some cut into the shape, some simply scrape and reduce the sides — but each solves a problem in the design. Once the shape is finalized, Sils uses a customized router to add slots to the rim of the piece. This is the signature of his designs. He also uses reciprocating tools drill bits and hand tools to add texture to the piece. The wood goes through final finishing — sanding, rubbing varnish in layers, waxing and buffing — and then is complete.

The silver and copper begins in sheet form and is cut to fit the routed slots perfectly. It is also altered with hammers, torches and possibly dental tools. Epoxy is added, and the metal is fit into place, becoming an inlaid addition. When the piece is finally complete, it is striking; the metal almost seems as if it were a piece of jewelry surrounded by negative space. The wood is interesting to the touch and the eye, a highly sophisticated and sculpted piece of hand-crafted art.

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