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Former Schoolteacher Smitten with Wood Turning Discovers His Passion

Jim Fazio watched in fascination at the wood spinning in front of him. In a heartbeat, he was hooked.

The longtime industrial arts teacher who worked 16 years in the Quakertown Pennsylvania School District discovered the art of wood turning 27 years ago from watching renowned artist Dave Souza demonstrate it in a school workshop. 

“The thing that was unusual was that he worked with green or wet wood,” Jim says. “It was fantastic.”

Jim accepted Dave’s invite to join a group of wood turners who met monthly in a basement that was converted into a woodshop. That’s where Jim learned the art of unveiling nature’s inherent beauties. The woodwork he crafts today includes salad bowls and vases, spindle ornaments and spinning tops all so aesthetically pleasing they’re display pieces.

“I was a magnet, allured by working with wood that’s wet because previously as a woodworker, I was always working with dry wood,” he says. “Working with green wood enabled me to do things that I wouldn’t ordinarily be able to do.”

Jim specializes in making hollow forms, shapes that are hollowed through a small opening. Using wet wood, Jim first uses a chainsaw to get it the right size and then rounds it with a bandsaw so it can be spun on a wood lathe, round one. From there, he shapes the piece using sharp tools.

“For the wood not to crack, I do a process called twice turning,” Jim says. 

It is exactly that. Jim turns the wood twice. For the first turning, he puts up a tarp in his studio because of how much water splatters from a freshly cut tree. If he’s making a hollow form or bowl, he leaves the walls thick. “After the first turning, you have a very heavy, wet item and I have to wax it and put it in paper and slow the drying process.”

Drying can take anywhere from six months to a year. Afterward, the piece is put back on the lathe, where it’s turned to the finished dimensions. From there Jim sands it and adds a finish.

Jim uses wood from land clearing; no healthy trees are cut down.

“I like to use very unusual woods that are extremely beautiful and unique,” Jim says. “I like having one continuous flowing grain rather than gluing several pieces together.”

Jim emphasizes shape. When hollowing out a form, he doesn’t just rely on his eyes. “I use sounds and vibration in the tool to tell how much I’ve taken off,” he says. “I check wall thickness using several different calipers. If I need to, I’ll take several more passes to get the walls uniform.”

Sometimes Jim will augment the pieces by carving or adding an inlay or pyrography — burning designs such as flowers, feathers or birds. He also enjoys working with burled wood — a maple with ambrosia or black cherry, for example. Burled trees stay intact far longer after they are cut down.

Because the drying process takes so long, Jim works on eight to 10 pieces at a time, all in varying stages. The retired teacher, also an enthusiast for nature photography, embraces every part of the process, noting, “I have to make things. I love woodturning and the feel of creation. It’s a part of me.”

Jim is part of the Hidden Treasures Studio Tour & Sale in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania when he and several other juried artists open their studios for tour on Nov. 11-12, 2023. Because completing one piece takes so long, Jim limits exhibiting and is down to two shows a year, with Rose Squared’s Anderson Park show every fall among those. Stop by to say hello and chat about his process and the unseen treasures that lie beneath the surface in his designs that are easy to admire just as one would view a painting.