Wood Bowls with Holes? 4th Generation Woodturning by Mike McKinney

Handcrafted Wood Bowls by Mike McKinney

In this week’s post, Mountain Made gallery is happy to share with you the unique wood art of one of our newest additions to our gallery of local woodturners, Mike McKinney.

Mike McKinney is a fourth generation woodworker who had an opportunity to work in the shop with both his dad and grandfather.

His grandfather Paul, was his hero and was always pleased when Mike was with him in his shop.  “Granddaddy made me a workbench from an old wooden crate, he attached a V-block for planning against, gave me a Staley #4 plane, a hammer, all the nails I wanted, a handsaw and scraps of wood.  He was happy for any time I might be able to spend with him.”

Mike McKinney

“Mike’s Daddy, David, was a furniture builder.  He bought a Delta lathe in 1960 which he intended to turn spindles and rounds with.  He began to see bowls turned (Rudy Osolink was his inspiration) and became an accomplished side grain turner,”

As part of as part of our continuing series “Inside the Artist’s Studio” , Mike has answered some of the most frequently asked questions people have about him and his work.



As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?

Probably something outdoors, I love to hunt and fish, and I probably thought about becoming a game warden or a forester, a carpenter like my dad and granddad. I never even considered being boxed up inside a building.

When did you first realize you wanted to be an artist?

I’m not sure I ever wanted to be an artist, especially when the conventional thought was an artist drew pictures or painted. My grandmother painted some in college at Limestone College, but I never associated it with that. When I started turning, in 1993 I found it to be very mesmerizing and called for both skill and form.

How long does it take you to create one of your pieces?

I really don’t know, a small bowl can be turned quickly but you must do the prep work, and later the sanding and finishing. I used to guess about three hours for the entire piece, that may be a little too much given my skill level is better and repetition helps one’s time involvement.

What is your schedule like when you’re working?

Generally, I’m in my shop by 8 to 9:00 in the morning. I usually have more than one project going on at a time so it can vary all over the board.

Finishing projects usually get first billing, then maybe I rough out a new piece, natural edge pieces are different than roughed out bowls, due to the fact the shape, form, thickness is complete with these pieces.

On the other hand, if I’m roughing our salad bowls that need to be re-turned later are usually in block form and it’s one after the other.

Other times I may need additional wood in the shop. So off to the wood yard I go with the mission in mind of bringing back blocks of wood, ready to turn.
There are also times I go outside my shop and home to look at a wood source or possibly bring back logs or chunks for turning.

Wood is very deceiving and you may have problems inside the wood you were not expecting. The best case is you will change course and make something more beautiful than you would have dreamed of. The worst case you will recognize it was “firewood” when you started and it still is … just smaller.

What would you say is your most interesting quirk while working?

I try to listen to music all the time and change the Pandora channels from time to time. My favorite Pandora channels in the order of favor are Mac Wiseman, Vern Gosdin, Neil Diamond, James Taylor, 60’s Oldies, and classical from time to time. If you come by the shop while I’m playing Mac you may hear me singing or whistling away … but come on in anyway, I won’t sing or whistle if you are here.

Where do you get your ideas or inspiration for your artwork?

Sometimes, like a writer, I’ll get out of bed and make some notes, or sometimes being out and about I’ll see a piece of clay or glass and I try to think what it would be like in wood.

I try to never plagiarize but I love to read and better my technique and make my form better or my work better off the tools while at the same time taking advantage of the wood species recognizable qualities.

What do you like to do when you’re not working on your art?

I love my wife Vanessa and enjoy our time together, I have two wonderful daughters, and two great sons-in-law and probably the two best grandsons who have ever mashed mud, so I love to be with my family.

Hunting and fishing used to be very important to me, but not so much anymore, I also enjoy our church and our participation in our church community.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned about yourself while making art?

The surprise of my vocation is that there is just not enough time to do all I want to do, as well as I want to do it. When you spend as much time doing anything as I do, one must feel like their time and energy is not being wasted.

How many art pieces do you think you have created?

I have finished over 1400 bowls, urns, lidded vessels, platters, etc. I have no idea how many ornaments, bottle stoppers, tops and things like that I have done. I have also done some repairs and architectural turning and my goal is to be a better, more knowledgeable turner when I’m through with my project.

Which ones were your favorites?

Mostly, Vanessa has captured some of my favorites, firsts, etc. I have turned some commission pieces that may be among my favorites, and I can think of another piece that is out of our control that is pretty fantastic.

How do you decide on which ideas to develop?

Usually, I’m replacing inventory, but new development may come from an idea or thought, a commission, a piece of Native American Indian art or a natural edge furniture piece.

Do you hear from your fans? What kind of things do they say?

Yes, I hear from fans or folks that have my pieces. It’s always good unless something has gone wrong or if they have used a bark edge bowl for a salad bowl, or a young person or their dad decided the bowl was about the right size for their ball.

Some folks have no maximum capacity of how many Mike McKinney pieces they can own, others collect many pieces by various turners, others love to give it away, but I don’t think folks continue to brag or buy your work unless they like it a lot.

My buyers also get more acquainted with good and bad work, it’s up to me to do better work if I want to sell more to the folks who have it. Unless they like it, a lot and believe it is of more quality than other pieces they won’t buy more for any reason.

What do you think makes good art?

First and foremost is form. Then in any order, are presentation, finish, and completion.

There are other qualities that show ability, skill, and care and all these things make a difference to the purchasing owner and whether the piece may be an heirloom or a just a piece in the yard sale right after their demise.

Some pieces I’ve done don’t look nearly as good to me as they did 25 years ago, but practice, study, learning should always make better products later in one’s career.




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