Ken Waiwood lives near the town of St. Andrews, New Brunswick on the shores of Passamaquoddy Bay. In 1998 he retired from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans where he worked as a fisheries and aquaculture research scientist. He has been involved with stone turning since 2004 and has been a member of the New Brunswick Crafts Council since 2006. His inspiration for turning stone originated from an article describing stone turning in ancient Egypt and contemporary work being done by American turners of alabaster.
Most stone turners use alabasters from various quarries in the US, Spain, Italy and other countries. In an early decision Ken decided to use stone from Atlantic Canada. He has also obtained alabaster from a quarry in Arizona while overwintering on holiday. The material for turning is collected by the artist. Fortunately, there are numerous active and abandoned gypsum (alabaster) quarries in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. In addition, exposed natural cliffs of gypsum and other minerals exist. Stone is collected from Plaster Rock in Northern New Brunswick to the tip of Cape Breton. Ken turns, in addition to alabaster, varieties of stone which are not usually turned including: anhydrite, serpentine marble, howlite, fluorite, calcite and other minerals. The latter stones are much harder and require different cutting techniques and tools.
It has taken over 4 years to develop the techniques and tools for turning stone. The mainstay of Ken’s workshop is a large Russian-made wood turning lathe with a 70 cm turning diameter.
The cutting tools include carbide–tipped chisels, and diamond burrs and router bits. Most of the cutting tools are hand-made by the artist. Turning a stone bowl involves the following. A central steel pin is epoxied into the rough stone and a round blank is made using a diamond saw, parting tool or die grinder and diamond router bit. The steel pin is used to hold the stone in the lathe. The outside of the bowl is then turned using carbide chisels.
A sacrificial wooden plug is epoxied onto the base of the stone. This is trued, the stone is removed from the lathe chuck, rotated and the wooden base is then inserted back into the chuck. The inside of the bowl is then hollowed using carbide chisels. Typically, the bowls are turned to 4-5 mm thickness. The bowl is sanded and polished and then the wooden base is removed. Thin bowls are attractive because they are light, usually exhibit some degree of translucency, and show the natural features of the stone. Some bowls are enhanced with rims made from other varieties of stone, pewter or exotic woods. The process of turning a stone bowl is unforgiving and about 20% of all bowls attempted are broken in the process. The process of turning a bowl and finishing it requires the use of various glues, sealing agents and polishing compounds. To prevent cracks from advancing, cyanoacrylate glue is used to stabilize the stone. As the turning progresses, it is necessary to add new glue to replace what has been removed. In the final pass and sanding, all traces of the glue are removed. Special stone epoxies of the highest quality are used to fix the rims and bases and special sealers are used to water proof the bowls and promote polishing. Finally, polishing compounds are used to finish the surfaces. At no time are dyes, stains or other colouring agents used.