Feature Mondays – Andy Cole in Profile


Monday 9 July 2018

Andy Cole was born in the US Northeast in the late 1950s, growing up in the Finger Lakes area of Upstate New York. His early career was in the bicycle retail business, which Andy found very enjoyable due to the enthusiastic customer base. After falling in love with and marrying a girl from Hawaii, it became obvious to Andy that moving to paradise was a better option than staying where winter was the predominant season. Andy has now been living in paradise for over 25 years and loves it!

Getting into woodturning

Throughout his life Andy admired anything finely crafted from exotic woods. About 15 years ago he saw an advertisement in the newspaper for a bowl turning class at a newly opened Woodcraft store and he immediately signed up. At the conclusion of the class, Andy purchased a mini lathe along with some basic turning tools, assuming that was all he would need. Needless to say, the list of necessary tools has continued to grow. Andy soon learned about a local organisation called the Honolulu Woodturners Club – an affiliate of the AAW – which held bi-monthly meetings for turning enthusiasts.

He attended the first meeting and was hooked: “There were a lot of really skilled turners in the islands, eager and willing to share their skills.” And with that, he was off and running.

Andy loves the natural beauty of wood and anything else created in nature. In turning, bowls with the natural-edge bark intact seem to be what Andy is continually drawn to. The more unique and gnarly the piece of wood, the more he likes it. Often, the shape that Andy is intending to turn is altered as characteristics in the wood are revealed in the turning process. He tries to find a balance between showcasing the natural beauty in the wood's character, while maintaining a form that is pleasing to the eye. Once the outside of the piece is determined, Andy then sets out to maximise the use of the inside by coring multiple nested sets, which he often keeps together like a family. He feels that nested natural-edge sets have become his signature work.

Inspiration and change

When looking at what inspires him, Andy says: “It may not have much to do with woodturning, but I've got to go with the wonders of nature. Whether it is the serenity of the morning dew hovering over a glassy lake or the impending violence of an approaching storm, it's those types of things that awaken my senses.” He feels that we live in a world that was created with such amazing beauty and power that he continually marvels at the God who made it all. “To be able to bring out just a little of that beauty with each piece of wood I touch is such a reward,” he says.

In regards to how his work has changed, Andy finds it interesting seeing some of his earlier pieces. He sees that there are a number of shapes and styles that he no longer seems to do and he thinks that his current shapes tend to flow a little better than some of his older works: “It is fascinating to see the evolution of style and it's refreshing to look back once in a while,” he tells me.

Andy feels strongly that he learns and gets inspiration from almost every turner he encounters: “One of the great things about woodturners is their willingness to share their techniques.” Andy's woodturning group has three or four professional demonstrators who go through the islands each year and he always tries to learn as much as he can from them. Andy tells me: “It is always enlightening to see someone whose work is very different than my own and being pushed out of my comfort zone can be one of the best things.” Andy also travels as much as he can to turning symposiums, where there is a plethora of information available to him. Andy tells me: “I learn in a variety of ways. For the most part, I am a do-it-yourselfer, but I have gained a tremendous amount of knowledge from watching others and picking up little tips and tricks along the way. I have little patience for reading or watching instructional videos, so I'm much more likely to just pick up some tools and give them a try. A few pointers from others now and then can be most invaluable though, so I am always looking to get ideas from others when the opportunity arises.”

Andy's workshop

Andy's studio is located in the lower portion of the family home on a hillside overlooking Waikiki and the Pacific Ocean. The primary work area has three lathes, two bandsaws and almost anything else needed for turning. He has a large dust collector in another room with ductwork going through the walls to minimise the noise. Andy tells me that people always marvel at the homemade flexible vent hose that he draws right up to surfaces he's working on. The main window of his workshop gives him a postcard view of Diamond Head Crater and living in Hawaii lets him work with the windows open all year! The stockpile of logs to be turned and the stacks of roughed out bowls make it hard for Andy to define where the workshop ends and the living area begins, but his wife lovingly reminds him when he sometimes loses track.

“It's great when a person can work at what they love doing and do that with all of their heart,” Andy says of his work ethos. The term 'good enough' doesn't work for Andy. He is not finished with a piece until he can no longer see any room for improvement on it. Andy finds it amazing how he can get mostly finished with a piece in a short period of time, but how it takes so long to get the final touches just right. In business Andy's motto has always been 'the job is not done until the customer is satisfied' and that same value holds true in Andy's turnings.

There are certain things that Andy couldn't do without in his workshop, such as: “The creative brain, a little ingenuity and a couple of functioning hands would probably top the list.” After that he thinks the list could get pretty long, but he sure does like his VB-36 lathe! If electricity were considered a tool, he says he would have to be pretty appreciative of that. Andy has a myriad of tools offered by various venders, along with quite a few that he has fabricated himself out of necessity.

In his working day, Andy is not sure there is any such thing as a typical day for him, but if there were, it wouldn't have anything worth remembering. Like pieces of wood, no two days are quite the same for Andy. He needs adventure and variety in life, which makes each new day something to look forward to.

Highs and lows

Teaching and instructing others is one of Andy's greatest joys. Creating his own artwork is a satisfaction, but sharing those skills with others is, to Andy, so much more rewarding. Andy expects that his own work will continue to evolve as he learns and experiments, but his goal is to find ways of sharing those things with other turners who are eager to learn.

“I'm assuming that I haven't reached the highs of my career yet and just figure that the best days are still ahead.” There are times when Andy makes a great sale or gets rave reviews from a demonstration he's done that gives him a morale boost. Periods of slow sales can bring some reality to Andy, to whether turning is more of a hobby or a business for him. Broken bowls are always a momentary downer for the turner, but any accident that he can walk away from is a good learning experience.

Andy feels that the satisfaction that comes from transforming 'road kill' – fallen trees – into works of art can't be matched and that there's just something about converting a piece of firewood into a living room masterpiece that's hard to beat.

Jumping at any opportunity to demonstrate at public events, Andy feels it is always amazing to see a crowd gather around as he gets his lathe going in a shopping mall or public park. Andy is also happy to donate finished work for charity fundraisers: “It's a way to support a good cause and get a little recognition along the way.”

Andy looks forward to his days off, but he finds it hard to take time off from work because he loves what he does so much and it seems like he is always behind on orders that are due. But, he finds balance in life is important, so one of his favourite escapes is to take a hike up the hill from their backyard: “We have a hiking trail right behind our house, which goes for miles and leads all the way to the summit of the Koolau Mountains without ever crossing a road. If the weather is a little inclement, then picking up one of my guitars and playing a little is another great form of relaxation.” For some culinary excitement, Andy will put together some snacks, using one of the many varieties of hot peppers that he grows in the garden.

Making a piece

With regards to his favourite woods to turn, Andy tells us: “Each type of wood has a unique aroma, which adds to the tantalisation of the senses when turning. Macadamia (Macadamia integrifolia) wood is one of the ones I love, because of the stunning beauty, but it sure is a challenge to work with due to splitting and warping along the way. Koa (Acacia koa), being one of Hawaii's treasured woods is always a joy to turn as well.” While there are some woods that Andy gets really excited about working with, it is the amazing variety of timbers available that really amazes him. Andy says that he has probably worked with well over a hundred different species of wood and each seems to have its own unique characteristics: “Some are a dream to work with and some are an absolute nightmare, but often times with amazing results when finished.”

“To be honest, I never time myself,” Andy tells me. Estimating about a year is his usual answer when asked how long a piece takes, due to the process he's developed. He tends to do things in batches so he will do up to 50 pieces at a time. “Things are a little more efficient when I focus on a particular skill repeatedly for a couple of weeks at a time,” he says. Andy's work is broken into stages consisting of roughing out green wood to the basic shape, after which he will let the pieces sit for a year or longer while they complete the drying stage. Following that, Andy will re-chuck the pieces and finish the upper sections on a whole batch and then proceed to doing all of the bottoms, etc. “Right now, I have been roughing out some of the logs that have been taking up automobile space in my garage, and have been doing so for about the past month. After having roughed out a couple hundred bowls, I will move on to the next phase. I am about ready to finish a batch of 50 or so pieces that have been drying for over one year. Once the finish turning is done on those pieces, I will move on to oiling and then buffing the whole batch of work,” he explains. “People still want to know what I refer to as 'stopwatch time' when asking how long it takes. I always assume they want to divide the retail price by the number of hours required. I just don't really know how long it takes, and that is not my top priority.”

The future

Andy feels that it's too easy for him to spend his time in the studio turning wood, which of course he loves, but there are other things that need working on. He has some ideas for new tools that he would like to pursue developing. There are also good opportunities to produce educational videos on such things as bowl coring techniques that will benefit others.


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