View Full Version : SMC Turner Interview - Wally Dickerman

Steve Schlumpf
05-09-2010, 4:02 PM
How Young are you?
150358 Well, perhaps young isnít the right word. Iíll be 89 next month. Born in 1921. Hey that means that next year Iíll hit the big nine-oh. Umm....party time!! Youíre all invited!

Physical Description

Iím 5 ft. 7 in....Used to be a little bit taller so Iím shrinking with age. 150 lb. I've had a full beard for maybe 35 years. My hair used to be dk. brown but now itís almost white. Not very much left on top. Iím a lefty. Good looking, of course.

Where is Home?

We moved to Arizona in 1997 from Puget Sound country. I lived near Seattle for most of my life.

Family Information

My wife and I have been married for 67 years. We have one daughter and 3 grown granddaughters. One granddaughter is married, the other two are enjoying the single life so far. No great grandkids, but weíre hoping. My wife stays out of my shop but sheís very interested in what I do in my woodturning.

Do you have a website?

No I donít. Iíve considered it but have decided that Iíd rather not bother.


Not long after graduating from high school in 1939, I went to Alaska to work. I came out in October 1941....2 months later, Pearl Harbor. I joined the Navy and spent a lot of time aboard a destroyer in the Pacific theater. 2 Purple Hearts and a 30 per cent disability.

For about 30 years, until I retired, I was in the sporting goods business. I was in the wholesale end of it. Fishing tackle, guns and accessories and lots more. Of course this meant that it was my duty to do a lot of hunting and fishing....which I did.

Shop overview
150359 My workshop is smaller than I would like. A double garage, walled off into a shop and a garage. My previous shop was quite large, so, knowing that I was moving to a small shop I sold all of my flatwork machinery, table saw, jointer, etc. Just about everything in my shop is for woodturning. I live in a retirement community where we have a very large and well equipped community woodshop which has some very good equipment when I need it.

My lathe, my ninth, is a Oneway with all the bells and whistles. Hey, I deserve it! At my age, itíll no doubt be my last and best lathe. A Griz. 16 in. bandsaw, which I plan to replace soon. A 12 in. Disc sander. A drill press. A 1 inch belt sander. A grinder. An air compressor, a dust system and an overhead air filter. Plus lots of tools, jigs and much more, which Iíve been gathering for a lot of years. I have room to move around, but not much more. I have at least 50 turning tools, some of them shopmade, most others modified to suit me. Like many turners, I have many tools but regularly use only a few. Some have seen years of service and are nearly worn out.

How long have you been turning and what got you started?

I turned a bowl in high school shop class. We had a good shop teacher but he didnít know much about turning, so I was on my own. I somehow turned a fairly nice 7 or 8 inch walnut bowl. The process must have fascinated me, because after a summer job I spent my hard earned money on a small Sears lathe and some tools. That was in 1936 and I was 15 years old. I lived on a small farm and my father let me take over a small corner of the barn for a shop. We had a lot of firewood for turning stock because we heated with a woodstove. I turned candlesticks, small bowls and more.

WW2 and its aftermath got in the way of further turning, but around 1950 I bought my second lathe. Again, a Sears, but a little bigger and a bit better than the first lathe. From there I have progressed through bigger and better lathes until my present Oneway.

What do you enjoy most about turning?
150360 Well, lots of things. I like the way turning lets me just get immersed in what Iím doing. All other thoughts, good or bad just fall away when Iím turning. I like the fact that I can mount a piece of wood on the lathe and make something either useful or just pleasing to see and hold. The fact is that Iíve always been fascinated by beautifully figured or colored wood. The lathe allows me to explore whatís inside that wood.

What do you not turn now that you want to, or plan to, in the future

After having turned many hundreds of bowls and vessels, Iím experimenting with various way to enhance my work. A number of years ago I got into segmenting hollow vessels. Quite a fascinating method of actually constructing a bowl or vessel. I finally tired of spending 95 percent of my time cutting, gluing and clamping, with very little actual turning. Lately Iíve done quite a lot of pyrography on my turnings. I have a dental drill and am experimenting with piercing. There are many ways to texture wood and Iím just getting started in exploring that. I have done a small amount of carving on my turnings, and plan to do a lot more. There is really no limit on what can be done to embellish your turnings.

continued on next page....

Steve Schlumpf
05-09-2010, 4:03 PM
Are there any turners, well known or not, who have influenced your turnings?

Oh yes, there are several. Back in the dark ages of my woodturning, the 50's, 60's and 70's I had almost no contact with other turners. Compared to today, there were very, very few turners around. I knew of no clubs, classes or other ways of meeting other turners. In 1982 or 83 there was an ad in our local newspaper that an all day turning demonstration was being put on by a woodworkers store. The turner was Dale Nish. I had Daleís first book, so of course I had to attend. There were about 25 or 30 of us there, and we all got our first look at a bowl gouge in action. What an eye popping sight. All of those curls of wood streaming through the air. Iím sure that not long after that, all of us were making long curls of our own with our newly discovered bowl gouges.

During and after the demo I got acquainted with a lot of other turners. The following year several of us went to the symposium at Provo, Utah. Later several of us got together and formed the Seattle Chapter of the AAW. My turning life had changed forever!

In 1979 Fine Woodworking magazine ran an article on David Ellsworth. There were pictures of Davidís thin walled hollow forms, something Iíd never seen before. I determined that I would make a hollowing tool since none were available to buy. I made a boring bar which worked well. My early hollow forms didnít look much like Davidís, but it was a beginning.

Rude Osolnik became a good friend. Twice, when he traveled to Seattle, Rude stayed with my wife and me for several days. We spent some evenings in my shop with Rude on the lathe. Quite a thrill for me. Rude was one of the first to have his turnings recognized as art rather than functional.

What is your favorite wood to work with?

I think that my favorite woods to turn are madrone burl ( if itís stabilized), holly, which is hard to find, and box elder burl.

Have you met other Creekers?

Not many. A couple of years ago, Ken Vonk visited and spent some time on my lathe. Ken's father is a friend and neighbor and fellow woodturner. A few months ago Brian Brown paid me a visit. Iím sure that there a few more.

Now let's get a little deep (tribute to Andy)...If you were a tree, what tree would you be and why?

The oldest known trees are the Bristlecone Pines. There are some in Cal. and Arizona that are over 4000 years old. Since Iím becoming regarded as the ancient woodturner, I can identify with the Bristlecone Pine.

Tell us a little about your teaching and demonstrating

I enjoy sharing my knowledge in woodturning, gained from my years of experience. I started teaching about 25 years ago in the Seattle area, teaching in classes and one on one. Since moving to Arizona 12 years ago, Iíve taught many classes at both the local Woodcraft store and at our community woodshop. A couple of years ago I stopped teaching the classes and now teach one on one in my own shop.

Over the years Iíve taught nearly 500 turners, both beginners and advanced. Many have returned for more advanced classes. I often receive emails from former students asking for advice or opinions.

Iíve done a lot of demonstrations at various clubs on the West coast and at symposiums at Provo and AAW. I now limit my demos to our local club. When youíre asked to demo at the large symposiums youíre expected to do at least four demos and maybe more, in two or three days. Thatís a bit too much for this old guy these days.


In my early years of woodturning nothing changed very much. Lathes until very recently were made with the spindle turner in mind. Recent innovations such as increasing the swing of lathes, sliding and swiveling headstocks, short bed bowl lathes, electronic speed controls, and much more, are allowing turners an opportunity to be more creative in what they do. When high speed steel turning tools became available around 1980 it became easier to turn with sharp tools. I think that the one single thing that has a lot to do with the huge increase in turning is the advent of the bowl gouge in the early 80's. It then became much easier and simpler to turn bowls and vessels. Todayís turners are fortunate to have access to instructional DVDís, turning classes, and websites such as this one. Mostly due to the AAW, many of us enjoy belonging to a turning club.

The progress in whatís being done in woodturning today is astounding. At the first AAW symposium in 1987 the instant gallery was mostly spindle turning and glorified salad bowls, along with a few simple hollow forms. Whatís being seen at todayís symposiums is almost mind boggling with the creativity and techniques used in the work being shown. Weíve come a long way in a short time, and weíre just getting started.

In 1936 as a boy, I became fascinated with woodturning, and today, 74 years later, that fascination is just as strong as it was then. What a wonderful lifelong hobby woodturning has been.

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Steve Schlumpf
05-09-2010, 4:04 PM
On a personal note, when I asked Wally for photos to include with the interview, he had his wife take a few out in the shop just for us! Thanks for making the special effort!

150361 This one shows a stash of rough outs, 75 or so of them. This pic is in John Jordan's DVD on wood.

150362 I do my hollowing on the outboard side of the lathe and I'm a lefty so I cut on the "wrong" side of the vessel.

150363 When asked about awards and recognition for his art, Wally only mentioned his most recent award, presented at the Desert Roundup in Mesa, Az. in 2007. In his own words, "I was given an award that completely caught me by surprise. I really appreciated it though. About 400 attendees gave me a standing ovation...what a thrill."

I asked Wally if his work was in any galleries, so folks could see some of his art. "At one time in the 90's I was showing at 9 galleries on the West Coast. I was doing a lot of turning in those days. Right now I'm down to 3. The Real Mother Goose in Portland, Or., Artwood in Bellingham, Wa., and Tubac Center of the Arts in Tubac, Az. I have to get busy because all are out or nearly out of my stuff. I have over 100 pieces in my album on WOW. There are a few pieces that I've posted on SMC. Well, there are a couple that are included in the latest Oneway catalog; a beaded vessel posted on July 31, '08, and a pierced vessel posted on Nov. 5, '07."

Here are a few of Wally's turnings:

150364 150365 150366

concluded on next page....

Steve Schlumpf
05-09-2010, 4:05 PM
Here are a few more of Wally's turnings:

150367 150368 150369

Here are the links to the galleries Wally spoke of:




Wally, thanks so much for taking the time and answering all my questions! It has been a privilege to get to know you!

Pete Jordan
05-09-2010, 4:59 PM
You do amazing work and are quite an inspiration!

Ken Fitzgerald
05-09-2010, 5:21 PM
It's nice to know more about you Wally! Thanks for taking time to do the interview and for being an inspiration to all of us who are new to turning!

John Keeton
05-09-2010, 5:42 PM
Wally, I have enjoyed every comment that you have made in my short tenure in the turning forum!! You always have something of merit to say. We are so fortunate to have a woodturner with your level of experience and knowledge among us.

Great interview, and thanks for taking the time!! And, Steve, thanks for making the effort to bring this to us!

alex carey
05-09-2010, 7:23 PM
Wow ive seen a lot of these turnings here and there, didn't know they were all by Wally. Great work and nice interview.

David E Keller
05-09-2010, 7:33 PM
Always good to know a bit more about a fellow woodturner... Especially someone as knowledgeable and respected as Wally. I appreciate your taking time to do the interview(and Steve for doing it). More so, I appreciate you taking the time to participate on the forum.

Dave MacArthur
05-09-2010, 9:38 PM
Very interesting, and beautiful work! I especially liked the white bowl (holly?) with the inlay work on it. Glad to know you're in Phoenix, PM sent!

Baxter Smith
05-09-2010, 9:48 PM
Great choice and fascinating interview. Thanks to both Wally and Steve for taking the time to do this. Your contributions have made this a special place to visit!

Bernie Weishapl
05-09-2010, 9:57 PM
Wally it is sure good to get to know you better.

John Beaver
05-09-2010, 10:14 PM
I enjoyed your interview.
Your work is beautiful.

05-09-2010, 10:43 PM
A terrific interview about a terrific turner! My favorite one so far.

David Walser
05-10-2010, 12:53 AM
Wally and Steve,

Thank you for taking the time to make this interview available to us. I've had the privilege to attend one of Wally's demonstrations. If you're in the area when Wally is demonstrating at his local club, make sure you're there in person. Not only will you learn something (no matter how experienced you are, Wally will show you something new), but you'll also laugh. Wally has a delightful sense of humor.

I was one of the 400 who gave Wally a standing ovation at the 2007 DWR. The award was well deserved. I hope Wally will have many more years at the lathe and that more you you will have the treat of meeting this jewel of a man in person.

Brian Brown
05-10-2010, 9:05 AM

It's good to get to know more about you. Fishing hunting and woodturning; what a life. I am always inspired by your work. Congrats on the DWR award. It is well deserved. For anyone who has not met Wally, and his wife, they are wonderful gracious people. Wally has a very impressive collection of turnings; his own and the work of many other masters of woodturning. Thanks again Wally for sharing your talent with us. :)

Tony De Masi
05-10-2010, 11:22 AM
Wally, thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview. I'm sure you would have rather been turning something:D

Rob Cunningham
05-10-2010, 12:17 PM
Wally and Steve,
Thanks for taking the time to do the interview. It's always nice to hear more about the people we meet at The Creek

bob svoboda
05-10-2010, 12:20 PM
Thanks to Wally and Steve..Just inspiring!

Doug Thompson
05-10-2010, 1:52 PM
Great job Wally!

Scott Hackler
05-10-2010, 3:09 PM
Steve, thanks for the great interview.

Wally, It was really great to read some history about your life, both turning related and all the other stuff. I would like to say a thank you for your service to our country and a BIG thanks for posting pictures of the vessels that you have pierced! It has really inspired me to go beyond the norm and start poking holes in my creations, as well.

Keep em coming, Wally. I cant wait to see what you turn, pierce and burn next.


Curt Fuller
05-10-2010, 8:20 PM
Great interview. I hope I can still be turning and going strong when I reach your age. Maybe the turning is what has kept you looking and acting so young.

Wally Dickerman
05-10-2010, 9:36 PM
Very interesting, and beautiful work! I especially liked the white bowl (holly?) with the inlay work on it. Glad to know you're in Phoenix, PM sent!

Actuall Dave, I live in Green Valley, 30 miles south of Tucson. Thanks for your comments.


Wally Dickerman
05-10-2010, 9:40 PM
Wally and Steve,

Thank you for taking the time to make this interview available to us. I've had the privilege to attend one of Wally's demonstrations. If you're in the area when Wally is demonstrating at his local club, make sure you're there in person. Not only will you learn something (no matter how experienced you are, Wally will show you something new), but you'll also laugh. Wally has a delightful sense of humor.

I was one of the 400 who gave Wally a standing ovation at the 2007 DWR. The award was well deserved. I hope Wally will have many more years at the lathe and that more you you will have the treat of meeting this jewel of a man in person.

Thanks for your kind words David. I plan to be at the Desert Roundup next Winter. I'm sure that I'll see you then.


Wally Dickerman
05-10-2010, 9:49 PM
Many thanks to everyone for all of your nice comments. I think that doing these interviews is a great idea. It's a pleasure to get to know more about other Creekers.

Steve, I am very grateful that you selected me to be interviewed for SMC. You did a great job. I guess that we all like to be pushed into the limelight once in a while.


Kevin J Lalonde
05-11-2010, 9:48 AM
Great interview Wally. You said you turn on a Oneway. I noticed your name and turnings in the Oneway Product catalog. Beautiful work. Thanks for all that you do!

Jerry Marcantel
05-11-2010, 10:45 AM
am looking forward to meeting you one day. ..... Jerry (in Tucson) 25 miles North of Wally

Jim Shaver, Oakville Ont
05-11-2010, 3:29 PM
It was great to come down to Green Valley and meet you in 2006. I wish you good health and lots of good shavings my friend:D

John W Dixon
05-11-2010, 10:02 PM
Great interview! What a pleasure to learn more about one of our turners. Wally your work is fantastic and it was fascinating to learn more about your life. Thanks for sharing.


Brian Effinger
05-11-2010, 11:35 PM
I enjoyed learning more about you Wally, and hope I can meet you in person some day.

charlie knighton
05-12-2010, 4:15 AM
thanks for sharing Wally

James Combs
05-12-2010, 8:31 AM
No mater how experienced or in-experienced we are we can always use a little more inspiration. Wally you provide it in spades. Thanks for the interview.

Don Orr
05-12-2010, 2:45 PM
What an excellent inteview. It seems like I have "known" you for a long time via the internet, but it sure is nice to really learn about your life. As others have said you are an inspiration to us all. I hope I am fortunate enough to meet you in person some day and thank you for all you have done for woodturning and woodturners.

Take care and keep turning,

Chris Stolicky
05-13-2010, 11:02 AM
Thank you . This write up is definitely inspirational.

I hope we can all reach 90 years old, and beyond, and still be at the lathe doing what we all love.

Man, that's almost 60 years away for me! :eek:

I echo Don's words - it would be an honor to meet you in person someday.

Joe Little
05-13-2010, 11:26 AM
Terrific interview and really nice to get to know you Wally. As usual, turners here give me inspiration. Thank you.

George Guadiane
01-14-2011, 1:14 PM
I don't know how I missed this great interview till now, but better late than never!
GREAT comments and FANTASTIC work!
Your appreciation and desire around woodturning is an inspiration to me...
I only hope that I last as long at it and get as good.
Thanks for doing the interview.