View Full Version : Turner Interview: Mike Stafford

Mark Cothren
03-02-2006, 12:47 PM
Name: Michael Stafford

DOB/Age: 11/17/1950 Old enough to know better….

Physical description (G-rated, please)
Besides being blond, blue-eyed and exceedingly average looking I am between 6’1” and 6’3” depending on which convenience store measuring chart you use. I have always been short for my weight and was supposed to have been 6’8” or 6’9” tall. I played lots of sports when I was young and went to college on an athletic scholarship in track. No, I didn’t run, I lumbered around the shot put and discus circles….which explains why my right arm is 5 inches longer than my left.

Location (for how long, previous locations, etc)
Rocky Mount, North Carolina for the last 20+ years. Previously I lived in Chesapeake, Virginia. I am, however, North Carolina born.

Family information (brag on your spouse, kids, grandkids, dog, etc)
I am married to a wonderful woman, Gail, who has been the love of my life for more than 35 years. She has achieved the status of Master Craftsman in needlepoint and teaches mathematics at the university level and is ending her term as faculty chair. I have a son and a daughter-in-law both of whom I adore; no grandkids yet. They both are computer scientists/engineers. I no longer have a shop dog as she passed away.

Vocation (what do you do for a living, and what have you done previously)
I am a food scientist/engineer. I worked in industry for the first half of my professional career, then worked as a consultant for a while and now work in the government/food regulatory sector developing food safety, training and inspection programs and emergency response programs. Over the years when the consulting business failed to pay the bills I did some part time exotic dancing in Fargo; worked in a factory in Sheboygan putting those little tips(aglets) on shoelaces; did some modeling for crash test dummies in Detroit; and possibly the worst job I ever had was when I
did a stint as a slop jockey in the Tuscaloosa suburbs.

Equipment Overview (lathe, tools, etc)
I have -a Jet cabinet saw, left tilt
-a Shopsmith which serves as my drill press, 12” disc sander, horizontal boring machine, light shaper, drum sander, pin router, mortiser, and a multitude of other jobs. This is my third one, got them all used.
-a 4” jointer and a portable planer
-10” Hitachi and a 12” Makita compound miter saws
-a 6X48 and 1X42 sanders
-a Craftsman radial arm saw
-an 18” scroll saw I use primarily in flat work boxes
-a shop built router table with Freud FT2000E and P-C 7518 routers
-6” and 8” Baldor buffers/sanders I use mainly for flat work
-a 25+ year old Craftsman 12” band saw I hope to replace soon
-Several more routers, sanders, drills and stuff like that; I do a lot of work on flat boxes with routers
-Keller dovetail system
-a 24X60 workbench in the European style with front and end vises that I built myself
-9 hand planes that I use in flat work
-Plus I have access to a large cabinet shop to do the jobs I cannot do in my shop.

How many lathes have (or do) you own? Tell us about ‘em.
My lathe is a Nova, not the one with the fancy DVR motor but the 8 speed belted model. I also have a Jet mini, again the belted model. And of course the Shopsmith has lathe capability. The Nova was the first real lathe I purchased and I was fortunate to get it at a used price even though it was still in the box. I won’t tell you how much I paid for it but a brand new Jet mini cost nearly as much. The Jet is used exclusively for pens and the Nova is for boxes and bowls. The Nova is mounted on a massive homemade wooden bench that I built. I added even more mass to it by hanging all my old 45 pound weight lifting plates on the ends. My bench stays right where I put it; it does not move around. I no longer turn on the Shopsmith, too short.

How many turning tools do you have?
Way too many!!!! Over 40. I have tools for spindle turning, box turning, and bowl turning. I use the same basic tool ground to different angle profiles depending on the job I am doing. I have a weakness for bargains and every time I see tools on sale that are like those I like to use I buy some. I also have lots of Craftsman and Shopsmith turning tools. I guess I am a sucker for tools. In my defense I do use them all...occasionally.

Tell us about your shop
My shop is 20’X24’ and I built it over 20 years ago when we first moved here. Unfortunately it is not insulated well so my shop time in the winter is limited but I am not bothered by the summer heat so I am able to use it most of the year. About one-fourth is dedicated to lathe work, one-half is for flatwork and about three-fourths is used for wood storage, and that is the problem. I accumulate wood faster than I can use it.

Website? If so, what's the URL?
Not really a web site just a photo sharing site; http://SawdustCreations.photosite.com/

How long have you been turning?
I turned a few wooden toy parts when my son was little over 20 years ago. I did not turn again until just a few years ago. Altogether I guess I have been turning almost 4 years.

What got you into turning?
I wanted to make handles and finials for some of my flatwork boxes. So I decided I would turn some. Then one day I was in a woodworking store and saw a book by Richard Raffan entitled “Turning Boxes” with a beautiful little turned box pictured on the cover. I decided that I wanted to learn how to do that so I bought the book and have been teaching myself turning ever since. Then I decided I wanted to try my hand at segmented woodturning and attended a couple of classes at John C. Campbell Folk Art School. I thought segmented turning would help me use up some of the wood I have accumulated but it just added to the problem. But primarily I am self taught and good or bad I have no one to blame but myself. Turning is the most addictive thing I have ever encountered.

What do you enjoy most about turning?
The next piece of wood…. Undoubtedly it is the promise that the next piece of wood holds for me. I am intrigued by what I will find in a piece of wood and turning reveals the beauty in wood in a way that no other aspect of woodworking can. I am unable to just stand at the lathe and develop a piece. I have to draw a sketch of what I want to turn and then see if my turning skills live up to my design sense. I am also fascinated while watching a woman caress and open a finely turned small box. It is a very sensual experience when it all comes together.

What was your first completed turned project?
If you don’t count the boilers, smoke stacks and some other toy parts I turned for my son’s toys, my first completed turned project was a coaster. When I was going through the process of teaching myself faceplate turning (I started turning boxes as small lidded bowls in the faceplate orientation), I started by turning coasters. Every piece of scrap wood I had in the shop that was large enough to turn into a coaster was turned into a coaster. You would not believe how many coasters we have around here. I mean it, you would not believe how many……LOL

What is your favorite form that you turn?
Boxes, I guess I am all about boxes, both flat and round, as the art of containment fascinates me. My wife says it is because I have to put everything in its place and if it doesn’t have a place I build a box for it. I never tire of building or turning boxes. I keep trying to turn the perfect box.

What is your favorite form someone else turns/has turned?
My favorite work has to be some of the work that my friends have turned and shown on the Creek. I never tire of Travis Stinson’s hollow forms; Jim Ketron’s bowls and hollow forms; Dick Parr’s varied and excellent work; Keith Burns’ segmented work; Bill Stevener’s heirloom treadle lathe and miniatures, Glenn Hodges’ wonderful bowls; and of course the work from the Arkansas tag team, Mark Cothren and Dennis Peacock, is also terrific. There are many other excellent turners on the Creek and I do not mean to offend any by not including them in this list. I greatly admire the
segmented work of Malcolm Tibbetts and the boxes of Ray Key and Kip Christenson.

How much wood could a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck chucked wood in your shop?
A woodchuck could get hurt chucking wood in my shop. One thing I have no shortage of is wood. I am a wood collector. I buy wood just because it is beautiful and I want to have it around so I can admire it. Lately I have been buying exotics for box turning. I have pieces of wood that are so beautiful that I just pull them out once in a while and dream of what I might be able to make with them. Sometimes I spend a lot of time considering a piece of wood just so I can come up with the right project for it. But if anybody starts chucking wood in my shop he better have a good insurance policy because I am very protective of my wood.

What is your favorite wood to work with and why?
I am a bona fide wood junkie. Nothing is more exciting to me than to work with a wood that I have not previously worked. My son and I are building a pen collection with as many different woods as we can find. We have pens from over 150 different woods in our collection now. A lot of the friends I have met on the various woodworking forums contributed to our collection of woods. If I am forced to choose just one I think my favorite wood is birdseye, curly or quilted maple, but there are many others close behind.

Have you met or hung out with any turnin' Creekers? Tell us about it. Last July I went to Dick Parr’s picnic and there were lots of turners there. Besides Dick, Bill Chapman (co-hosted the picnic); Jim Ketron, Joe Tonich, Kevin Gerstenecker and Ron Meadows plus some of Dick and Bill’s local turning friends were there. We had 2 days of turning demonstrations, a show and tell and a turning gift exchange. Dick, Jim, Kevin and Joe filled my car up with turning wood. All in all it was a very fine time.

What is your favorite individual piece that you have turned, and why?
I don’t really have a favorite piece that I have turned. I am not as interested in the finished product as I am in the process of getting to it. As soon as I am through with a piece I am ready to move on to the next. I don’t dwell on the last piece of work. If I had to choose it would be the first box I turned that had a proper fitting lid, nicely turned bottom and a good finish.

What is your favorite piece someone else has turned, and why?
My favorite pieces are the ones that have been given to me by my turning friends. I have a wonderful Masur birch hollow form from Travis Stinson; an equally beautiful red flame Box Elder hollow form from Jim Ketron; a lovely walnut hollow form from Dick Parr; a beautiful rosewood bowl from Dennis Peacock; a cute little miniature mesquite box from Keith Burns and a great pen from Kurt Aebi. These are my treasured pieces and decorate our home. I also have a piece, not turned, from Perry Holbrook. Jim Ketron sent my wife a wonderful confetti lamp turned from some gorgeous canary wood.

What do you not turn now that you want to - or plan to - in the future?
I am sure I will continue to turn boxes and lidded bowls but I would like to branch out into more decorative lidded containers a la Cindy Drozda or Michael Mode but we shall see if my skills develop to a level where I can do that kind of work. I particularly need work on spindle turning to develop in that direction. I fear I took up turning too late in life to master all that I want. I was asked to teach a course in box turning at American Sycamore Woodworking Retreat and I will be doing just that in September of this year. And I will be teaching a course in bowl turning at Woodcraft this Spring. Woodcraft has also asked if I am interested in teaching a box turning course.

What brought you to SMC?
I had surfed the internet on a limited basis and had visited only one other woodworking website, WC, until I read an article about Freedom Pens in the local paper early in 2004. I decided I wanted to get involved with that so I sought out Saw Mill Creek and have enjoyed the many associations I have had ever since.

Got any nicknames? How'd you get it?
My only nickname that can be mentioned in polite company is “Big Mike”. When my nieces, nephews and cousins were little I made them wooden toys and they called me “Big Mike”. I wear that nickname with honor because of how I feel about those children who are now all grown up. They still call me Big Mike. My wife and son gave me one of those branding irons a few years ago that allows me to brand my work with “Big Mike”. In high school I played football and during two-a-days in August, the whole team came down with staph infections, i.e. boils, because of how nasty most of us kept our practice uniforms. I did not contract a boil and the rest of the team named me “Staph-ogre” which later on was shortened to just “Ogre”. A few years ago some Hollywood executives decided to make a movie about my life but we could not agree on the money and worldwide distribution rights. So they cut me out of the deal entirely, made some small changes to the story, painted the main character green and renamed it “Shrek”. You may remember it…..I, however, am not green.

Now let's get a little deep... If you were a tree, what tree would you be and why.
I think I would be a Baobab tree. There is something about how a Baobab tree grows with a massively stout trunk and sparse little crown of limbs that appeal to me. It sort of reminds me of me. Baobab trees grow and flourish in one of the harshest environments in the world. They survive in a desert climate with no leaves and no rain for 9 months each year. Rough weather makes good timber you know. The trunk is fire resistant and all parts of the tree are used to good purpose. It is thought they can live for thousands of years. Like the Baobab tree I think we should all aspire to live a long and useful life.

Keith Burns
03-02-2006, 12:57 PM
Thank you Big Mike, wonderful interview ! As I have said before your talents are many and varied. I love to see your boxes and I love to read your writings as well.

Steve Clardy
03-02-2006, 1:25 PM
Great read!!!

Lee DeRaud
03-02-2006, 1:28 PM
...I have always been short for my weight and was supposed to have been 68 or 69 tall...I did some part time exotic dancing in Fargo...You turning people are trying to make my head explode, right? :eek: :p

Don Baer
03-02-2006, 1:45 PM
Great read Big Mike and thanks for sharing.

Bernie Weishapl
03-02-2006, 2:00 PM
Glad to meet you Big Mike. Thanks for sharing.

Bob Noles
03-02-2006, 2:52 PM
Great interview Big Mike. I have always admired your work and it is nice getting to know a little more about you. I really appreciate all that you share and have learned much from you.

doug webb
03-02-2006, 3:19 PM
Enjoyed getting to know more about you. Great interview.

Cecil Arnold
03-02-2006, 4:56 PM
Nice to know more about Big Mike.

Jim Ketron
03-02-2006, 5:15 PM
Nice Interview Big Mike, its nice to know our friends a little better!
Hope to get together for some more turning soon!

Andy Hoyt
03-02-2006, 5:42 PM
Big Mike - Big on so many levels. Was a pleasure to read the interview and learn a bit more about you.

But I'm not so sure that this interview even took place. Need to get a ruling from Tyler.:cool:

John Hart
03-02-2006, 6:35 PM
Great interview Big Mike!! A wonderfully comfortable read. Nice to know you a bit better Mr. Boxmaster sir!!:)

Bruce Shiverdecker
03-02-2006, 7:00 PM
Thanks "Big Mike" for the insite to the REAL YOU.

It was a pleasure reading it, just as it is looking at your work.


Stu Ablett in Tokyo Japan
03-02-2006, 7:01 PM
Hey Big Mike, glad to get to know you better!!

Great read, I very much enjoyed it!


Travis Stinson
03-02-2006, 7:05 PM
Wonderful interview Mike.:D I'm really sorry the exotic dancing gig didn't pan out for you.:( You sound like you really enjoyed that job.

Michael Stafford
03-02-2006, 7:23 PM
Thanks everyone. I love writing funny stuff and the interview was no exception. Lee, I could think of no other reason for my body mass to height ratio except that I did not attain my full height.

Yeah, Travis, exotic dancing is fun but it real hard on your legs. The tips were not that good in Fargo.....;)

John Hart
03-02-2006, 7:34 PM
...Yeah, Travis, exotic dancing is fun but it real hard on your legs. The tips were not that good in Fargo.....;)

Yeah...but you got to show off your cute little bottom!!!;)

Ed Scolforo
03-02-2006, 7:55 PM
Very interesting! Nice to get to know you a little better, Big Mike!

Corey Hallagan
03-02-2006, 9:12 PM
Mike, glad to know you better. I think you are one of the most talented individuals here at SMC. When I joined SMC one of the first posts I read was a post where Mike posted a box (flatwork) that I thought was beautiful. Mike singlehandly turned me on to box building, I could only dream of being as good as he is in flatland or the lathe. He is most unselfish of his time and in answering any question that I have had along the way. It's always a treat to see a post on SMC that contains the words... NEW Box by Mike Stafford. Mike, I would sure love to see some of that pen collection sometime, I am sure that some of the others would as well!


Michael Stafford
03-02-2006, 9:18 PM
Corey, you are most generous with your comments. Thank you very much. I love boxes and I will try to infect as many people as I can with the box bug.;)

Ken Fitzgerald
03-02-2006, 10:37 PM
Nice to know more about you Big Mike! I always enjoy your posts!

Mike Ramsey
03-02-2006, 10:37 PM
Nice to meet you Mr. Stafford! (AKA Deuce Bigalow) Really enjoyed
reading about you. I don't think a turner can have to many turning tools, you don't mean I should stop at 40?? Love your work!!

Dick Parr
03-02-2006, 10:51 PM
WOW, who is this guy and what did you do with Big Mike?:D

Great interview Mike.;)

Ernie Nyvall
03-02-2006, 11:14 PM
Good read Big Mike. Nice to get to know you a little better. You were so "matter of fact" about your exotic dancing that I wasn't going to say anything and being in Fargo... well, I guess I could see that. And of course you like turning exotic wood now... it all fits.:D :D


Dennis Peacock
03-03-2006, 12:31 AM
Absolutely wonderful interview Big Mike!!!!!! I bet the crash dummy job was a real slap on the head!!!!!:rolleyes: :D :p

John Miliunas
03-03-2006, 7:55 AM
Hey, Big Mike, not only very informative but, truly entertaining! I'm going to recommend to the Admins here at the Creek to extend your act well into the future! :D Bravo!!!:) :cool:

Glenn Clabo
03-03-2006, 8:44 AM
Fun read Big Mike...nice to know ya.

Paul Douglass
03-03-2006, 10:38 AM
A pleasure to meet you. Enjoyed the interview

Michael Stafford
03-03-2006, 11:17 AM
Hey, Big Mike, not only very informative but, truly entertaining! I'm going to recommend to the Admins here at the Creek to extend your act well into the future! :D Bravo!!!:) :cool:

John, I am assuming with this proposed contract extension the remuneration will be negotiable? I may be easy but I am not that cheap....well....not that expensive either.:o :p :D

John Miliunas
03-03-2006, 11:52 AM
John, I am assuming with this proposed contract extension the remuneration will be negotiable? I may be easy but I am not that cheap....well....not that expensive either.:o :p :D

Tell 'ya what, Big Mike: I'll give you half of my next Moderator's wage increase!!! :D :cool:

Curt Fuller
03-04-2006, 10:52 AM
Hey Big Mike, I've admired all the boxes you've done along with your other work. Nice to know a little more about you.

Dale Thompson
03-07-2006, 10:44 PM
Hey Big Mike,
I think that I saw ALL of your performances over in Fargo! :) Do you remember me? I was the big tipper (or was it the Big Dipper?)! :eek: HMM!? Come to think of it, I have never been to Fargo. Maybe it was just one of my "Chippendale Moments"!? :D

Thanks for the neat interview and the humor! I LIKE humor! That is why I don't mind when people laugh when they see me trying to walk down the street. :o

Your work is VERY impressive and so were your responses to the many "challenging" questions! :) Just keep on embarrassing me with all of those beautiful boxes!

Thanks again!

Dale T.

Vaughn McMillan
03-09-2006, 2:01 AM
Great interview, Mike...thanks for the info and the grins. I'm another one here who really looks forward to seeing your latest stuff.

...I did some part time exotic dancing in Fargo... So that's where I remember you from. All this time I thought it was the little place in Sheboygan, but now that I think about it, that was Big Mark, not Big Mike. You were the guy in Fargo...the cute stocky one with the long arm. :p

- Vaughn