View Full Version : SMC Turner Interview - Malcolm Tibbetts

Andy Hoyt
10-27-2007, 2:19 PM
Name: Malcolm Tibbetts

How young are you?
I still think of myself as a “young” person – a very open-minded person, but my body keeps telling me otherwise. I’m healthy enough to occasionally “jog” as exercise, but I’m a long, long ways from being marathon capable. Because of a life time of sport-related injuries and a very thick worker’s comp file, my body provides me with plenty of “aches and pains”.

Physical description:
6’ 3” and too big around the middle, but my wife says I still have a nice butt (she gave me permission to say that).


Where’s home?
I grew up in a wonderful resort town in the White Mountains of New Hampshire – a ski resort town called North Conway. In 1971, after college and military service in Europe (during the Vietnam “conflict”), and after touring the country in a VW micro bus, I settled in South Lake Tahoe, CA (mostly for the skiing opportunities). I’ve now been in the same town for 36 years and in the same house for the last 31 years. If you’ve never been to Lake Tahoe, do yourself a favor and come visit. Besides the beauty, I’ve got too many turning tools to move.


Family information:
I met Tere, the love of my life and the center of my universe, at Heavenly Ski Area. (http://www.skiheavenly.com/) Is that mushy enough? I was a ski patroller at the time and she was the first-aid room nurse. You might say it was a match made in heaven. We’ve been married since ‘76 with two grown children, Andy and Cristie. Andy is a student at Portland State (OR) and will soon have his degree in civil engineering and Cristie is a graduate of UC Berkley, about to finish her masters; she works locally as a counselor dealing with dysfunctional families. Our newest family member is Bubby, a sheltie Christmas puppy.

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Do you have a website?
My website is www.tahoeturner.com (http://www.tahoeturner.com). I’ve taken the “road less traveled” as I currently do not sell my work through galleries. I market my woodturning through my website, by word of mouth, and by direct email contact with collectors. My son, Andy was instrumental in creating the site, but I’ve finally learned how to maintain it and make changes. I just recently added a few new pages in order to offer PDF files of some of my magazine articles. I also added a calendar displaying my teaching schedule. The internet is simply the most incredible tool on earth. On average, more than 200 people per day spend time at my site. I really enjoy interacting with wood enthusiasts from around the globe. I typically spend at least an hour each day, managing my email and visiting sites such as SMC. I’ll share one website story: A very large software company in India, with offices all over the world recently discovered my site. One thing led to another and they purchased the rights to use four of my images on the outside and inside covers of their annual report. 25,000 color copies were mailed to stockholders – all with my website listed. You gotta love it.

About four years ago, after 32 years of managing outdoor operations at Heavenly Ski Area, I decided to pursue segmented woodturning. My previous years of wage earning provided me the financial freedom to feed this passion and my wife was/is very supportive. She also still works part-time at the local community college after a long career as a high school teacher. When I’m not traveling and teaching or at my computer, then I’m usually in my shop working on various projects. Most of what I “turn”, I attempt to sell; fortunately most of it eventually sells. I guess that makes me a “professional” segmented woodturner. I’m also an author. My book, “The Art of Segmented Woodturning” has far surpassed my expectations, and I’m most honored by its success. My next big project is to acquire the skills to produce a series of “how to” DVD’s. I have a lot to learn before seriously pursuing this goal.

I’ve just recently put things in motion for my newest venture. With the support of Marc Adams at the Marc Adams School (http://www.marcadams.com/) in Indiana, I am organizing the first ever “Segmented” Woodturning Symposium. It is scheduled for November 14 to 16, 2008. The details are still in the works, but you heard it here first. Curt Theobald (http://www.curttheobald.com/) and Bill Smith (http://www.townsearch.com/billsmith/) have agreed to join me. Stay tuned for more info.

Andy Hoyt
10-27-2007, 2:19 PM
Shop Overview:
I live in one of the most beautiful places on earth and also one of the most environmentally regulated communities. As such, my shop is tiny without any possibility to enlarge; land coverage is very restricted. Even so, I don’t wish to relocate. I love the Tahoe weather and lifestyle and I still ski during the winters; my wife and I have “roots” in our community.

My tiny shop (studio) is a separate building 30 feet from my backdoor. The working area is about 11’ by 22’ and I have additional space for my considerable wood inventory. Despite the small size, I have a full array of woodworking equipment. Here's a complete list (http://www.tahoeturner.com/tools.html).

Other than the 14” table saw and my lathe, most of my tools are mounted on wheels, which allow me to do what I do in such a small space. I no longer produce furniture pieces, but I certainly rely on my furniture building experiences as I pursue segmenting.


How many lathes do you own?
My lathe is a VB36 – a great machine for most of my work. Before visiting the creek, I had never heard of lathes referred to by their color so I guess that I turn on an avocado. There are times when I wish it had more length capacity and sometimes I find myself designing in order to accommodate the limited 25” swing (without taking off the tailstock rails). I also have a WoodCraft mini-lathe; a nice little machine for small scale turning. I’ve had four previous lathes. I’m not sure why I chose them, but I can remember why I replaced them: I started with a Craftsman (too small), followed by a Record (too small), a Delta (too small), and a custom-made John Nichols (too noisy and an inaccurate tailstock). I loved the capacity of the Nichols lathe; I wish I still had it, but I just don’t have the space.

How many turning tools do you have? Store bought; home made; favorites?
I have a lot of lathe tools collecting dust. During my first few years as a hobby turner, I was sucked down the vortex “big time” and I tried to overcome my lack of skills with all the newest and greatest tools (my poor Visa card). Now, if necessary, I could probably “make do” with three tools: a ½” Jerry Glaser V-15 bowl gouge, a small diamond-pointed scraper, and a 1/16” parting tool.

How long have you been turning, and what got you started in the first place?
My grandfather had a woodshop in his basement, just 1000 feet from where I grew up. As a kid, it was my favorite place. Then my son got me started “turning” around 1992. He asked for a lathe for his birthday. After a few dozen pens and such, he lost interest and I gained it. Because I had filled a house with shop-built furniture, I owned a lot of woodworking equipment, so I quickly gravitated toward segmented turning. Ray Allen (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfqASz4r6Rw) was a big influence and a Fine Woodworking article by Bud Latven (http://budlatven.com/) provided motivation.

What's your favorite flavor of ice cream?
How did you know? Ice cream is one of my favorite foods. More that any other food, it’s probably responsible for my unacceptable waistline. The more exotic the flavor, the more likely it is that I will try it. Anything with peanut butter usually gets my attention.

What do you enjoy most about turning?
I love to challenge myself. Discovering new styles of segmented work such as my “ribbon” forms gives me a great deal of satisfaction. Solving the construction puzzle of my last tangle, “Galactic Journey” (http://www.sawmillcreek.org/showthread.php?p=588165) provided more than enough challenge.

Successful problem solving can be very rewarding. After my family, “turning” has become a major focal point in my life. There are so many possibilities. I don’t ever see myself becoming bored with this art form.

What do you enjoy the least about turning?
The potential lung damage from dust worries me and the mess that I often track into the house is a nuisance. Our new little sheltie loves to visit my shop and roll around in the chips, so now I get to blame him for the debris in the house. People often tell me that I must be incredibly patient; I’m not. I often become impatient at my lack of speedy progress – mostly because I want to get started on my next project.

Do you belong to a turning club?
I fumbled at the lathe, teaching myself for over a year, before I ever witnessed another person turn wood. Without a doubt, my biggest “eureka” was attending my first AAW symposium in 1994 at Fort Collins, CO, where I met Ray Allen. I joined the NorCal club (http://www.norcalwoodturners.org/) in Sacramento that same year (a two hour drive for meetings). The AAW and their symposiums provided so much inspiration that I felt compelled to get involved. I’m just finishing my first term on the AAW Board (http://www.woodturner.org/org/staff_dirs.cfm) where I serve as vice president and I am currently running for re-election for one more three year term. My biggest AAW responsibility has been as chairman of the EOG Committee (http://www.woodturner.org/resources/eog/) (reviewing and awarding grants). Last year, the AAW awarded almost $90,000 in woodturning education-related grants. It’s a great organization, with a rich history, and I’m honored to serve.

What was your first completed turned project? You get bonus points for a picture of it.
This was not my first, but it was one of my early attempts and my first large piece. Without having a clue about what I was doing, I mounted a 75 pound, out-of-balance chunk of walnut on a small Record lathe – a bench-mounted model with a swivel head. I poked at it with some sort of scraper and managed to violently rip the drive spindle threads right off the head stock. I was lucky I survived my first few weeks of trial and error (mostly error). I replaced the spindle and finally managed to finish this salad bowl which we still use frequently. It’s about 15” in diameter and 7” tall. At about that time, I decided to try turning “glued together” wood. My first “segmented” piece, this funky little box still sits on my wife’s dresser.

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Is it possible to turn and ski at the same time?
Andy, cute question – If you point your skis down any large hill, you better be proficient at “TURNING” or you’ll smash into some future turning stock. I live in a ski resort town and my website is displayed on the tailgate of my pickup. I often get asked about the name, “tahoeturner” from people that assume that it has something to do with skiing. Early in my youth, I had aspirations and dreams of Olympic “Nordic combined” competition. Our whole family skis. My daughter Cristie competed with the US Ski Team as a freestyle mogul skier; she is a joy to watch fly down through the moguls. Andy is like a circus performer as he flips and twists through the air on skis. We jokingly refer to my wife as the pride of the Cuban National Ski Team (non-existent). But had there been a Cuban ski team, she would have been skiing for Fidel.


Umm. Does that make you a "telemarketer"?

Andy Hoyt
10-27-2007, 2:20 PM
What’s your favorite individual piece that you have turned, and why?
I think “Tolerance”


was a successful piece. It was my minuscule attempt at encouraging people to “get along”. Another particularly special piece was “Midnight Snow (http://www.tahoeturner.com/gallery/images/midnighta.jpg)”. It received a bid of $50,000 at a charity auction to benefit our local ski foundation, which provides coaching for up and coming Olympic caliber skiers (especially for kids that can’t afford it). Witnessing such a high bid sure made for a special evening.

What’s your favorite form that you turn?
Form is incredibly important, but I’m probably more excited about creating “messages” or “social commentary”. Pieces such as “Rocky Road Ahead (http://www.sawmillcreek.org/showthread.php?t=56612)” (global warming statement) or “Men in the Shadows”


(anti-war statement) are works that give me a lot of satisfaction. I don’t know if this style of work has any positive affect, because most of the people that need to hear these messages are not listening. But, I’d like to think that in some small way, work like this makes a tiny difference.

What do you not turn now that you want to - or plan to - in the future?
Someday, I’d like to do some really large sculptural pieces - something to fill space in large corporate lobbies and/or hotels. I recently received a commission from Marriott Hotels, so perhaps there is a crack in the door to that world. I’m also interested in doing a few very large “outdoor” pieces – so many ideas and so little time.

How do you take your Moxie? (Straight up? beer chaser? neat? with corn flakes?)
What’s Moxie? Just kidding, but I haven’t had that elixir since growing up in New Hampshire. You got me curious so I checked - I can’t find it anywhere near here.

You'll just have to move back home, Malcolm.

What’s your favorite form someone else turns?
I enjoy all types of woodturning. Maybe that’s why I’ve volunteered for the past few years to organize and oversee the AAW Symposium Instant Gallery. (http://www.woodturner.org/sym/sym2007/gallery.html) I can’t choose just one artist or one type of work. I will say that the style of work that gets my juices flowing the most is innovative, never seen before, thought-provoking, and of course, very skillfully done. I also love “color”. I like folk music songs that made a difference and my taste in wood-turned art tends to also lean in that same direction. I long for the day when wood-turned art will be respected in the same light as any other established medium. Pretty art is wonderful; but I think it will be pretty art that has a powerful message and makes a positive difference that elevates our field. My favorite woodturnings make me think and ponder. Gerrit Van Ness (http://www.gerritvanness.com/) comes to mind.

What’s your favorite individual piece someone else has turned, and why?
When I was still trying to learn the difference between scraping and cutting, I discovered the early work of Stephen Hogbin (http://www.makersgallery.com/hogbin/index.html). I was very inspired by his willingness and courage to explore possibilities beyond the turned vessel. His concept of de-constructing a turning in order to reconstruct it into something entirely different probably had some influence on me, when many years later, I attempted to discover new forms and methods. I think he was one of the first to truly think “outside the vessel”.

What’s your favorite wood to work with and why?
Are there any really ugly woods? There are ugly pieces of wood full of defects, etc, but almost every species is suited for something. Some woods such as myrtlewood smell better than others. Segmented work is a little different from conventional turning. The wood must be very dry. It must have good gluing properties and long term stability is important. A few favorites are: ebony, holly, bloodwood, myrtlewood, hard maple, and mesquite. Dramatic contrasting combinations such as ebony and holly can be very effective.

What brought you to SMC?
I’ve been a long-time participant on the WOW (World of Woodturners) site and the AAW forum. I think someone referenced SMC, so out of curiosity, I went looking for SMC. I hunger for woodturning information and SMC grabbed my attention. Bob Dylan (http://www.bobdylan.com/moderntimes/home/main.html) sings, “The day you stop being born, is the day you start dying”. Another of my favorite quotes is by Buckminster Fuller (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buckminster_Fuller): “You can never learn less, you can only learn more.” Good words to love by. I try to share something when I can, but I also try to soak up as much as I can from other woodturners. SMC is a great repository of information and woodturning experiences.

Do you recall the first thread you started?
I don’t remember; although it wasn’t that long ago. I think I just introduced myself.

Yup – you got it. (http://www.sawmillcreek.org/showthread.php?t=48859)

Got any nicknames? How'd you get them?
I can’t repeat them here. I’ll usually respond to most anything.

Now let's get a little deep... If you were a turning tool, what tool would you be and why?
I would always be ultra sharp and I would always perform flawlessly, because life is too short to deal with tearout or sandpaper.

If you won the Irish Sweepstakes what part of your life would change?
I live a very blessed life. I’ve got a wonderful wife, two great kids, and decent health. And I don’t think that I’d rather live anywhere else on the planet. With the sweepstakes winnings, I’d pay off a few debts, help out my kids, help a few unfortunate people, such as the recent Lake Tahoe forest fire victims, and then somehow figure out how to build a BIGGER shop.

On a much more serious note, just like those redundant beauty contestant answers, I really wish the people of the world would learn to get along – world peace and all of that. I’d trade my sweepstakes winnings in a heartbeat for a better world.

To Andy and all the creekers, thank you for the invitation to share my story with you. It’s a real honor, especially since I’ve just recently joined your terrific site. I think we all experience a few major life-changing events during our lives. Discovering woodturning and the people that love woodturning is near the top of my list.

If only woodturners ruled the world.

Ahh, But Malcolm, we do. And thank you sir, for letting us peak through the door.

Ooops. Here's one more pic.


Ken Fitzgerald
10-27-2007, 2:37 PM
Malcolm.......Thanks for a detailed and interesting interview of what I consider to be one of the most inspiring turners whose works I've had the pleasure to view photographically!

You, sir, are truly an inspiration to meager beginners like me!

Steve Schlumpf
10-27-2007, 3:51 PM
Malcolm - thanks for taking the time for the interview! Always great to get to know a fellow Creeker a little better!

While I have to admit that a lot of the times I don't quite understand your designs - I am kept in a state of awe trying to figure out how you ever came up with some of your concepts in the first place! Always interesting - always inspiring! Looking forward to seeing more of your work!

Bill Wyko
10-27-2007, 4:32 PM
Malcolm I too would like to thank you for all the knowledge you've shared with me and so many others. You and Ray have been my main source of instruction from your publications. I didn't realize that we share something else in common.....shop size. Now you really make me feel like I can conquer the world in 240 square feet.:D I also met Ray Allen long before I ever even thought about a lathe. My old shop was a block from Woodworkers Source here in Tucson. I had gone to get some supplies and there in the back of a van was an enormous segmented turning. I had no idea what it was made from or how it was made, I was just astounded. This had to be at least 11 or so years ago but I never forgot it. Your work, to me, is not only creative but you also have so much diversity in your styles. You, like Ray Allen, are a great inspiration, thanks again and keep em coming. P.S. let me know when you outgrow your VB 36 too.:D

George Guadiane
10-28-2007, 11:09 AM
Thank you for letting us know even more about you...
I saw your demonstration(s) in Albany, and got a book from you there, I even had a chance to talk to you a bit! I learned a great deal, and found you, as with this interview, interesting and accessible. Your work is pretty much without equal and always interesting... I particularly like the thought that you put into your work and the political/ethical/environmental considerations you often seem to make in creating/defining your work.
Great Interview,

Larry Marley
10-28-2007, 2:57 PM
Hi Malcolm,
The first time I saw one of your creations, I realized that I didn't even know, what I didn't know about Segmented turning.
Your work, your book and other writings and support of the turning world has been an inspiration for me.

Thank you,
Larry Marley

Tom Sherman
10-28-2007, 3:10 PM
A great linterview Malcolm, thanks for taking the time to share a glimpse into your very interesting life. Thanks also for all you do for woodturning in your official capacity with the AAW.

Ed Scolforo
10-28-2007, 4:05 PM
Malcom: Both your work and your philosophy re. life are inspiration to me. I thank you for sharing with us all.

Bernie Weishapl
10-28-2007, 9:21 PM
Malcolm thank you for sharing your beautiful turnings with us and thank you for sharing your interview with us. I have always admired your work. Hopefully when I retire here in a year or two I would like to try segmented turning. It has always peaked my interest.

Jim Becker
10-29-2007, 12:04 AM
Malcolm, thanks for a great interview!

10-29-2007, 9:42 AM
Malcolm, thanks for the interview. I enjoyed it tremendously! I too have been inspired and confounded by your work. Every piece I see from you has me wondering how the heck you do it. You do some wonderful and inspiring work. I hope one day to do segmented work, but until then I have to fulfill my lusts through pictures of your work. Thanks!!!!

Malcolm Tibbetts
10-30-2007, 9:20 AM
Thank you all for the wonderful responses. I've been away from computer access for a few days and just returned to see this posting.

I can also now announce that I've just been informed of my continued election on the AAW board for three more years. Feel free to forward any AAW suggestions, etc to me.

Also, there's one correction in the interview. The "Segmented" Symposium is now scheduled one week later on November 14-16, 2008. Perhaps Andy can make the necessary edit. I mistakenly first scheduled it on the same weekend as SOFA in Chicago.

PS: Hey! Look at that! He made the change to the dates already. :D

Don Orr
10-31-2007, 11:48 AM
For the great interview and insight Malcolm. You are in inspiration to many turners, myself included. It was a pleasure to meet you at Totally Turning a while back in Albany. The stories behind your pieces really add so much to your work. I enjoy them very much.

Thanks for sharing your own story.

BTW-I know where your old grinder ended up and why. :D Very nice of you, I know he uses it often.

Glenn Hodges
11-05-2007, 1:39 PM
Malcom I have enjoyed pictures of your work, now I feel I know you better.

Joe Melton
11-05-2007, 8:17 PM
This was very interesting to me, Malcolm. I was living in South Lake Tahoe in the summer of 1968, and working as a guide on the gondola. The Heavenly Valley ski lodge was just being built at the time, and the guy that owned the gondola lift also owned the ski area and lodge-to-be. He offered me the job of running the lodge when it was finished, and I was tempted but had other commitments that prevented accepting his offer. Implicit in his offer was the hand of his daughter, too, and she was not at all a beauty queen. That was just one of the forks in the road of my life, and perhaps I took the wrong one, as happens so often.
It truly is a beautiful place to live, and your turnings are very inspirational.

Robert McGowen
11-08-2007, 11:19 AM

Thank you for inspiring some of us to do more than they thought that they could do. It is really something to have your book, see you posting on Sawmill Creek, and even returning my e-mails! Thanks again for the interview.

Pete Jordan
11-11-2007, 7:53 AM
Thanks Malcolm!

Great insights. I am going to buy your book even though I do not plan on segmenting.