Featured Artist: Ruth Niles, In Her Own Words. Ruth Niles explains her woodturning history and growth as an entrepreneur.
Full Name: Ruth Niles
Year of Birth: A long, long, long time ago!
Nationality: Polish / Ukrainian
Place of Birth: New Jersey
Where do you currently live? In the middle of beautiful Amish farmlands in central Pennsylvania.
What is, or was, your main job? I had a job in 1971 and 5 years later I knew I was meant to be an entrepreneur and started my first business.
What would be your dream job? Exactly what I’m doing but with a marketing assistant and my own IT guy!
Other than woodturning, do you have any other notable hobbies? I love to garden; vegetables and flowers.
ABOUT YOUR TURNING
Are you a professional turner, hobby turner or something else? I guess I’m a professional turner only because I always had to support myself so whatever I did had to make money. Professional in that I worked for contractors, furniture repairmen and antique dealers doing reproduction turnings.
When did you begin turning, and why? I got my first lathe in 1990, a Craftsman monotube. I always liked working/playing with wood and I love all crafts so I wanted to give it a try. I borrowed a book from the local library, opened it up on the lathe and started to turn. It was “Turning Projects” by Richard Raffan. It was about 2 years before I saw another person turn on the lathe.
Are you a member of a turning club and if so which one? I am a member of the Cumberland Valley Woodturners club in Chambersburg, PA.
Can you share contact details of the club (address, website etc) The club’s website is: www.cumberlandvalleywoodturners.com
Who (or what!) has had the greatest influence on your turning? I think I learned the most from books and my own trial and error. Then over the years, attending club demonstrations and just talking turning with various people. Woodturners love to share how they do things, the best tools and personal techniques.
Who is your favourite woodturner? That would be Richard Raffan and the reason being that I love to turn small, useful items and his earlier books were filled with small projects.
Do you have a favourite artist, in any medium, other than woodturning? That’s a difficult one to answer because I love art; from music to oil painting, from welding to stitchery and my “favourite artist” is whichever one I am reading about, watching work or attending an exhibit of their work.
Do you have any formal training that helps your turning (e.g. Art, Design, Photography, Engineering etc)? I like to tell people “I don’t have a background” when they ask this question. When I think I am interested in learning or doing anything, I read all I can about it and give it a try. Not everything works but I am learning constantly. I do often wish I had taken an art or design course at a community college; it might have saved me a lot of time experimenting and failing!
Do you have any other similar or allied skills? I am an excellent seamstress, even made a living at it. I love to draw; gave myself a 30 day challenge to draw an eye that was as real as possible and did it. I can turn any yard into a beautiful garden; I love playing in the dirt. My 20 year old grandson says “If Grandma’s outside, there’s going to be a garden.” I can sell, I am an entrepreneur, I started 4 different businesses over the years and each succeeded. That’s the only skills I have.
What is the most unusual thing that you have turned? A “sampler” hollow form. I was going to give a demo at my woodturning club on various embellishments on turnings. Rather than make 3 or 4 different items, I divided the hollow form and did a different enhancement in each section. What was done with little artistic thought, rather “I’ll just put stuff on this to show the club members”, turned out to be (in my opinion) the best piece I ever did.
What are your favourite pieces that you have turned? The piece I mentioned above; the sampler hollow form.
A “Fairy Forest” ornament. I made it for a little girl who had a hard time going to sleep, she felt scared. I told her the good fairies would go inside the ornament and stay with her all night.
My coffee scoops. They are replicas of seed scoops that were used over 100 years ago.
What is your favourite ‘sphere’ of turning (e.g. Bowls, Platters, Boxes, Pens, Hollow forms etc)? Small boxes, individual salad bowls, rice bowls and bottle stoppers.
Are there any other woodturners (or artists / crafters etc) in your family? My granddaughter, Sarah, is very artistic and creative.
What has been your biggest disaster? Well, I haven’t had my “biggest” yet ….. not that I’m looking forward to that! The only thing that comes to mind is when I demonstrate for a club, I always feel it’s a disaster because I am too nervous.
ABOUT YOUR WORKSHOP
Is your workshop a dedicated space or shared with other activities (i.e. a garage shared with a car, art studio etc)? I have a wonderful workshop, it is approximately 30’ x 30’ with big windows, double doors in the back and a nice audio system. It’s a metal 3-bay building, 2 of my sons, my grandson and a friend divided it in half, insulated, wired and built my shop in one weekend …. for food and beer!
How many lathes do you own? Two lathes, a General 260 and a Jet Mini.
What is the make and model of your main lathe? That is the General 260.
Have you had any previous lathes? Just the one I started with, the Craftsman monotube that I do wish I had kept.
What is your ‘dream lathe’? I’m quite content with my General. At the woodturning shows, I look at all the new lathes and they are beauties but the General and I get along nicely.
Other than your lathe, what is your favourite tool or machine? I like my Burnmaster for doing pyrography and my dremel for carving and making unique enhancements.
Is your workshop very tidy, a ‘work in progress’ or a disaster zone? If I’m really into working on a project, my workshop is a disaster zone. When I’m done, I would like to say it becomes very tidy but a “work in progress” is a better description.
Do you have a public YouTube channel that you would like to promote? Well now, I would have to say Eddie Castelin, Tom Stratton, Allen Tyler and Carl Jacobson. These all did demonstrations on turning bottle stoppers and using the Joyner off-set jig that I sell. Each is great in their own way which I really like because we all turn projects a little differently.
Do you have any websites that you would like to promote? My website is: www.nilesbottlestoppers.com
What is your favourite drink and snack food whilst in the workshop? I don’t take food nor drinks in the workshop. Not for any purposeful reason, I just don’t.
Coming up in future Featured Turner articles we have, amongst others, Sam Angelo (The Wyoming Woodturner) and the ‘Goblet Master’ himself Mike Waldt.
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