John Lawson

I'm John Lawson, and I'm honored to have been chosen as the featured turner for this month.  I live in Denton, Texas, with my wife Barbara and three cats.  My daughter just left for Princeton Theological Seminary to study to be a Presbyterian minister.

I was born a mere 62 years ago in Brooklyn, NY, and lived there until I was 36 years old.  Got married and moved to New Jersey (the nice part), where I lived for 21 years until my employer said "Texas or no job", so here I am.  I've spent 39 years in IT, mostly as an operations manager in mainframe data centers, despite having earned a BS in Anthropology from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.  (That's a long, boring story.)

I came to turning via an unusual path: chess variants, playing chess on abnormal boards with abnormal pieces.  I always loved turned wooden chess sets, and aspired to make my own pieces for the variants I played.  I talked about learning to turn for years, read books, drew designs, but never took any action until my wife bought me a Sears Craftsman lathe for my birthday in 1989.  Six weeks later I lost my job, and spent nine years working two jobs at once.  So much for turning.  I got a little turning done, but ultimately the lathe fell into disuse and rusted up.  I gave it away to a neighbor when we moved to Texas in 2007, where I continued to fantasize about getting another lathe.

Lo and behold, for Christmas 2009, Barbara bought me a Delta LA200 mini-lathe!  I was already a member of AAW, and joined the Golden Triangle Woodturner's in Denton, Texas.

My main interest is turning chessmen, but other types of small spindle work interest me too.  I'm also working on a couple bowls with a club mentor, but otherwise I am completely self-taught, as is probably clear from my work.  I don't get to turn much because I still work full time, and because my garage is too hot in the Texas summer.

I have several projects I need to complete.   The big one is an angels-and-demons chess set I am designing for my daughter that I will send her piece by piece like a subscription as I complete them, for her to display in her room in seminary.  I have a plan for a special vase for a custom-made glass flower I gave my wife for Valentine's Day.  I want to turn a bunch of Christmas ornaments this fall as gifts.  I have three other designs for chess sets planned out, including a set made like inside-out Christmas ornaments.  I might even try a traditional Staunton set.  I am also intrigued by off-center work, and expect to attend all the off-center rotations at SWAT this year.

Although I have visited many forums, I much prefer WR to the others, which is why I'm always here, and thank you all for your patience with my idiosyncrasies.




This is the first bowl-like object I ever made, from Chuck Beland's ring-bowl write-up.  It's pretty bad, but it worked its magic on my wife, who uses it every day, and became much more willing to sanction turning-related expenditures.  She even suggested last week that we could insulate the garage so I could turn in the summer.


I like to make tools as well.  These are teeny coving tools a la David Reed Smith: 1/8", 3/32", and 1/16".  They work pretty well, but I haven't used them on a real project yet.


The white pieces from the first chess set I completed.  It took about 20 hours, and I learned a lot.  One of the things I learned was that I should have made them larger.


Not every project turns out well, especially if you fail to read the label on the rattle-can lacquer...This was a snowman chess bishop prototype.


My 2011 C&T ornament.  The first Xmas ornament I ever made.  His body has been hollowed (another first for me) and there are bells inside that ring when he's shaken.  My wife liked it so much I made another just like it.  I was not allowed to pack it away with the other ornaments and it still sits on the mantle.


And sometimes (OK, lots of times) whimsy strikes.  This time I made a teenage snowman.  Note his sideways hat.


Snowman Chess! It took lots of planning and about 30 hours to make and I'm rather proud of it.  I learned even more making this, which was turned entirely with a roughing gouge, bedan, and parting tools.


I've done a few kit-based objects.  This is my first pen.  Not too bad if you don't look at it up close.  The one I made for my wife is much better.


These prototypes are pawns made according to a method in an article in Woodturning magazine.  I do not intend making the whole set, I was just familiarizing myself with how the fluting was accomplished.


Styluses for the iPhone and Nook that were Christmas presents.  My daughter uses hers all day, every day.  It is made of century-old chestnut and the irony appeals to her.


I started on this journey over 20 years ago, and I still have these from back then.  These prototypes are quite large and were scraped into submission.


My minimalist turning shop at the back of the garage, containing a Delta LA200 and not much else in the way of tools.  Note the reflector, intended to keep me from bumping the shelf with the finishes on it when parking the car.  Again.