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Turning Wood Into Keepsakes

Nov 27, 2013

by Lisa Butterworth

Have you seen Etsy’s 2013 holiday videos? In each, you get a tantalizing glimpse of the maker behind a one-of-a-kind item. Here on the blog, we’d like to share a bit more about these extraordinary folks. Today we meet A. Pate, who discovered her calling as a woodworker. 

In the middle of Bushwick, a neighborhood east of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, New York, A. Pate represents a new generation of woodworker, turning blocks of rough walnut and maple into beautiful bowls, silky-smooth goblets and gorgeously functional bicycle handlebars for her shop, Pate Woodworks. Pate crafts her objects with a lathe — a machine that rotates the wood while she shapes it using a variety of tools. Chips fly, shavings drop to the floor and, after hours of work, what’s left is a piece as aesthetically impressive as it is useful, that highlights the natural grain of the wood while showcasing an age-old craft.


A. Pate in her workshop.

For Pate, who grew up in a small town in South Carolina, woodturning is something she discovered after studying ceramics and sculpture in art school at Winthrop University. Though she enjoyed shaping clay and creating installations, it wasn’t exactly her cup of tea. “I’ve always been really drawn to wood,” she says. “I’m fascinated by different woods and the properties they can yield.” She decided to follow her love of wood down the path of furniture making at North Bennet Street School, a 125-year-old institution in Boston, Massachusetts, that offers hands-on education in just that sort of craftsmanship. In a serendipitous turn of events, the class she wanted to take was full, so she enrolled in one that still had space available: woodturning. “It was a one-day class and midway through, I called my partner at the time and was like, ‘I think I just found my passion,’” she says. “I loved it immediately.”

For Pate, woodturning was the perfect marriage of her interests, pairing elements of sculpture with her favorite raw material. “I like working with my hands in the way that you do with clay. [Woodturning] is exact, but it’s not as precise as making furniture,” she says. “I’m able to shape the material slowly over time in the way that I can with clay, but I’m using wood, which is a material I truly love.” Where that material comes from can make the finished product even more special. Pate harvested an elm tree from her mother’s farm in South Carolina, turning the wood into several pieces, including a bowl her mom was thrilled to receive. It’s creating those one-of-a-kind pieces that inspires Pate the most. “I really love doing custom work because it’s more challenging,” she says. “And if you achieve what someone’s been envisioning it’s really exciting and satisfying.”

For Pate, woodturning also provides an element of calm — the spin of the lathe, the pace of the shaping, the soothing sounds the process elicits. “It’s really meditative,” she says. “You can relax while you’re doing it, more so than any other form of woodworking that I’ve experienced.” The time Pate takes to turn her treasured timber into works of art (a bowl can take eight hours or more) isn’t spent without appreciation for the long and valued heritage of woodworking. One of her favorite things about her livelihood — she supplements the income of her Etsy shop by taking on freelance building projects and art installations — is the time-honored tradition she’s continuing and the long-standing community she’s become a part of.


“I think woodworking and craft are becoming trendy again, which is good. I support that completely,” she says. “But I also think it’s really important to honor the people that have been doing that, and doing a really awesome job of it, for years, to acknowledge the really awesome woodworkers that came before me.”



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