Here are a few reasons why you might consider buying a handcrafted gift from No Skew Turns. Click to read the answers.
Each piece that I create is unique. First, because every piece of wood, even from the same log or branch, is subtly different. Second, because every item is turned free-hand. This means that two items may be very similar, like a salt and pepper shaker, but they won't be identical. Third, I look for unusual figure or color or other unique characteristics of each block of wood, and try to display these to their best advantage in each item.
As you browse through my shop, you will see that I strive for a high standard of workmanship and aesthetic quality. I want to look at a finished piece and say "That's nice!" For items like ice cream scoops or bottle stoppers, I buy hardware that I feel has good design and is well-made. Then I take care to select and shape the wood to complement the hardware.
If your definition of recycled includes materials salvaged, scavenged, or diverted from firewood or the landfill, then you've come to the right place! About 90% of the wood I use fits those categories, and much of it I gathered myself. This includes cascara, alder, and bigleaf maple from trees damaged in The Great January 2004 Ice Storm, apple, beech, and plum salvaged from an old home orchard that was being cut down, and myrtlewood and olive from dead lawn trees.
Some of the mesquite I have came from a neighbor's firewood pile, and some I rescued from a tree-trimming crew who would have chipped it for mulch. I even have some truly recycled construction timbers from Indonesia. And woodturners are really great about swapping their excess wood with each other at club meetings. They are the only woodworkers I know who prefer to harvest and saw up their own raw material, and who think a dead maple tree six months down in the woods is a treasure!
If you want something that will remind the recipient often of your thoughtfulness, check out the kitchen or tableware items. For example, if the recipient is into wine or beer, there are bottle openers and bottle stoppers. The brass ice cream scoops are both very handsome and very practical, and a definite cut above plastic-and-steel. A matching set of salt-and-pepper shakers could be used daily, or might be just a special occasion reminder.
It can really be hard to find an appropriate gift item for the office environment, when you do not know very much about the likes and dislikes of the intended recipient. Boxes are fairly neutral items, as are paper clip holders or small candy dishes.
If you are lucky enough to draw the name of someone you know well, you might consider the bottle stoppers or openers, if either are appropriate.
You don't need to choose between the two! I make it a point to select beautiful and unusual pieces of wood for even the most practical items here, like bottle openers or ice cream scoops. Salt-and-pepper shakers are very practical, too, but there is no reason why they can't also be aesthetically pleasing, especially since they are always in view on the table.
The finishes I use include Danish oil, shellac, carnauba wax, beeswax, and/or Renaissance™ wax, and on a very few items, walnut oil.
Danish oil (a generic term for a mixture of linseed oil, varnish, and mineral spirits) is considered non-toxic once the solvents have evaporated and the finish has cured hard. Shellac is actually used as a coating on some fruits and vegetables. Carnauba wax is a vegetable product made from the leaves of the carnauba palm, and beeswax is sold in comb form with honey in it. Walnut oil is also sold as a salad oil, although the product marketed as a wood finish is refined differently so that it will harden on the wood and not go rancid.
Although the MSDS for Renaissance™ wax lists it as being somewhat toxic, this applies to the product in the can and is due to the solvent that is used. The wax itself is basically a microcrystalline hydrocarbon product, in the same general class as good old paraffin. Once the solvent has flashed off, which is almost immediately after application, the wax poses no problems. It provides a harder finish than carnauba, and is even more resistant to fingerprints.
So the short answer to your question is "Yes. The finishes on the items I sell are non-toxic."
There are a number of occasions during the year where small gifts are great options. Most of the items I offer would be quite suitable both size- and budget-wise. However, if you need something that you can slip into a sock or a pocket, may I suggest a bottle stopper, a weedpot, or one of my smaller boxes?
A collection can be defined several ways. For example, you can concentrate on buying a certain type of item (like pens), or a particular size range (miniatures), a particular wood or wood figure (all burls, for instance), or even a particular artist. (This last category is of course the most limiting.)
Pens and bottle stoppers are widely collected. There are a number of turners specializing in creating these items, and the variety of shapes, styles, and materials is extensive. They are also small so you do not need a lot of room. You can now buy display stands and cases made specifically for these items.
Another category would be turned wooden boxes. Here, you get to consider additional variables of size and threaded-or-unthreaded tops. Turned boxes are often decorated with cabochons or other inlays. More expensive examples would include those with Rose Engine designs or other ornamental lathe work applied to them.
Weedpots (aka twig pots), are similar to boxes in that they come in a range of sizes. They are probably my favorite artistic form. They do not seem to be as widely collected as pens or stoppers, but that simply means your collection would be more unique!
All of these items are available in a wide range of prices, as well, so you can start small, as it were, and still amass a very nice selection of pieces. Along the way you will learn about various woods and finishes, and you will refine your aesthetic sense to become more aware of form, design, balance, workmanship, and all of the other subtle qualities that characterize certain woodturnings as valuable collectibles.
As your buying power and knowledge increase, you can stay with your chosen category, or branch out to larger bowls, vases, hollow vessels, segmented turnings, and sculptural pieces, confident that you can identify truly artistic work. The field of turned wood has been expanding and gaining recognition as a serious art form for many years now, and it is truly amazing what can be made while using a lathe at some point in the process.
For a look at some current work in the field, check out the World of Woodturners (see Links of Interest) and click to view the public gallery pages.