In Dave Grant’s own words, the wood-turned objects he crafts under the name Turn Turn Turn are made of Australia. They are part of the bush, says the award-winning Gold Coast-based artisan who works with the organic beauty of sustainably sourced timbers.
Dave formed his deep-set appreciation for woodworking when he was young. His career took him in another direction, but making a peppermill at his local woodturners club just over ten years ago set him on his current path; the peppermill is now Turn Turn Turn’s signature product, as seen in restaurants and design stores across eastern Australia.
True to the Japanese philosophy of Wabi Sabi, beauty can be found in the natural imperfections of Dave’s unique creations, where knots, whorls and bark edging tell the story of the woods origin. It’s the antithesis of mass production, resulting in pieces that feel good in the hand and linger with the earthy fragrance of the source material.
Our good mate Dave instantly came to mind when we were dreaming up a beautiful accompaniment to our beeswax candles. We are so proud of the outcome. The Inkwell Candle Holder references the shape of a vintage ink bottle, and the Gumnut Stopper is a nifty object that turns any bottle into a candle stick holder. Handturned by Dave using native timbers, no two pieces are alike.
In the following Q&A, Dave shares his process and the journey of the SWC collaboration.
When did your interest in woodworking begin?
I got my first electric wood tool when I was 12, and I’ve been interested in wood ever since. Let’s keep it real and say Ive been interested in woodworking for over 50 years!
I retired from my previous profession over a decade ago. Long story short, I wound up at the Gold Coast Wood Turning Club to get something made for my mum. After I left, I thought that looked interesting; I might give that a crack. So I went back and became a member. One of the first things I asked my old mentor was how to make a peppermill, and he said, “Not someone else who wants to make another peppermill!”, but I did and I really haven’t looked back. You can make one or two peppermills to give to your wife or other family members, but I kept making them, so I had to start selling them! It’s become a full-time job, despite the fact I am retired.
Where do you work?
I used to commute daily in my old job, which was three hours of my life every day. Now, my commute to work is a walk downstairs. My workshop is underneath the house, where I have rack upon rack of seasoning wood, and bandsaws, lathes, sanding machines and drill presses.
I've probably got about eight cubic metres of wood in my workshop, which is a few big trailer loads waiting to get turned by me. I’d have to have fifty different timber varieties at the moment.
Where do you source your timber?
One of my mottos is we don’t kill trees. I’ve never chopped down a tree in my life, and I don’t intend to. So everything we get is either felled by someone else because the council has wanted to clear land or something like that, or it’s fallen naturally, or farmers ring up and say we’ve had these fence posts in the ground for eighty years, and we’re changing to steel now so you can have the old ones.
That’s the beauty of our story and products – the wood is all reclaimed and all so very different. For instance, we recently drove out to a cattle station called Tickalara in South West Queensland at Cameron Corner, where we heard there were some old Mulga and Gidgee fenceposts. We did two trips out there, and it was a five-day round trip.
I do a lot of driving with a trailer. For fallen trees, I take the chainsaw, slab it up in the field, cart it back and then sit and look at it for years, waiting for it to dry.
If you’ve got a piece of wood that’s four inches thick, which is about the width of your hand laid out flat, each inch of wood takes about a year to air dry naturally. So if it’s four inches thick, it needs four years of drying. You can’t just get a recently felled tree and turn it right away – you have to wait for it to dry and season and sort itself out with cracks and warping. After it’s dried, you can turn it on the lathe.
How do you approach turning a pieces?
I do what I call mood turning – it depends on my mood that day as to how the timber is going to turn out! It’s my hands that make my stuff. I don’t have an apprentice, there’s no one else.
I look at every single piece of wood, and I finesse the best of it and keep a lot of the flaws and features, like cracks, knots, crevices and natural stains, where I can. Most people prefer to see these, and they want to know the underlying history of that wood. It’s very important for me to be able to tell them the story and background of the wood.
What is your favourite timber to work with?
Hands down, Huon Pine from Tasmania. It’s lovely to turn because its soft. It’s been used throughout the last couple of hundred years in Australia for boat building because of its massive oil content, which makes its waterproofing really good. And it is beautiful to work with because, like cedar, it’s soft but strong.
It’s all reclaimed from underwater in Tasmania. They go out with dredges and barges onto the rivers and coast and bring it back to shore. I’d love to get my hands on some more Huon. It can be up to 14,000 years old, and that’s a marvellous thing.
I also really favour turning Australian-grown reclaimed farm fence posts of Eucalypt woods, from which I turned the Southern Wild Co Inkwell and Gumnut Stopper.
How did the collaboration between you and Tania of Southern Wild Co begin?
My daughter is a mate of Tani’s and, together with photographer, Michael Lassman, they’ve helped me greatly to get my business going. I am very happy to reciprocate for Tani to realise her vision. It was a collaboration in creativity, if that’s not too much alliteration for you!
Tell us about the beautiful outcome.
The Inkwell candle holders are Australian Eucalypt timbers from reclaimed farm fence posts, hand-tuned by me, finished in beeswax or ebonised. Each one is a little bit different.
The candle holder inserts are made of solid machined brass, and sourced from Brisbane, Qld. We wanted them to be pure and solid in every way, just like the wood.
Did you encounter any design challenges?
When we designed the Gumnut Stopper, we had to take into account the number of wine and spirit bottles with different throat diameters.
If you put a cork in a bottle top, there is room for expansion and contraction, but if you put in a solid piece of wood, it’s rigid and won’t change in size. I played around with rubber o rings on the stem, but we worked out that if the stem going into the bottle throat was long enough, it would make it stable. Plus, the sphere on the top kisses the bottle opening and keeps it nice and steady.
I also do spheres on top of some of my peppermills, turning them by hand and eye. I don’t measure anything or use a jig, I just turn it. My years of experience in woodturning, making different shapes, and solving problems have all come into play in producing the Inkwell and Gumnut Stopper.