PRATT — What started out as a piece of red padauk wood from Africa and a sea urchin shell from Florida turned into a delicate Christmas ornament in the hands of Medicine Lodge wood-turner Mike Rutan recently at the Vernon Filley Art Museum in Pratt.
Rutan, a self-taught artist, learned his craft starting with a lathe in his dad's shop. At 14, he split the cost of a Rockwell lathe with his dad, which he still uses today. His first project was a pair of candlesticks that he gave to his mother for Christmas. Besides shaping wood on the lathe, Rutan also uses sandpaper and applies stains on the lathe.
Over the years, he took on other types of projects, including bowls and pens he makes with his son.
Rutan told Lunch and Learn session participants at the museum that padauk is a hard wood and the trees can be 100-feet tall and 2-feet wide in Africa.
"I prefer to use hard woods for all my projects," he said. "But if I have my choice, I'll turn green wood every time," Rutan said.
For his ornaments, Rutan uses sea urchins he gets from a supplier from Florida. He has to be careful handling the shells because they are delicate. He uses calipers to measure the diameter of both ends of urchin to make sure his wood-turning is just the right size to fit the urchin.
Rutan turns the wood on a lathe using a variety of tools for each specific part of the turning process. He does a lot of measuring on all his projects to make sure he doesn't take off too much material.
"It's always better to start big and work your way down. There's no putting it back on," Rutan said.
Tiny dowel rods were required to put the Christmas ornament project together on Friday.
"I know what (tools) works for me," Rutan said.
He said he is always refining his work and experimenting with different types of wood, moisture content and thicknesses adding carvings, dyes and turquoise. He has used a wood burner to get the exact effect he wants on his projects.
Some of Rutan's turnings and specialized Christmas ornaments are now available in the gift shop at the Vernon Filley Art Museum in Pratt.