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Artist Profile: Tim Mehling

Woodturner Tim Mehling Teams Up With Mother Nature 

By Ellen Samsell Salas

Tim Mehling says he likes working with plain, “round and brown,” unembellished, domestic woods. From both cabinet-grade and harvest woods, he fashions bowls, platters, cutting boards, vases, birdhouses, and urns that are both useful and visually pleasing. 

When introduced to woodturning by a neighbor, Mehling quickly discovered how peaceful it is. 

“When turning, you move with your whole body,” he said. “We call that ‘the dance.’ It’s nice, it’s quiet, you have more control, and you get a cleaner cut.” 

Often, Mehling uses walnut, ash, maple, and flaming box elder. Sometimes, he turns to ambrosia maple that has been enhanced by the trails left by invading beetles. For other pieces, he likes flaming box elder’s magenta streaks that contrast with its white wood. 

Using a variable speed lathe, Mehling begins turning with an idea in mind. As he works, he controls the speed based on what the wood is telling him. Watching, he is careful not to turn away grain or the chatoyancy that causes waves of light to be reflected off the piece. He also listens, hearing knots and inclusions before they cause damage. 

“You’re going to hear what the wood wants before you see it,” he explained. “You’re listening, you’re cutting, and you keep hearing. It’s not really cutting the way it should. The wood tells you, ‘We’re not going to do that today.’” 

The beauty of Mehling’s work is multifaceted. A piece might catch a viewer’s eye by its color, grain, chevron design, and/or sheen. Designing segmented pieces composed in patterns, Mehling combines different woods to contrast colors and grains. An intricate piece may include as many as 124 precisely turned pieces that Mehling assembles, glues, and finishes. 

“Forming the shape is only half of the process,” he said. “Finishing might demand the same time and attention.” 

Mehling uses shellac, lacquer, or polyurethane to add shine that entices but does not overpower the piece’s form and color. 

Once a piece has caught a viewer’s attention, Mehling says it is crucial for the person to hold it in their hands. 

“You see it, and you want to pick it up. Most of what we do, it’s the shape and the feel,” Mehling said. “The most important thing is that it fits your hand. You can do large bowls, but they need a lip that is curved, so that fingers fit under the lip.” 

With help from Mother Nature, Mehling’s art adds beauty to dining room tables, mantles, and bookshelves. 

“You have a branch or a log, and all of a sudden, you have this beautiful grain,” he said. 

Thankful to his mentors and fellow woodworkers for sharing their knowledge and skills, Mehling enjoys not only creating but also teaching others the art of woodworking. He especially likes starting with only a vision, and when it’s done, “knowing that you did it — nobody else.” 

To see more of Mehling’s woodworking projects, follow his Instagram page @tpm_woodturning.