Turning wood: Picton’s Finefolk Furniture

(Karen Bell/For the Gazette)


“I see craft as community and a more healthy approach to consumption.”

Katrina Tompkins is the maker behind Finefolk Furniture. Her simple, elegant and highly functional furniture designs inspired by early Canadian, Mennonite and Shaker furniture styles are made in her workshop in Picton from locally sourced woods. When we meet she’s just come back from participating in ‘Making a Seat at the Table, Women Transform Woodworking’ at the Centre For Art In Wood in Philadelphia.

Today, she’s showing me how to turn wood on a lathe but before we even get near it, I’m outfitted in safety gear while being told real workshop horror stories. We’re talking death-by-lathe, people. Not kidding.

After a demonstration and with the lathe spinning a piece of poplar at 700 rpm, she allows me to take the chisel and start turning the wood ‘into the round.’

“Keep it moving. Keep one hand on the toolrest. Keep the chisel at the right angle. Look at the top line of the wood as it turns as a guide.” Woodchips are flying and it looks magnificent while it’s spinning. I am elated. But when we turn the lathe off, I’ve a bit of a bumpy mass. It’s not easy.

Tompkins studied at Sheridan College and apprenticed with some of Canada’s best furniture makers to hone her craft and eye. “Look at this model of a spindle bed I’m making for a customer.” It’s a simple design, square posts with a high headboard of long, turned spindles. But then you look a little closer. “The spindles are set at an angle, so it’s comfortable to sit up in bed and read or work, so it’s functional too.” In the full-scale bed there are 22 turned spindles; each take about an hour to make. In all, it’ll take her 60 hours to finish.

Back at the lathe, we’ve managed to get the poplar ‘into the round,’ and now we’re adding detail. We use different chisels to carve curves and channels – not so much to ‘design’, more an opportunity for me to feel how each tool engages with the wood. It’s very physical – your stance, posture, arm position and above all, concentration are required.

My piece isn’t ‘pretty.’ Katrina bore a hole in the top so now, to my partner’s horror, it sits on the mantle with a candle in it.

“All the craft skills are in danger of being lost, because with advancements in technology there’s a change in appreciation of those values. It takes someone with those values to appreciate something that’s handmade and not mass produced.” That’s why Katrina is introducing workshops, because as she says, not everyone can afford to buy a handmade chair, but they can find value in the craft. “It’s equally rewarding to give people the skills to explore their own creativity and leave with a better understanding of how things are made and of their own body – there’s such a body connection with making.”

Visit finefolk.ca.