Adaptive Thinking: Lathe-Turned Polymer

Adaptive Thinking:  Lathe-Turned Polymer
Michael Mode, “Ode to Maracanda 1996,” turned vessel, 6″ Diameter Honduras Rosewood, Box Elder, Ebony

Polymer artists, Steven Ford and David Forlano have continually considered the “what if?” factor of polymer.  From early on they looked at how other craft techniques might be adapted to polymer.  In particular, Steven’s interest in exploring these possibilities created a viable back and forth of ideas.   His outreach to other craft artists, helped to educated them about the versatility of the medium.

While teaching at the Arrowmont School in 1995, Steven Ford found that polymer could be turned on a lathe.  


Mode 95 Lathe Bead

After conducting some tests, under-cured polymer was determined to provide a better texture for cutting.   Color composition and layers could be varied at will within the prepared polymer cylinders.   Wondering about the potential for “grain”, Steven made one test rod that included concentric layers, one with a twisted effect and one in which the polymer was stacked perpendicular to the length.


Mode 95 Turned Pen

The physical act of turning the polymer cylinder on a lathe was accomplished by master wood turner, Michael Mode.   He experimented to see what the material would do and how far he could push it.  To everyone’s amazement, the rods were strong enough and did not shatter.  Michael was able to cut fine edges and lips into the polymer, but aside from patterns related to color variations, there was no grain.   Once turned, the polymer was re-cured and then checked for any distortion.  There was none.

This kind of investigation became a guiding intention of the 1997 National Polymer Clay Guild conference held at Arrowmont.   “Making History:  Pushing the Craft of Polymer Clay” focused participants’ attention
towards the adaptation of techniques from other crafts to polymer.

Grant Diffendaffer, 3 Bead and Necklace*, 2007, 18" long

Grant Diffendaffer, 3 Bead and Necklace*
Grant Diffendaffer, 3 Bead and Necklace*, 2007, 18″ long extruded, twisted, carved, antiques and lathe-turned polymer beads

A decade later, Grant Diffendaffer adapted the idea of lathe-turned polymer and created numerous variations of turned polymer beads*.  He wrote about these in his book Polymer Clay Beads: Techniques, Projects, Inspirations.

*Examples from Polymer Clay Beads, Diffendaffer, 2007, pp. 70 and 73

I cannot remember a time in my life that I wasn't interested in looking at art, talking about art and the making of art. In 1990 I earned a Phd in art history at the University of Maryland. My first experiences with polymer clay were in 1992, but I consider my real work with the medium to date from 1999.