Woodturning with Roper

by Paul Weiner

Michael Roper is a woodturner working Denver, Colorado and while teaching at Red Rocks Community College. His woodworking involves the creation of many vessels, many of which are hollow forms. Roper has worked with wood as a carpenter and woodturner for over twenty years. Roper’s wood pieces can also be found for sale on his website at http://www.roperwoodturning.com/.

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Ants Marching; ambrosia maple hollow form, 7″ x 4″


Paul Weiner:
How did you first get involved in woodturning?

Michael Roper:
I started woodturning in August of 2007, when I started taking classes at the Red Rocks Community College school of Fine Woodworking. After being a carpenter for almost twenty years, I decided I wanted to be a furniture maker. In the process of making furniture, I found that I like making the parts more then the whole project. Woodturning is very quick, and fits my personality perfectly.

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My Arborist Sneezed; box elder burl, 12″ x 10″

Paul Weiner:
What is your favorite kind of object to make?

Michael Roper:
My favorite things to make on the lathe are hollow form vessels, which is basically a vase or any form where the opening is smaller than the vessel. It takes years of practice to safely remove the wood inside of a form without going through the wall. My latest venture in hollow form turnings are my multi-axis hollow forms. This turning is done on two different axes so that the mouth of the vessel is not in the center of the top.

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Madrone Multi-Axis Hollow Form; madrone burl, 3″ x 3″

Paul Weiner:
Tell us a little about the physical process for starting your woodturning pieces.

Michael Roper:
I like to find pieces of wood that speak to me. What I mean by this is that I look for special pieces of wood that include burl, highly figured, curly, and crotch woods. These particular cuts hold the highest value and produce stunning character. I work with local Front Range arborists to get the pieces I am looking for, which is nice because I get to handle the pieces from the time they come down off of the tree all the way to the finished piece.

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spalted mango, 5″ x 5″

Paul Weiner:
Do you consider yourself a craftsman, fine artist, or somewhere in between?

Michael Roper:
Labels are a hard thing for me. When people ask what I do, I usually tell them I make stuff. Woodturning is my main focus right now, but seven years ago, it was making furniture, and five years before that, it was building homes. I don’t know what I will be doing in the next five years. I have recently started taking pictures, and I am really enjoying photography, but I would also like to explore ceramics at some point.

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Natural Edge Flamed Box Elder Burl Goblet with a Cocobolo Stem; box elder burl and cocobolo, 17″ x 5″

Paul Weiner:
What is your favorite type of wood to work with?

Michael Roper:
My favorite wood to work with is box elder burl. It grows locally on the Colorado Front Range. It has spectacularly tight grain, and sometimes you can find pieces with red streaks called Flaming. The difference in the colors between the flame and the creamy white of the burl make for some amazing looking pieces.

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Picasso Never Did That; bonsai root burl, rosewood, flamed boxelder burl, and spalted pashaco.

Paul Weiner:
What is the best part of teaching woodturning?

Michael Roper:
The best part of teaching woodturning is the look on a student’s face when everything clicks and comes together for that perfect cut. Woodturning is not as easy as it looks. There are a lot of things you need to know to get the perfect cut. Tool rest height, tool angle, and wood speed all play a big part in making a perfect cut, and it takes many hours in front of a lathe to learn and understand these things.

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flamed box elder burl, 1.75″x 1.75″

Paul Weiner:
It’s great to hear that you’re working in a variety of media. What have you been focusing on with your photography?

Michael Roper:
I started learning about photography because I didn’t like the way other people shot my woodturnings. The pictures would come out overexposed or blurry, and that just didn’t work. So I did the trial and error method for a long time. Then I decided it was time to take photography more seriously, so I took a few classes at the Denver School of Photography, and it was the best thing I could have done. They helped me to understand my camera, which helped me to take much better shots. All the shots on my website were taken by me.

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Volcanic; walnut vessel on a carved lindon base

Paul Weiner:
Do you have a preference for working with local materials?

Michael Roper:
I wouldn’t say I have a preference for local woods, but, as an environmentalist, I like using woods that would otherwise be thrown out or ground up for mulch. Most people don’t realize how diverse the forest is on the Front Range. When people think of Colorado trees, they mostly think of pine trees and aspens. Really, there are many more like walnuts, elms, sycamores, box elders, and russian olives just to mention a few. I do love working with exotic woods when I can find them.

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Life After Death; champion cottonwood natural edge vessel, 7″ x 7″

Paul Weiner:
Do you consider your woodturning creations to be decorative?

Michael Roper:
I do both functional and decorative work. My bowls are both beautiful and functional for salad or candy and nuts depending on the size. Being an amateur writer, I also turn a lot of pens. I like the feel of a fine writing instrument in my hand when I’m writing stories or descriptions of my work. Now, my hollow form vessels are decorative art pieces. They are not that functional, but they add an element of wood to any room they are in.

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Aliens Landing; front range ash hollow form sandblasted and painted, 7″x 7″


Please view Michael Roper’s work on his website and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

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