Our business focus feature for March takes us to Harray and the home of new company and Orkney Crafts Association member, Michael Sinclair Woodturner.
As soon as you turn onto the Grimeston road in Harray and follow the newly positioned signs, there is no doubt you’re heading somewhere where wood is a very important commodity.
Howar is a beautiful, timber built house with a small wooden gallery and workshop nestled either side of it. In the garden there are huge chunks of sycamore and trunks of oak and elm, all earmarked for future use.
This is definitely the home of a woodturner.
Michael and Sara Sinclair built the house themselves in 2009 before launching their woodturning business full time in September last year.
‘It all started as a hobby around twenty five years ago,’ said Michael. ‘I was working at sea and usually had plenty of time onshore in-between shifts so I needed something to do in my spare time. I bought myself a cheap lathe and just started trying to make things.’
Those things developed into stunning ornamental bowls, exquisite vases, sculptures, small boxes with threaded lids and lots more, all handcrafted with great skill and creativity.
‘It took a lot of time to get up to speed once I started,’ said Michael. ‘I was self-taught so it was a real learning curve to begin with. Now, though, I find it quite therapeutic. I can come up with different ideas using different kinds of wood and just see what happens. There is no hassle, you just work away and it’s really enjoyable.’
Michael’s workshop is a treasure-trove of tools and equipment with that distinctive, smoky smell of sawdust and cuttings crackling in the wood burner, keeping the shed warm from the early Orkney spring weather. It’s here that Michael works at his latest creation – watching intently as a smooth bowl slowly emerges from a chunk of sycamore sitting on the lathe.
It’s engrossing to see the shape start to appear amid the spray of shavings. Once fully formed, the bowl will be dried and given several coats of oil before a final polish, ready for sale.
What started as a hobby is now a fully functioning business. Michael says it was the natural step. ‘When the house started getting full of wooden bowls we realised we had to do something with them! We began selling a few items and found there was a demand for it. Now we’ve taken the leap we’re hopeful that things will continue to grow.’
Michael and Sara are certainly making sure the business has every chance. A new website has been launched recently and visitors will, for the first time, be able to find the gallery on the Orkney Craft Trail. It’s well worth a stop too – the gallery is small but warm, welcoming and well lit, showcasing the beautifully worked wooden items.
‘Hopefully the craft trail will help bring in some new visitors,’ said Michael. ‘Sara looks after the website and the social media profiles but footfall is important and we’re keen for folk to see the items for themselves. We’re always happy to speak to visitors about what we do too.’
As with many small businesses, teamwork is important. That’s somewhere Michael and Sara excel. When Michael heads into the workshop to create new pieces, Sara manages the commercial side of things and deals with the day to day responsibilities of running a business. It takes discipline and commitment but they’re in it for the long haul, inspired by Orkney’s other expert craftspeople.
‘I think people in Orkney just want to work, they want to create something, to produce things,’ said Michael. We’re all keen to show that we have talent and creativity. You can see it with the jewellery that’s made here, with the Orkney Chair making guys. There is always a market for good produce and with the visitors that come here there is a market, so it’s worth a shot.’
So, with a summer season on the Craft Trail to come, what are the aims for this new Orkney business?
For Michael, it’s simple.
‘Initially we just want to get established and showcase what we can do. Eventually it would be good to be known as the woodturner in Orkney. That would be the best thing.’
Find out more about Michael Sinclair Woodturning from the new website. The gallery is open daily from Easter onwards and you can see some of his work at Ortak in Kirkwall and the Orkney Brewery in Quoyloo.
You can also follow Michael on Facebook and Twitter. The 2016 Orkney Craft Trail will be launched next month – visit the Orkney Crafts Association website for more information on the trail and Orkney’s craft community.