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Dustin Coates: A New England Treasure

Dustin Coates

Dustin Coates and Edwards Smith in Dustin's shop

A finished bowl by Dustin Coates

As the mind becomes less rigidly bound, it goes beyond the shop and your own projects and wonders what it is like in other wood turner’s shops. Working in isolation is satisfying but always in the back of your mind are a few nagging questions. Has some one else done this before and done it better or easier? Could I save some time by not re-inventing the wheel myself? How do others express their creativity? With these thoughts in mind I wish to share my experiences with another woodworker.

I first met Dustin Coates over Christmas holiday in December, 2007. My daughter, who lives in Etna, New Hampshire sent me an article from the local paper in Hanover which did a feature article on him. Knowing of my interest in wood turning and my planned holiday visit she thought I might be interested.

The front of Dustin Coates' studio

Was I ever! The picture showed a pick up truck at Dustin’s shop, which is just two miles up the road from where my daughter lived. On this truck was a piece of burl which was so big that they had to hitch a tractor to it to pull it off the bed of the truck. This was more than enough to whet my interest.

I wasn’t sure what I would encounter driving up to his shop unannounced. As I pulled in, my eye fell on the most marvelous assortment of logs, burls, pieces of equipment and other objects, peeking out of the rapidly melting snow.

A large burl in front of Dustin's shop

There was no one in his little studio but my eye immediately fell on row after row of beautiful burl wood bowls. Clearly I was dealing with someone with a refined eye and sensitivity to wood which I shared.

Back outside I encountered Dustin, a huge ox of a man with a gentle, wispy, full-faced beard and dancing blue eyes set in a very kind face. When he smiled, which was often, his whole face lit up with pleasure. I explained that I had read the article in the paper about him and that my daughter lived just down the road. I mentioned that I was a wood turner as well and would be interested in seeing his shop. Here I was, a perfect stranger, interfering with a working man.

Dustin Coates in his shop

If he minded, Dustin did not let on as he took me around his shop. The piles of wood in the yard were in seeming disarray but as he showed me around, it was clear that he knew where every piece came from, a story about the wood, and an intended purpose for all of it. He spoke in loving terms about a 150 year old gigantic walnut limb or a burl he bought from one of his many lumberman contacts. To the casual observer, the wood lot was chaos but in Dustin’s mind it was as orderly as it could be.

If the lot was impressive, I was not prepared for what I saw inside his workshop. In room after room there were rough turned bowl blanks stacked from floor to ceiling. In some areas we were walking on them. These were newly turned green blanks which had been buried under wood shavings to slow the rate at which they dried, in order to prevent cracking.

Rough turned bowls in Dustin Coates' shop /></p>
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One of Dustin Coates' lathes

Bowl blanks awaiting work in Dustin Coates' shop

Bowl blanks and wood shavings from Dustin Coates

There was just enough room to get to the various lathes. Some of the lathes were quite old but they were still very functional and much sturdier than many modern machines.

multiple rough turned bowls cored from a single blank

I noticed nests of rough turned bowls where many bowls had been cored from a single blank. This was a technique I had not yet mastered. To make a fifteen inch bowl I would reduce the insides to sawdust.

I mentioned to him that I was interested in learning how to core bowl blanks and could see that he had certainly mastered the techniques. When you work with burl, you are working with expensive material and need to maximize the use of the precious resource.

Dustin Coates at the lathe

I asked about the tools he used for this purpose. His response was: “Here, I will show you how to do it.” With this he picked up a round chunk of wood, mounted it on his antique lathe, installed the coring device and before my very eyes in less than five minutes produced a perfectly cored bowl blank with the center of the blank preserved to core yet another bowl blank.

It looked so easy that I got him to give me details on what tools to order. His advice was very practical and he saved me from purchasing inferior tools and from getting more tools than I needed for the job I needed to do.

Now I have cored over one hundred blanks myself. I made trips to his shop that summer to pick up pointers on the finer aspects of coring. These he gave as freely as he did his time.

For a slow learner like myself, listening to Dustin is a bit like trying to get a drink of water from a fire hose. He has so much imagination and so many ideas packed in that head of his that they come rushing out at a prodigious rate. I just wish I could remember a third of the tips and ideas he shared with me.

Dustin Coates gives me piece of wood

Days spent with Dustin are always too short, and he never seems to be in a hurry to see me go. It is when I leave that his generous nature begins to come into full force. The first time I left, he innocently asked me if I had any use for a piece of crotch butternut wood.

Now, butternut is not a native species where I live in Maryland so I gladly accepted. When we went to the log, it was huge. It was so big, in fact, that it took both Dustin and another burly wood cutter to pick it up and place it in my Honda, where it completely filled the trunk.

The front of Dustin Coates' studio

Each time I visit it is always the same ritual. This summer it was another large butternut log, end pieces of beautiful burl woods and some buckthorn. Last time it was honey locust logs, more burl scrap pieces and some lilac wood.

Who, but Dustin Coates would have lilac wood? I’m talking about the woody stem of the flowering lilac bush. The insides of this wood were a beautiful reddish purple color. When I made pins out of them and applied friction with sanding, the aroma was very heavenly.

The front of Dustin Coates' studio

So, if you ever find yourself in Hanover, New Hampshire, take a trip down Trescott Road to visit Dustin in his shop and studio. Or drop him a line at 5 Trescott Road, Etna, New Hampshire 03750. Dustin is too busy turning to bother with computers, but he may answer the phone at (603) 643-3499 when he is not in the shop. If you are anything like me, you will find it an unforgettable experience and you may come away with one of his beautiful, burl bowls to treasure for a life time. He is truly a New England Treasure.

Photos by my son, Todd Smith. Prints are available for sale on his website.

{ 9 comments… add one }
  • aggie November 18, 2008, 3:17 pm

    love your work.. do you do any like turquoise or teal inlays????

  • Edwards Smith November 19, 2008, 7:56 am

    Thanks for your comments, Aggie. To get color in defects I use a product called Inlace. I get mine from Craft Supplies in Colorado. It is a two part resin with the colored material in one of the parts. It is similar to Bondo which is used to repair car dents. It machines well. However, I try not to put the resin much above the surface to be repaired as it tends to chip and fracture if the gouge trys to remove too much material in one pass. It will sand well and take any kind of finish.

    Another caution and that is to use a respirator when using the material. The solvent is potent and not so good for health. Your respirator should have a cartridge for chemical solvents. I tend to do my patches the last thing in the day and then leave the shop and allow the air to clear overnight. As soon as you use it you will notice that your shop smells like an auto body repair shop.

    Being a retired medical man I am very health conscious. Dust and fumes are not good for the lungs and I always wear a respirator for dust when I am in the shop and I put on the chemical cartridge when I work with solvents.

    Another solution is to use epoxy mixed with fine wood dust from your sanding. One worker I spoke to at a craft show referred to this wood dust as “maple flour.” To this you can add colored pigments of any variety. Use a spatula to push the mixture into the defect and allow to dry. You may need more than one application but the sky is the limit as to colors you can achieve.

  • Steve Headrick February 7, 2009, 8:04 pm

    I just read your article about Dustin Coates with the pictures by your son, Todd Smith. I found your article while searching for bowl coring tools. I have only been turning for about a year. I recently received some large pieces of black walnut, maple and hickory. I want to make bowls out of these and I do not want to waste the core in shavings. Can you tell me the tools you learned to use for coring and how can I get them or make them. Thank you for any help.
    Steve Headrick

  • Christopher F. Holland November 23, 2009, 9:03 am

    Dustin is really a charming piece f wrk. As you say, he’s got tips, how-tos and advice galore – if you can remember it! But an hour with Dustin is worth a day with another turner.

    Chris

    Nantucket, MA

  • Christopher F. Holland November 23, 2009, 9:05 am

    Dustin is really a charming piece of work. As you say, he’s got tips, how-tos and advice galore – if you can remember it! But an hour with Dustin is worth a day with another turner.

    Chris

    Nantucket, MA

  • Edwards Smith November 23, 2009, 12:16 pm

    Dear Chris:

    Thanks for your comment about Dustin Coates. I am glad to hear of someone who appreciates his skills and personality as I do. He is very much self directed and that is something that appeals to me.

    Edwards

  • JEFF SMITH March 10, 2011, 7:17 pm

    Went to high school w dusty friend
    Dusty your old old friend JEFF from high school
    Glad to see you are doing well.
    I am in NORTH CAROLINA driving ” big” rigs

  • Deb October 14, 2011, 1:38 pm

    Hello!
    The link to your son Todd Smith doesn’t appear to be working. I am interested in requesting permission to use one or two of his photos of Dustin for his up and coming website. Yes, you heard it correctly, a website! I’m in the process of designing his site and I think the top picture of him captures his smiling personality just about perfectly.
    Thank you.
    Deb Shinnlinger

  • linda conlon April 11, 2014, 8:13 am

    Hi Dustin, Love your work. Can you tell me what a round piece of darthmouth elm with with a protruding 2 inch leg is that you made/ I can send a pic if you like. I found it in our local thrift store. It is beautiful. Thanks, Linda Conlon

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