Art for art’s sake - Bill Hunt, woodturning artist

Bill Hunt knows how to turn wood into art.

His day job is working for Parks Canada but his woodturning business is called Riverduck Designs.

“As an artist, I primarily do woodturning mixed in with a bit of metal work and other forms of woodworking,” Hunt said.
He has worked with wood all of his life.

“My family built a log cabin north of Hinton when we were young, so I’ve always been around and involved in making things by hand,” Hunt said. “Growing up, my parents always made stuff that a lot of other people would just go buy, so we were always learning new skills. Examples include things like building canoes, kayaks, paddles, mukluks, gaiters, backpacks, sleeping bags, sleds and much more. My mom was always very artistically talented doing drawing, knitting, painting, sewing, and pottery and she always encouraged me and my siblings to give it a go and try our hand at new things.”

His interest in turning wood began in 1996 when he acquired an old second-hand lathe, he said.

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“At that time, woodturning was much less popular and there were very few books or videos available, so it was a lot of trial and error,” Hunt said. “It’s quite exciting when you make mistakes on a lathe. Things tend to blow up, quickly and often loudly, and parts go flying in all directions. Wood turners refer to that as having a “catch”. It means the tool caught the wood at the wrong angle.”

He makes a range of objects including urns, vases, wedding goblets, salad, fruit and nut bowls, salad tongs, rolling pins, tooth fairy dishes and round lidded boxes to name a few.

“I have a huge VICMARC woodturning lathe, manufactured in Australia. It weighs about 800 pounds, is electronic variable speed and spins smooth as silk. And is absolutely bombers! I also use a variety of chainsaws for harvesting and milling lumber as well as a huge band saw for rounding out bowl blanks,” Hunt said. “For health and safety, I have a complete dust collection system and an air compressor for removing shavings from hollow forms and operating pneumatic sanders.”

There are endless specialty tools for woodturning, he said.

“These include dozens of differently shaped bowl and spindle gouges, skew chisels, as well as various different chucks and even vacuum-chucks for holding the wood onto the lathe,” Hunt said. “Specialty coring and hollowing tools are also required for hollow shapes such as vases and urns.”

He prefers working in hardwoods, he said.

“I also salvage a lot of my wood from various places in B.C.,” Hunt said. “Cherry and Yew are my absolute favorite as they turn like butter; maple and ash turn very nicely and often have terrific grain patterns. Walnut is gorgeous and finishes like glass. I never pass up any sort of crotch wood (where the tree has forked under tension) or burls are always very interesting grain. John from Alpine Precision Tree Service has kindly brought me some really interesting bits of wood that would otherwise be headed to the burn pile! I think those of us that work with wood are always keen to see nice wood repurposed or renewed into something once-again-wonderful, so I’m always quite excited when friends bring me an interesting piece of wood, the bigger the better!”
Hunt is mostly self taught, but has also had classes with international master turners like Australia’s Richard Raffan, and Michael Hosaluk from Saskatchewan.
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Hunt started with Parks Canada in 1989 in Jasper working as a backcountry warden in the Tonquin Valley.

“I’ve worked in Jasper, Banff, Yoho, Kootenay, Haida Gwaii, Calgary and the National Office in Gatineau,” Hunt said. “For just over a decade, I’ve been the Resource Conservation Manager for the Banff Field Unit, where my team manages the various ecosystem-based programs such as Aquatics, Fire & Vegetation, Wildlife and Ecological Monitoring as well as Public Safety (Search and Rescue), Emergency Dispatch, and the Equine Program in Banff and at the Ya Ha Tinda Ranch.”
Hunt’s wife Laura is a teacher in the Bow Valley, and his youngest son Thomas is an apprenticing mechanic working at Highwood Heavy Duty in Deadmans Flats. His oldest son Andrew, passed away in 2012 from bone cancer, he said.

“My life-long aspiration as an artist in the Bow Valley is to establish an ‘Industrial ArtsPlace’ here in the Bow Valley where a diverse group of 3-dimensional artists, (woodworkers, metal artists, glassblowers, potters, etc.) can come together in a shared or linked workspace to collaborate, teach lessons, share experiences, display and sell their work,” Hunt said.

You can view his woodwork on his old website via a Google search for Bill Hunt/Canmore or Riverduck Designs and contact him to see his work in person. His new website will be at be www.riverduckdesigns.com once it is built.

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