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  • Writer's pictureNiyati Shah

Wood Turning Craft of Varanasi

Wood is universally beautiful to man. It is the most humanly intimate of all materials.

Frank Lloyd Wright

Wooden handicrafts have an appeal of their own. The transformation of a large log into a beautiful eye-catching product is exquisite to watch. Hand carving and turning make this process intimate and emotional. The expert hands of artisans chisel, turn and shape wood into unimaginable articles and toys with impeccable accuracy.

Wood turning is a process practiced on a lathe with hand-held tools to achieve desired shape and size. Similar to a pottery wheel, the lathe rotates on a horizontal axis to turn wood into various designs. In Banaras, artisans use lathes which are customized to their need. On a single lathe, they adjust logs of different sizes, ranging from small to large. On these customized lathes, the artisans can also regulate speed according to their requirement. A lathe is used for multiple purposes such as drilling, sanding, lacquering and turning. In a small workshop, as many as 4-5 lathes may be installed for rapid production.

Wood turning is widely used to achieve circular, spherical or curvy forms and designs. It is also useful in creating acupressure surfaces. The process of wood turning is followed by sanding and lacquering. Sanding gives a finished look to the wooden surface. Lacquering follows this step to give the product a colorful and shiny look. Lacquer is obtained from a natural resin, making it an organic substance. Lacquer can be found in various colors, made using natural substances such as turmeric for yellow, Kumkum for vermilion, indigo powder for blue, and a mixture of indigo powder and turmeric for green. Lacquer is applied using the heat produced due to friction on the surface of wood. This heat softens the lacquer stick and makes it easy to apply. The artisans provide a final touch to the product by polishing it with mustard oil and dried Kevda leaves. This helps in spreading lacquer evenly on the whole surface and polishing it. Different parts of the product are now assembled by hand. And the products are ready to hit the shelves!

In Banaras, wood turning has been popular since many decades and this art has been passed on from generation to generation. In this craft, the men focus on wood procurement, carving, turning and lacquering whereas the women paint and decorate the products. Kashmiriganj and Khojawan are two hubs of wood turning in Banaras. Coming from these areas, the artisans are exceedingly skilled. Their proficiency is visible in their process of crafting as they need minimal measurement during production. Each turn and carve results in a perfect form. It is this skill that makes these Banarasi artisans one of a kind!

Working hand in hand with these craftsmen will allow us to see their world through their eyes- helping us in realizing the beauty of culture and art which we are beginning to miss out.

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1 Comment

Vikas Gupta
Vikas Gupta
Jul 14, 2019

Very well articulated about the wooden lathe craft! Thanks Niyati.

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