© Copyright Forest of Bere Woodturners Association 2015

Forest of Bere Woodturners Association (Havant)

Eric Warnecke - In Memoriam

Eric taught me to turn, as I am sure he did many other people over the years he was involved with FOBWA – but I felt special, I think he had that way with him that made you feel special.  


I had done some woodturning at school, some 40 years previous and following a career hiatus (having been made redundant) on a whim I bought an old woodturning lathe along with some tools and joined Forest of Bere Woodturners, the appeal of the Saturday club drew me in.


I was pretty clueless but Eric took me under his wing.


Although I said he taught me to turn that’s not strictly true, Eric believed that hands on the tools was the way to learn, only occasionally he would demonstrate a technique or a cut or the correct way to use a tool and then immediately, your hands were back on the tool.  He guided your hands like a driving instructor correcting a slight turn of the wheel to put you back on track or a golf pro making an adjustment to your grip.  He could see the flaws you were about to create before you even knew there was a flaw in the making. He didn’t teach or preach – he just provided the path and some guiding lights and I learned.  


Eric was kind and patient, he corrected gently and always with praise for the positives.  He encouraged and challenged me to do more than I thought possible or that I felt capable of doing – the confidence he inspired sat on my shoulders when turning alone at home and we laughed at the disasters and looked, together, for the reasons behind them.  


He showed me the benefit of form and proportion, building designs with one eye on the wood and how the finished piece would sit on display.  He taught me about detail and the importance of grain alignment, about invisible joins and the fine finishing of even those areas that would never be seen. We discussed my proposed designs and how they could be transformed into reality, practised the techniques necessary and made prototypes and sometimes I came to the conclusion that what I had proposed was impossible. Looking back .. if I had been sufficiently wise to pick up the signals – Eric got there long before I did but was never going to dismiss my enthusiasm for the outrageous.  He would agree once I made the decision but only his eyes said ‘I told you so’.


As a judge at the competition table he was fair and honest, he could spot a flaw at 50 paces no matter how well you tried to hide it – his gynaecological fingers could probe the bottom of a bud vase to find a ridge left behind but .. he was strong with his praise for the good bits and his comments were constructive not critical. He seemed to like my, occasionally, wayward designs and tolerated my frequent aberrations – he would always find something positive to say about the worst bit of woodturning and perhaps a suggestion or two for improvement.  I treasure the judging slips with his comments scrawled on the back in that spidery hand.


He had a dry sense of humour.  On one occasion, following a last minute explosion on the lathe, I presented a piece to the judging table in fragments with an apology for the state of it.  He said, with a wry smile, “You know you can only submit one piece for the competition – now, which of these pieces would you like us to judge ?”.  Despite the disaster he found a few points and a few pointers as to how it could have been improved.


He showed me that a few good tools were better than a lot of bad ones, how he/we could make or modify tools to do a specific job.  We played with tools I had picked up for pennies at car boot sales and on ebay;  some worked, some didn’t – and if Eric couldn’t make them work I could be sure they were destined for the box under the bench that never sees the light of day.


Eric was a very modest and sometimes private man – he was an excellent woodturner and I was privileged on a few occasions to see him turning at home; he didn’t like showing off his skills but he managed, imperceptibly, to pass on his knowledge and abilities without the need to demonstrate publicly just how good he was on the lathe.


I will miss him as a friend and a mentor – I once tried to tell him how much he had brought into my life with woodturning, at a time when I needed something to focus on, but he was having none of it, he spurned the compliment as nonsense but I hope, deep down, he appreciated just how much I owed to him.


I will never forget Eric, he sits on my shoulder every time I go near my lathe and I hear his words loudly when it goes well and a whisper when it doesn’t.  He will be missed.


Philip Argyle.