The 13.75- by 21- by 24.5-inch camphor bowl was selected by the U.S. State Department
for the Art in Embassy Program.
The 13.75- by 21- by 24.5-inch camphor bowl was selected by the U.S. State Department for the Art in Embassy Program.

 

With surgeon-like precision, Hawaiian master wood turner Robert Hamada handcrafts nature’s flaws into works of beauty. He has been perfecting this art form for 72 years.

Hamada’s passion for woodworking grew from his boyhood forays into Kauai’s natural vistas, where he gained inspiration from the unique trees and beauty surrounding him. “All that is beautiful in nature is the standard that I go by. It might be a waterfall, the sunset, the verdant mountains...there is so much I can turn to for inspiration,” he says.

Hamada prefers to work with native Hawaiian species and often selects the trees, cuts and air dries the logs himself. He says he strives to turn the largest piece possible from a single log, rather than dozens of smaller bowls.

“I’ll leave the wood as large as possible and work from that point. It’s often difficult to decide [on the design]. I’ll look at it today, look at it tomorrow, look at it every day and maybe see something different....My goal is not to complete as many bowls as I can, but to bring forth what is best in the wood.”

After cutting on the lathe, Hamada uses hand tools to shape and thin the bowls to 1/4-inch thickness, depending on the diameter of the piece. It can often take years before a single bowl is finished.

Hamada says his respect for the wood compels him to use all of it, especially the “flaws” — knots, rough marks and patterns — in his designs. “It enhances the natural beauty of the designs.”

Achieving a Smooth Balance
His designs also are stylized by a well-defined foot on the bowls. Hamada says this gives “balance” to the design, plus provides a resting place for the bowl.

“Everyone else just continues right around [rounding out the bottoms], so there is nothing for the bowl to sit on,” he says.
The bowls are sanded then polished to a glossy sheen. “There is no wax or finish used,” he says. “I polish them to such an extent that they have a beautiful sheen — so smooth you can hardly pick them up.”

Hamada’s bowls have won numerous awards and have been featured in art shows. For more information, contact Hamada at (808) 822-3229.

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