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Farinelli turns to creating art in wood

February 1, 2017

Charles Doud/The Madera Tribune

Rick Farinelli, with a goblet turned in wood. The sides of the vessel are about that the same thickness as that of a glass goblet.

Former Madera County Supervisor Rick Farinelli is carving out a new career. He has renewed an interest in creating art through woodturning, using mainly wood native to the San Joaquin Valley.


He has created dozens of bowls, platters and other items, and has plans for many more. 


He works in a shop in the garage of his north Madera home, which he shares with his wife, Jan.
You know she knows she’s married to a woodturner, by what she bought her husband for Christmas.


“This is the Cadillac of lathes,” Farinelli said, pointing to the shiny, new high-powered  yellow lathe that Jan had given him. 


He held up a wood-handled steel cutting tool with a carbon-fiber blade. “This cost $139,” he said. “Just this one tool.” 


Several such tools were arrayed in holders along the back of his lathe.


“I started doing this about 2009,” Farinelli said. “My son was a cabinet maker at the time, and he had a little shop, and he had bought a little lathe for doing little things. 


“Well, you know me, I don’t sleep. So, I’d be down there at 2 o’clock in the morning cutting different things.


“Then, when I became supervisor, everything stopped. So, for four years I haven’t done any of this stuff, but I’ve gotten back into it and really enjoy it.”


Farinelli said he tries to treat his woodworking as art, and as a way to relax.


“It’s really a lot of fun. It’s relaxing. Sometimes you get pretty mad when you break something while you’re turning it, but that’s part of it.”


He said that among other varieties, he turns almond wood, thanks to some of the local farmers who supply him with almond trunks.


“I’m getting trees like pecan. I’ve got walnut. I’ve got cherry wood, I’ve got Modesto ash.”


Some of the woods are very expensive, he said. 


“Burl wood, you have to buy by the square inch,” he said. “And the only way you can get a walnut burl is to buy it from somebody who has a mill that can cut it.”


Burls are basketball-sized-and-bigger knots that grow on the trunks of trees. When properly cut, mostly into one-to-two-inch-thick slices, they can be turned or polished. 


He held up a recently completed platter made from a walnut burl.


“I got this burl piece from a guy in Fresno. The wood alone was $100.”


He said the lathe work on the platter was very time-consuming, requiring great care. One slip against the wood’s grain could have shattered it like glass.


In an online posting, he was asking $350 for the 13-inch-in-diameter piece.


People who understand the wood and the art that goes into turning it would recognize its value, he said.


Jewelry boxes, a potpouri box, bowls of various sizes and shapes, and plates and platters of various diameters cover the dining room table in the Farnelli home in north Madera.


“This art is teaching me patience,” he said. “You know me, I don’t have any patience. But one slip of a tool at 1,000 rpm can ruin hours of work. You can’t hurry this process.”


Farinelli held up a piece made from almond wood that had tunnels gouged in it.


“You see all this tunnel stuff? Those are made by bugs. Just like pine beetles. I actually was cutting one once and a worm came out. A live worm.”


Farinelli is looking for places to exhibit and sell his work.


Some of it will be viewable through February in the front lobby of The Madera Tribune, 2591 Mitchell Court. 

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