• Advertise with us
Project by Stephen Mines posted 03-27-2011 08:13 PM 3011 views 6 times favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch

The ‘Tree’ as you see it here was completed in June 1993, almost exactly one year after it was commissioned. A little less than one year after that I wrote the following article, published in the March 1994 issue of American Woodturner.
Magic sticks conjure the secret of creative freedom

In March, 1992 I was fortunate enough to sell my first piece of “lathe-turned art” called Luxor Surprise (American Woodturner, March 1993, page 46). Its distinctly Egyptian look prompted a name evoking mystery and magic: Luxor is the modern town near the site of the ancient necropolis at Thebes. I had hollowed out the vase shape at the top and slyly included a hidden treasure—-a magic wand, turned in purple heart with interrupted spiral detailing which was, of course, the surprise. The collector seemed as much intrigued by the little wand inside as by the wooden sarcophagus that housed it. Six weeks later I received a note from him inquiring whether I had “something new in turning or magic wands of interest.”

Indeed I had. Already named even then, the Tree of Wands partially filled a sketchpad with notes and drawings, and there were eighteen magic wands in various stages of work which I, with some trepidation, showed to my client on a sunny day in June 1992. He was enthused from the start, commissioned it that day, and in June 1993 saw its completion. Turning magic wands isn’t exactly a passion…yet it has all the earmarks of becoming one.

Tree of Wands, finished, is home to sixty magic wands. To date, surviving wands (the ones that make it off the lathe in one piece) number 154 and most have sold or been traded for goods or services. I have less than twenty-five wands for show-n-tell at any given time and they are unfinished (or they’d be gone!).

The reason for the fascination with wands is obvious: they are each unique, attractive, and intriguing, rather mysterious (maybe they work!). Perhaps less obvious is the reason that they are such fun to create: NOWHERE, to my knowledge is the length, diameter or preferred material prescribed. Talk about creative freedom! It is a form for expression so vaguely defined that most people have little more than a dim perception of what the animal is supposed to look like, sort of a “Here there be dragons” situation. No longer bound by the constricting drawings of draftsmen and designers, nor to any actual precedent, the imagination can fairly fly through the myriad possibilities, pausing here and there to see what one idea might look like were it executed. Even if you think you’ve made a mistake, all of a sudden you look at it and say, “Yes! That’s what it should look like.” Any material can be worked; any embellishment can be employed. Synthetic or genuine, precious or semi-precious gems and stones, and precious or mundane metals can be incorporated freely. And shape and size can be pretty much as your whim might dictate. (Short and stubby might not work, but one of these days I’m going to give it a try; I’ve got a bowl blank of bloodwood, the crystal for the tip is purchased, and the wand is already sketched.)

A vessel is a vessel, be it bowl, urn, dish, tub, platter, compote, tube, (a long tube, as in blood vessel), and is meant to contain, constrain, or hold something; by definition, a vessel is filled with expectations. But a magic wand? No parameters. Moses and Merlin seem to have preferred the tallish variety, but some good old boys (witch doctors and dowsers, for instance) like the little jobs they can easily stow away out of sight until later in the show. See what I mean? It’s wide open. If you call it a magic wand and it kind of resembles that remark, it is one.

Being the human animal, never content with just freedom, I’ve already added some walls of my own. I have categorized my magic wands by size: micro, mini, med/mini, medium, macro, and O my God, it’s huge! Each length category seems to have its advantages and disadvantages. With the micro and mini size, (3 inches to 8 inches) shop scraps take on a whole new meaning and worth. Pink Ivory and Snakewood costs are shrunk to an affordable size, though you may want to invest in a watchmaker’s lathe and put up with turning while looking through a vibrating, illuminated magnifier. Miniature tooling seems to be a lot less expensive though, especially if you take the time to convert an old 1/8-inch chisel into a working gouge or spear point scraper. Oddly, the time spent on these little wands doesn’t seems to shrink in proportion to size; for me, the smaller wands often take longer to complete and actually seem to cost more in terms of energy expended than some of the larger variety.

A word of caution: you’ll be tempted to use genuine precious stones and metals rater then inexpensive synthetic substitutes. That’s okay. You’ll be able to say ”...and the rubies are real, you know.” However, at that size (2-3 mm) only a jeweler would know for sure, and he’d probably be the first to say that the synthetics are at least as good, if not better, considering the application. Unless you’re executing a commission for the Czar or the Pope, stick to man-made or semi-precious materials; used sparingly they simulate the real thing, and can always be upgraded if need be.

The med/mini size (between miniature and medium, up to 14-15 inches) is a lot of fun, my favorite. Small enough to carry around, too large to be mistaken for a key-fob ornament, and just the right size to carve or embellish with detail. They also help use up the small but precious pieces of exotic woods left over from larger projects. A tip: with three or more, grouped by shape or wood type, this size makes an instant tabletop or bookcase collection. As it should be, the average collector (who of course isn’t average at all) would presumably prefer to start a collection with more than one of a kind. If the collection is already underway, a multiple addition is a natural progression as well. A multiple addition for a collector is a multiple sale for an artist/craftsperson. Presto! Ah, the magic of being able to pay the bill on time!

The medium size (to around 22 inches) starts getting a little tricky because of the slender shafts, but this size is easily manipulated and supportable (by hand as often as with steady rests) and the more expensive exotic woods can still be worked without refinancing the homestead. Cue stick blanks (or cue butts) are also available in exotic woods and can be used here to great advantage. Another plus: router bits can be utilized for fluting, twists, and similar operations. This is the most popular size and for the most part is a stay-at-home-on-a-stand wand. If I were still in the army (or near an installation) I think a well-designed short-timer’s magic wand of this size could be a runaway seller, billed as: “A keepsake for life. Take it home…soon!”

(For those who don’t know, a short-timer’s stick is a swagger stick for people with thirty or less days left to serve. Each day of the count-down a small section of the end of the stick is removed, until just before estimated time of separation the guy with the very short stick is an object of envy to everyone not going home. All you wood turners in the military…there must be some here…take that idea and run with it.)

When you approach the macro category (40-45 inches) you’ll suddenly notice a world of examples, such as walking sticks, canes, walking and hiking staffs, shepherds crooks, and the like. You might, like I did, begin wondering about the history of these objects. I think that in the here-to-for bygones, you didn’t have to have an infirmity to need or want something to lean on or fall back on. Everybody carried a stick. It not only helped over rough terrain and tight spots (like parting the Red Sea) but was also a reassurance when confronting wolves and other bad guys, maybe even dragons. Psychologically, who doesn’t feel just a tad more in control of his or her own destiny while carrying a stick? Whether a peasant, a peddler, a court magician, or the queen herself, we all feel a wee bit safer when armed with more than wits alone. Which of course leads us into the realm of speculation: if everyone is carrying a stick of one size and shape, wouldn’t it be wise to carry a bigger stick? Perhaps even one with magical powers?

And speaking of bigger and better sticks, we come to the huge categories. Once upon a time there be giants in the land (or so sayeth legend and myth). If there were giants, I sure wouldn’t expect one, say 12 feet tall, to shuffle down the street carrying a wand 20 inches long looking like a refugee from a key chain, would you? Heck no. Leave the littler wands to the mini category and “little people” from whence they came. Still, finding a reason for a really big wand wasn’t really all that difficult. Just as umbrellas have their umbrella stand, my magic wands have their wand “tree.” so very cleverly (not!) disguised as a really large magic wand, 92 inches tall.

Back here in the more or less real world, I almost always have some difficulty designing a wand. When I finally sketch an idea that seems worth trying, I give it a spin on the lathe, usually with a piece of inexpensive poplar. If I like what comes off the machine, I try it again in a different, maybe more exotic wood. By the time I have several attempts lying around, I begin to wonder what kind of detailing, if any, would enhance and decorate them. The possibilities cause me to make more wands so that I can try the various options without sacrificing any. It is in this way that I wind up with a series of wands, each different from but resembling the original idea. It’s like scanning for a feeling of “rightness.” Even the not-so-right wands always seem to have a uniqueness, and they all get in line for subsequent work. Besides having an investment of time, energy, and materials in the things, I guess I project something of myself into them. At any rate I am loathe to see any piece dead lined on its way to completion. It happens, but not too often. It’s rather like magic.

The Tree took ribbons at the Los Angeles County Fair, Los Angeles, CA, the Del Mar County Fair, Del Mar, CA, and the Ventura County Fair, Ventura, Ca. I entered it in these compitetions at the direction of Irving Lipton who had commissioned it. I also entered it in a juried exhibition called Challenge V: International Lathe-Turned Objects, under the ageis of The Wood Turning Center, Phillidelphia, PA. It was on tour for three years with that exhibition. The 5th photo is a ‘Legend’ of the wands on the tree, with species, dims and other info. The 6th photo is of some of the wands in process. The ‘Tree’ was commissioned for $10,000.00, 50% down and balance on completion. Not a fortune but it was such a labor of love that I couldn’t possibly count the hours spent on it as work. When the heart sings and you just can’t get that goofy smile off your face you know you’re on the right track.

-- Stephen Mines ([email protected])

9 comments so far

View devann's profile


2250 posts in 3139 days

#1 posted 03-27-2011 08:58 PM

Interesting reading Stephen, thanks for the post. Some real nice turnings lots of variety. Do you have any magic wands that’ll make me a better woodworker?

-- Darrell, making more sawdust than I know what to do with

View peteg's profile


4435 posts in 3270 days

#2 posted 03-27-2011 10:44 PM

Wow that is some story Stephen, intricate piece

-- Pete G: If you always do what you always did you'll always get what you always got

View rivergirl's profile


3201 posts in 3285 days

#3 posted 04-10-2011 09:15 PM

That’s allotta magic wands. Reminiscent of Harry Potter. I suppose you could sell these wands on etsy for the cosplay crowd. They like that funky stuff and they actually pay real money for it. This winter I made a wooden “zelda- deku” shield- super rustic and posted it on etsy. It had like 1000 views before I actually sold it. I mean reallly? That stupid shield has been my most viewed item to date. As for me, I have no use for a shield nor magic wand. My kids are all grown and gone so I don’t need a “licken stick” anymore nor a shield to fend off the barbs they threw at me. ;) Well on second thought – I have 3 daughters, maybe I do need a shield. PS I should also say that your workmanship is impressive. I can even turn my head. :P

-- Homer : "Oh, and how is education supposed to make me feel smarter? Besides, every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain."

View BarbS's profile


2434 posts in 4532 days

#4 posted 04-10-2011 09:22 PM

Very well done, Stephen. Great story, and thank you for sharing that.


View flyingladyblue's profile


5 posts in 2346 days

#5 posted 03-15-2013 05:59 AM

EGGSCELLENT article Stephen, The magic wands are beautiful and some quite ornate. I enjoyed looking at the photo’s.


View flyingladyblue's profile


5 posts in 2346 days

#6 posted 03-24-2018 04:05 PM


I still have a few of the wands that I finished adding crystals and such to.. and a hand full of the micro wands that I did not have time to finish, if you want me to send them to you. Shirley
Great reading your story, what fun memories of a magically creative time and working miracles ;)

View Druid's profile


2119 posts in 3242 days

#7 posted 07-28-2019 05:17 AM

I just found this posting a couple of days ago, and I was very impressed with the variety and quality of Stephen’s craftsmanship. I also found that his description was very well detailed, and informative, particularly for readers who might not have thought of making a wand.
Unfortunately, Stephen, the actor who played Lieutenant Robert Tomlinson in the Star Trek: The Original Series first season episode “Balance of Terror”, passed away on 21 May 2019. I wish that I could have had the opportunity to let him know how impressed I am with this project.

-- John, British Columbia, Canada

View flyingladyblue's profile


5 posts in 2346 days

#8 posted 07-28-2019 04:13 PM

Thank you for your kind words, I know Stephen would appreciate. He was a very talented man who enjoyed sharing information and tricks of the trade. around the same time that we were creating magic wands he wrote a book as well as filming an instructional video. ~Shirley

View Druid's profile


2119 posts in 3242 days

#9 posted 08-04-2019 12:23 AM

Thanks Shirley.

-- John, British Columbia, Canada

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics