Zen Wood Studio

A journey of imagination

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The Zen Buddhist philosophy emphasizes reaching a state of mind where only you and the task at hand reside in your awareness. This is the state of mind I try to reach while turning wood or carving in my studio. In keeping with the Zen traditions of simplicity, focus, and calm abiding, my work is aimed at trying to achieve those goals in every line and curve of the turning.

Some days the hours quietly disappear into the work and I am surprised when I stop and find myself ankle deep in wood shavings. If the piece is nicely shaped and if the grain and texture of the wood combine to make you want to hold it or just enjoy its unique look, the energy you have expended is transformed into a calm joy.

Most of the wood used for my turnings is collected from several local sources; friends cutting down trees in their yards, reclaiming tree trunks headed for the landfill, and keeping a sharp eye out for construction projects where the trees are being replaced by parking lots. Most of the materials used are native to East Tennessee. The many species of hardwoods that grow in this area provide a wide variety of colors and grain patterns. Each piece of wood is unique and rarely perfect. Knots, crotches, and twisted grain are prized and incorporated to best blend with the whole and sometimes to emphasize an interesting grain pattern, spalting, or maybe a flaw like a knothole.


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Ralph Watts is a lifelong woodworker and recently has switched from building houses, furniture, and other useful household items to concentrating on wood turning. A mechanical engineer and nuclear garbage man by profession, Ralph finds the design freedom offered by the lathe to be a satisfying contrast to the rigid requirements of engineering.

His creative side is reflected in the variety and somewhat whimsical nature of many turnings adorned with carvings and other improvements to the "standard" turned bowl. Ralph and his wife, Carmen, now reside in Albuquerque NM after moving from Knoxville TN in 2009. Like many other couples decompressing from the hectic pace of the business world, they are now focusing on work that brings satisfaction from having people give them an extraordinarily nice complement by purchasing their hand crafted products.