about jim Syvertsen
Jim and David Ellsworth at the Ellsworth School of Woodturning July 2004
Life ain't always beautiful, but it's a beautiful ride . . . Gary Allan
I was fortunate to grow up in the small town of Wading River on the north shore of eastern Long Island. I was the oldest of 3 children born to the two finest parents any children have ever known. They are and always will be my two personal idols.
I graduated from Shoreham-Wading River High School in 1981. Shortly thereafter, I entered the US Naval Academy, graduating in 1985 with a BS in Naval Architecture. Our class was honored to have President Ronald Reagan attend our graduation. Despite the efforts of Academy officials (who tried to get the President to sit down after presenting diplomas to the top 100 graduates) and some classmates who acted in an entirely undignified manner, President Reagan, being the leader he was, stood for 3-1/2 hours to shake the hand of every graduate. It was an extraordinary privilege and honor to meet and shake the hand of an extraordinary, honorable, humble man.
I spent the next 5 years stationed in San Diego in USS Truxtun (CGN-35) and USS Constellation (CV-64). After attending the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA and earning an MS in Mechanical Engineering in 1992, I went to Department Head School in one of my favorite places, Newport, RI. I then served in USS Barry (DDG-52) as Engineer Officer. My next tour was as Squadron Material Officer for CDS-31 in Hawaii . I returned to Newport, RI as head of the Gas Turbine Engineering Directorate. After two great years in Newport (the fishing was awesome), I was stationed in Yokosuka, Japan as Executive Officer in USS O'Brien (DD-975). I returned to Newport, RI in 2001 as a student at the US Naval War College, earning an MA in National Security and Strategic Studies (and doctorate in fishing). I served in USS Saipan and then as Executive Officer at SIMA Norfolk prior to retiring in June 2005.
So how did I get involved in woodturning and burl importing you ask?
Like many people, I spent a lot of years trying to figure out what it was I'd like to do when I grew up. As a (younger) kid, I was briefly introduced to woodturning in 7th/8th grade shop class. My Dad later purchased a lathe (and did some terrific spindle turnings - especially after taking a class with Russ Zimmerman when he was up in Putney, VT) and would let me play around on it when I would come home from college for a visit, but I never had much time to figure out what I was doing. One of my Dad’s fishing buddies, Captain Harry Phillips, who ran the Pilot II out of Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn, used to turn free spooling wooden fishing reels, called Sidewinders, and use them to catch Blackfish (Tautog), Sea Bass and Codfish. They're a load of fun to use. So being a fishaholic, I often daydreamed of combining my passion for fishing with what little I knew about woodturning when I eventually retired from the Navy (June 2005) to make high quality Sidewinders (scroll down to see the finished product below) out of exotic woods for sale. So with that in mind, I jokingly asked my parents for a mini lathe for Christmas in 2002. They, of course, bought me something much more, a really terrific 16" Nova 3000 lathe, in my opinion the best medium size lathe (along with the Nova DVR) on the market.
Well, as my father has always said, fate eventually takes a hand, and in November 2003, after retuning from a Persian Gulf deployment and finally building a workbench to set up my lathe, a new Woodcraft store opened nearby in Virginia Beach. I was like the proverbial kid in a candy store and by January 2004, I was taking every Woodcraft class I had the opportunity to take, was "donating" most of my money to Bill and Heather Caillet at Woodcraft, and discovering areas of woodturning I never knew existed . . . and I learned the word “burl”. With the help, encouragement and mentoring of people like Jack Spillane, Bill Caillet, and Myron Curtis, my knowledge, passion, and desire to challenge myself expanded exponentially. I am indebted to each of them. I also constantly searched books and the internet for information on woodturning and inspiration from people like Cindy Drozda, Skip Bellock, Kim Blatt, Mike Kornblum, Dale the Burl Guy Brobst, David Chapman, Richard Raffan and others. I also scoured the internet and eBay for wood, specifically exotic burls, and quickly (proudly I might add) I became addicted. As my passion for turning grew, I sought out David Ellsworth, and other exceptional turners like Kim Blatt, Bruce Hoover and Tom Crabb for instruction to improve my technique and form. I would encourage anyone interested in turning to take David's class as early as possible. He is an extraordinary teacher whose technique is unmatched, is self-admittedly low tech, and will teach you (if you pay attention and practice what you learn) skills and a woodturning philosophy that will serve you a lifetime.
By the winter of 2004/2005, having been hooked on the incredible color and diversity of burls from Down Under, I started AUSTRALIANBURLS.com and have worked very hard with suppliers to find the most interesting and exciting burls and hardwoods. In parallel, I've worked hard to improve my craft and participated in craft shows from New York to Florida. Contrary to what some people may think, neither burl importing/retailing or woodturning are lucrative, and not something I would do without the business efficiencies inherent in an Internet-based business and a retirement income to pay the mortgage and bills. Parenthood, self-employment, hard work and the global economic downturn have reinforced something I've always believed about money - in keeping with Frank Capra's great film - You Can't Take It With You. I worked with some great people during my 20 years in the Navy, but to find something I truly love that never seems like work, be home every day to help raise my 8 and 3 year old sons, and earn a few dollars doing so is truly priceless. Does life get any better? Serendipitous indeed!
As for the woodworking/woodturning aspect of my business, my greatest pleasure, enjoyment and inspiration come from working with cutoffs, and seemingly non-ideal pieces of burl/wood that customers don't buy, to create a work for people to enjoy the simple beauty of raw burl/wood transformed into an aesthetically pleasing form. Nine of the 11 hollow forms below are from scrap/cutoffs and the Red Mallee Burl pedestal went unsold for years before I chose to use it as a way to display my small/mini work.
So that, in a nutshell, is my story. Fortunately for me, I have a wonderful wife, Seiko, who was so anxious to meet me that she - in serendipitous fashion - ran through my brick mailbox with her car in August 2002 - domo arigato gozaimashita! We married in January 2003 - in front of the mailbox she rebuilt - the night before I deployed to the Persian Gulf. She has been unbelievably supportive of my passion and desire to be a burl importer and professional woodturner and blessed us with two healthy, happy, wonderful sons Charlie and Bryan. Aishiteru!
What's Really Important in Life . . . My Family
My Daddy has at least as many tools as your Daddy
Lastly, the fishing reel I finally finished after more than 2 years thanks to a great deal of help from my friend Tom
(click on pictures to enlarge)