Malcolm Tibbetts



UNITY (2002). Curly maple, caretto and many woods from around the world. 25″ diameter. “A five-revolution Möbius style torus,” Malcolm says. “‘Unity’ celebrates the number five. A crosscut of the torus reveals a pentagram (five pointed star). If you were to trace any valley between any two ridges (or trace a ridge), you would make five revolutions before returning to your starting point. Does this make it a Möbius (one edge and one side)? The overall diameter is close to five squared (25″). In ancient times, the pentagram (derived from the pentagon) was a symbol for health and salvation, and in the Middle Ages, it was used as a symbol to repulse evil spirits. As a geometric form, the pentagram is quite significant; the bisected line lengths contain the golden ratio, the number known as phi, approximately 1.618. The number five has always been regarded as mystical and magical, and it relates to the human form. We have five fingers/toes on each limb. We commonly possess five senses – sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste – the list goes on and on. It has been said that, ‘All things happen in fives or are divisible by or are multiples of fives.’ This was a complex and challenging project, but there was relatively very little turning; however, every one of the 100 individual pentagram-shaped rings spent time on the lathe in order to create the matching concave curves. After assembly, the surface contained ridges between every small ring, which required extensive abrasive smoothing, but the final shape depended upon the pre-turning of the components.”

This is an excerpt from “The Difference Makers” by Marc Adams. 

One of the people who had the greatest impact on Malcolm was his grandfather, Rap Gardner. At an early age, Granddad would give him guidance on how to make items with wood. He still remembers making a birdhouse before he started grammar school. From those early days Malcolm always had an interest in woodworking. It wasn’t until after he got married that woodworking became a necessary hobby. In 1976, after scraping together enough money with his wife, Tere, to buy their first home, there was nothing left for furniture. He purchased a Craftsman table saw and converted a bedroom into a shop (there was no garage) and proceeded to make their furniture, some of which is in use today.

In 1993, Malcolm had a shop full of tools and a house full of furniture, so his desire to stay active in the shop turned to woodturning. For the first year, Malcolm turned in isolation. He knew nothing about woodturning clubs, the American Association of Woodturners (AAW) or the fact that there were schools scattered throughout America that offered workshops on turning methods. Turning bowls was a great place to start, with instant gratification, but after turning a few dozen bowls, he found life at the lathe became boring. He started gluing in a few pieces of wood to add some character and color, not really knowing that he was creating “segmented” turnings.


CROOKED JOURNEY (2015). Peruvian walnut and white-dyed veneer, 8,800 individual pieces. About 14″ dia. “This is a very difficult shape to explain,” Malcolm says. “It’s an endless tubular ribbon. It’s constructed from 10 half-sections of five-sided donut shapes (five full donuts were used). To successfully complete the loop, three different donut diameters were created, with different orientations of the pentagon surfaces. The pentagon cross-sections severely limited directional changes. Each directional change occurs at the vertex of an imaginary decagon (10-sided polygon). The relationship between the five-sided donuts and the points of a 10-sided shape is what made the assembly possible. It was a bit of a head-scratcher to design. Finished with MinWax Wipe-On Poly.”

In 1994, Malcolm discovered there was to be an AAW woodturning symposium in Fort Collins, Col. Because he had the time and the resources he decided to attend and took along a few of his pieces to display in the open gallery. He was so new to turning that he had no idea who any of the presenters were but ended up in a workshop on deep vessel hollow forms taught by Clay Foster. This was his first exposure to professional turning – the first time that he witnessed another person turn wood. By the end of the weekend he befriended a gentleman by the name of Ray Allen, one of the world’s best-known segmenters. Ray was an inspiration to Malcolm and his first real turning mentor. Ray’s work as a segmented turner elevated the craft to an acceptable form of art turning, and it boosted segmented turnings to the collector level. Prior to Ray, segmented turning didn’t have a great reputation due to so many gluing failures and improper construction methods. However, Malcolm saw segmented turning as a truly unique art form that was in its infancy. He was hooked.


TOLERANCE (2005). Myrtlewood. About 32″ tall. “A complex ribbon form constructed with half-cylinders and half-bowls,” Malcolm says. “The designs, which are pierced through the wood wall and not painted, are symbols used by many cultures throughout history and the endless knot has its own meaning.”

Malcolm then discovered an AAW turning chapter in Sacramento and religiously made the two-hour trip to meetings every month for years. He became driven to learn all he could about turning while creating and developing new processes in his segmented works. By 1997, he became a regular instructor at the annual AAW symposium and eventually became a board member and even the vice president. Although he didn’t become a full-time professional turner until after he retired from the ski industry in 2002, his work was represented at a gallery in San Francisco called the Stones Gallery. Within eight short years Malcolm had gone from a turning beginner to a turner extraordinaire.

During the last three decades Malcolm has developed many innovations such as the porthole feature ring, ribbon construction, dizzy bowls, checkered hollow forms, tubular construction and orderly tangles. His work ranges from tiny jewelry items to outdoor sculptural pieces that require a crane for installation. He, along with Bill Smith and Curt Theobald, are the founding fathers of the Segmented Woodturners, an AAW chapter with hundreds of members around the world that host a biennial symposium. He has written three books, self-produced countless educational videos and has a big following on YouTube.


A TANGLED WEB (2014). 22″ dia. Inspired by the Sir Walter Scott quote, “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!” “Composed of 12 five-pointed star shapes (pentagons with concave curved sides), arranged in an ‘orderly tangle,’” Malcolm says. “Won the Craftsmanship award at the 2015 Bridges Conference.”

However, his greatest contribution to the world of polychromatic turning is much more than inventing new ways to glue together pieces of wood. Malcolm is responsible for crossing the line between fine woodworking and fine turning. Through intuition, remarkable engineering and clever designs he has transformed the process of cutting, gluing and assembling wood in contorted ways. Then, with the skills of a virtuoso turner, he has proven that the two crafts, woodworking and woodturning, can collide and live in harmony.

Meghan Bates


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2 Responses to Malcolm Tibbetts

  1. sharonbakerholland says:

    Such beautiful work.


  2. John Jenkins says:

    Malcolm is a giant! His books and videos are incredible.


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