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Meet David Sterling: The World's First One-Armed Professional Bowl Turner

By Paul Mayer on May, 16 2022
Meet David Sterling, The World's First One-Armed Professional Bowl Turner

US Combat Veteran David Sterling earned a Purple Heart for wounds received in the line of duty and a Silver Star for valorous actions during his heroic service to the US Army, but he lost something significant during his military service. David was injured by a rocket-propelled grenade in 2004, which took most of his right arm. As horrific as his physical injury was, it ran much deeper. David explains, ”Since my early childhood, I was a sketch artist, and art has always been a deeply important aspect of my life. Without my dominant hand, I found it impossible to return to my art in a meaningful way. This inability to express myself artistically added to the physical and emotional trauma that I experienced on a daily basis. Bottom line; without my art, I was struggling.”


David Sterling 2

Then in 2021, David applied for a program called VetsTurn that provides selected US combat veterans with a Laguna Revo 1216 lathe as well as all of the other necessary tools, supplies, education and support to use woodturning as therapy for PTSD. One member of the VetsTurn program selection committee said, “We have limited resources and a very large demand, so we have to choose carefully. Candidly, we weren’t sure that someone with one arm could handle the physical demands of woodturning, which many people with two intact arms find challenging. But David’s passion and determination were clear and compelling, so we selected him as one of six recipients in 2021. He has proven to be a great choice for the VetsTurn program in every respect. Not only has he quickly mastered woodturning, but his passion for the craft is contagious among the members in the VetsTurn community. His success also serves as a positive proof point for the VetsTurn mission.”


David Sterling 3

David says that he enjoys the entire process, from tree to bowl: “I start by cutting up blanks with my chainsaw, and slowing the drying process to avoid cracks by applying paint to the end grain. From there, I mount a blank to the lathe and rough turn it. Then I seal the roughed bowl and let it dry for a couple months, while I continue to rough out more bowls. As the bowl dries, it elongates and distorts due to the drying shrinkage. After a bowl has dried, I mount it onto the lathe for a second turn, where I turn it round again and take it to its final dimensions. Then I sand, apply a food safe finish, and make the bowl available for sale. I enjoy every step in this process, and my favorite part is when someone takes the bowl home and incorporates it into their daily life.”


After turning over 300 wooden bowls on the Revo 1216 lathe that he received from the VetsTurn program, he decided to scale up his operation and start a business, which he calls, “Iron Hand Woodworks.” To increase his production and allow him to turn larger bowls, he upgraded his tools to include a Laguna Revo 1836 professional class lathe. David said “I turn 8-10 hours every day, so having a more powerful smooth running machine like the Revo 1836 will allow me to increase my productivity without experiencing more fatigue.”


David Sterling 4

David currently sells his work through Clock Tower Mercantile in Iola, Kansas, and his work will also soon be featured at Go Poppy Designs which is a Chicago based retailer with two locations (Go Poppy Designs is also an earnest financial supporter of the VetsTurn program).   He will also sell on-line via the Iron Hand Woodworks Facebook page, and plans to explore other sales outlets as his business evolves. You can follow David’s story on his FaceBook and Instagram pages.

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