Martin Saban-Smith is a nationally recognised creative woodturner, demonstrator and the creator and manufacturer of the highly successful range of Hampshire Sheen finishing products. Recently accredited by the Register of Professional Turners, Martin offers tutoring at his Hampshire workshop and is widely followed on social media. Commencing in December, Martin will tour all eight Axminster stores, sharing his insights and knowledge and drawing special attention to textures, colouring and finishes.
How did you begin your journey into woodturning ?
I discovered woodturning quite by chance on a visit to an agricultural fair four years ago. At one of the stalls, someone was quietly turning up garden dibbers. The creativity was direct. Whatever he did with his hands, so the piece was formed. As a self-taught photographer and graphic designer, I felt my creative spirits stirring. I went away and uncovered my uncle’s ‘Myford Mystro’ lathe which had been stored away for 15 years and, like so many of us these days, I found YouTube a great source of instruction and inspiration.
I spent hundreds of hours at the lathe learning how to use the tools properly and honing my skills until a style that I could call my own emerged
Eventually as my confidence grew, a few commissions came my way and I began to think ‘you know what, I might just be able to make a living from this!’
What machines did you opt for when you began woodturning?
Someone said I should look at what Axminster Tools & Machinery had to offer and so I went along to the Basingstoke store to have a look around. Simon, the store manager, and all the staff were incredibly helpful and eventually I bought an Axminster Hobby Series AWVSL1000 lathe and a 6 piece chisel starter kit. Before long I was pushing this lathe beyond its endurance and changed tailstocks a number of times – the store was very understanding. However, I realised I needed a lathe with a bigger swing and more powerful motor so graduated to the Axminster Trade Series AT2030VS. Although I have now bought other machines for my training courses, this remains the workhorse and my preferred demonstration machine. The tools inventory continues to grow and I enjoy experimenting with new chisels and accessories to bring design ideas to life.
You’ve become something of star on social media – how did this come about?
With my photography and design background, video came naturally to me and YouTube and social media provided ready platforms to promote the business and the brands quickly, creatively and cost-effectively. Although it comes with its challenges (‘fan’ mail in the early hours of the morning!), these channels have massively helped raise awareness of my work, the training courses and the Hampshire Sheen range of products. When I last checked, I had 22,000 followers on YouTube and over 5,000 on Facebook and Instagram – it’s just fantastic to have that level of interest.
What inspired your Hampshire Sheen products?
Frankly, I couldn’t find anything out there that could provide the finish I was looking for. Wax is a wonderful medium. With a well applied wax finish, there is a certain soft and tactile feel to a piece that I find is missing in synthetic finishes like lacquers, wipe on polys or varnishes. So in 2015, I started making Hampshire Sheen products – doing it all myself. From finding the right ingredients, all the manufacturing, right through to designing the tin labels, packaging and posting. Growth has been exponential. Today I am making and selling upwards of 500 tins a month, not just in the UK but in the USA, Canada, Australia and soon in South Africa.
Your tour of Axminster stores starts in December – are you looking forward to this and what can the audience expect ?
Absolutely. Axminster Tools & Machinery have been real supporters not just personally – the Basingstoke team have been amazingly tolerant! – but have also taken on Hampshire Sheen which has helped tremendously to raise its profile amongst discerning woodworkers.
The store demonstrations are a chance for me to bring all the lessons I’ve learnt – and all the mistakes I’ve made – and to share them with novice and seasoned woodturner alike. There’ll be something for everyone and I aim to keep it light and entertaining and provide a chance for punters to get ‘hands on’ where possible.
Because it’s such a passion of mine, I’ll be taking a close look at texturing and colouring techniques and providing some fresh ideas on finishing
What does the future hold for Martin Saban-Smith – what’s the next step?
Staff! I need help to keep pace with growth on the products side – a wonderful problem to have. I really want to devote more time to turning, to getting back to the reasons I started, to pushing my creative boundaries. At the same time, I’m enjoying the tutoring and making the videos so the future will be a bit of a balancing act. I’m a family man with children as well and getting that balance right is also important. But for now, I’m enjoying getting up every morning to do what I do and the future is full of opportunity.