Martin Saban-Smith is a nationally recognised creative woodturner, international demonstrator and the creator and manufacturer of the highly successful range of Hampshire Sheen finishing products. A member of the Register of Professional Turners, Martin offers tutoring at his Hampshire workshop alongside Les Thorne and is widely followed on social media. Commencing in January 2023, Martin will tour all eight Axminster Tools Stores, sharing his insights and knowledge and drawing particular attention to textures, colouring and finishes.

We asked...

How did you begin your journey into woodturning?

I discovered woodturning quite by chance on a visit to an agricultural fair. At one of the stalls, someone was quietly turning up garden dibbers. The creativity was direct, whatever he did with his hands, 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 had to offer and so I went along to the Basingstoke Store to have a look around. The Store manager and all the staff were incredibly helpful and, eventually, I bought an Axminster Hobby Series AWVSL1000 lathe (equivalent to the current Axminster Workshop model AW370WL) 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 Axminster 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 (equivalent to the current Axminster Professional model AP508WL). 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 a star on social media - how did this come about?

With my photography and design background, videoing 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, wipes 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.

How has Hampshire Sheen developed since your last tour?

A lot has happened since the last tour of Axminster Tools Stores in 2018! There are now more products in the range and some of the labels have been redesigned to sit nicely with new products coming to Axminster Tools soon. I've tried to keep the range as simple as possible to help avoid confusing customers with lots of options for finishing their work. I'm a great believer in considering the finish used on every piece of work and with Hampshire Sheen, I believe, there is a finish in the range for every piece.

What can attendees expect from your upcoming 2023 Tour with Axminster Tools?

I fill my demonstrations with plenty of information about the techniques and finishes I'm using - I barely stop talking from start to finish! There is a lot of energy and enthusiasm in each of them, too. We will look at turning three projects during the day, for this tour. Each one will be different and finished in a different way using a combination of products from the Hampshire Sheen range, including the new range of sprays. The audience will not just experience a product demonstration, but a full day of techniques and inspiration with a few laughs along the way.

Martin applying a spray finish

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What are your next steps?

Having travelled to the US, Denmark, Sweden and Ireland in 2022, as well as all over the UK. During these visits, I have spoken to a lot of turners and Hampshire Sheen users who have given me some super ideas. There has been plenty of time sitting around at airports and driving up and down motorways to allow me to compile them into something I think will be very special for users of my products. I can't go into it too much now, but all should be revealed by the end of January '23. As for my own turning, there are plans afoot there, too. The trouble is finding the time to put all the plans into action!