Around the Woods

Wood Turning: A Course

An Old Tradition in the Modern World

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Wood turning has been a craft for thousands of years. For long time it was an accepted trade. Turner, or its equivalent in languages other than English, has become a common last name simply because every village needed one. Plates, bowls, stools and other utensils or furniture needed the wood turner's touch. Mass production, metals and plastics have removed much of the need for the wood turner's trade although for centuries turners and potters have worked side by side with competition and friendship.

While some still prefer a wooden salad bowl, economics have moved many away from the turner to local mega-retailer. Many a craftsman has heard the question, "Fifty dollars for a salad bowl? I can get one down the street for three." All this proves is that some turners may have delusions of grandeur in pricing for their area, plastic is cheap to produce, and it takes time to turn a bowl by hand.

Still some manage to make a living by turning. Generally, this happens in one of three ways. The first is the turner is married to or living with a spouse with a well paying job and the turning brings in enough to justify the time spent. Sometimes this leads to a very good income from turning, but not generally speaking although no real research seems to have been done on it. Second are the very few who have become extremely successful in the art market. Like most artists they have paid their dues and worked long and hard to establish a well deserved reputation. The third group are those who have found a niche in industry turning those things that the automatic lathes are turning out, but in numbers too few to justify setting up the automatic systems. Short runs of unique pattern newel posts for the architectural market, salad bowls for high end stores, baseball bats for professional players and the like come to mind.

Most of us, on the other hand, turn for the pure delight. O we might sell in a craft fair or two or have some pieces in a gallery or store here and there, but really we turn for the sheer pleasure of turning wood. There is a wonder of looking beneath the next shaving, an exhilarating hunt for the next fantastic grain or elusive shape that never goes away.

One of the difficulties we run into as hobby turners is the isolation both of instruction and of comparison. Most of us are self taught. Instruction is needed to prevent the bad habits that we fall into and to direct us into turnings that we would not otherwise attempt. Thus we learn more and do not turn the same thing all our lives. An accompaniment to learning new turning techniques is they often return when we go back to a favorite form and that form is the better for it.

Some of the instruction today is covered through workshops and short classes along with videos and a proliferation of books. The exercises and projects here will teach us new techniques and strengthen old ones. At the end of the day, we should be better turners for it. I have been inspired by the work of Milton and Wohlers, 1919, who wrote for the educational market. Sadly many of today's schools have abandoned industrial arts and lost the wood lathes. While the book is an excellent read, it suffers from a few points.

First of all is the institutional setting. It assumes an instructor is available to correct bad techniques and safely introduce new ones. This does not often happen in the home shop unless a more experienced turning buddy happens along. Second is the simple dating of the book. Since 1919 technological strides have introduced high speed steel tools, four jaw chucks and cyanoacrylic glues not to mention other new tools and access to the world wide web with its easy exchange of ideas and on line help. Thirdly, there is the issue of safety. Milton and Wohlers show pictures of turners wearing neckties but not eye or hearing protection and it seems no one thought of the hazards of exposed drive belts or breathing dust.

Here I hope to use the web to come along as a sort of instructor and address some of these issues. Gradually the basic tools will be introduced with a few exercises but mostly through projects. Much of the time we will use the project ideas of Milton and Wohlers but with explanation step by step using text, photos and at times video.

As always, opinions, requests for information, questions and crtiques are welcome to my email or at the blog. New additions will be announced on the blog so it is a good thing to bookmark it and check back there or here often.

copyright © 2015 Darrell Feltmate Around the Woods