What Would You Tell a New Turner?

Bob-P-Earth-DayI was recently successful at infecting another family member with the wood turning virus. My brother Paul in San Diego got infected a couple years ago at Family Reunion (you all do take lathes and give turning lessons at family reunions, don’t you? I thought that was normal), but he needed to build a shop. With the shop complete, he purchased his first lathe, a No – Name 6 pulley Midi, a couple of weeks ago. Then he bought a small Nova last week with variable speed and reversing. He decided a 12 – inch swing was enough to learn on before moving to bigger equipment. One more good thing he did was join the San Diego Woodturners, a great AAW chapter that meets a few miles from his house.

That’s a pretty good start, but in talking to him, I saw that there were a lot of things that I now take for granted that he has no clue about. Like how to choose a good gouge … and sharpen it. How to collect and process wood, what’s a good chainsaw and how to use it, push cut, pull cut, shear cut, shear scrape, the bevel, what’s the bevel?…. stuff like that. I realized that most of what I’ve learned about those issues … I’ve learned by being in this club with it’s great members and leaders who are so generous with their time and knowledge, and the demonstrators and workshop leaders that the Club has brought in.

When looking at the San Diego Club’s newsletter and website, I’m sure my brother is in good hands as well. You might enjoy looking at it …Google them). Help me out. Imagine that you have a brother, 3000 miles away, recently infected with the woodturning virus with a lot of enthusiasm, very little knowledge and a tight budget …… What would you tell him? Here’s the beginning of my list.

1. Buy fewer good quality tools vs more cheap ones.
2. Choose one or two experts to follow and learn a lot from them. For example Stuart Batty or David Ellsworth or (of course) Jimmy Clewes. I directed him to the 16 hours of free instruction on Stuart Batty’s website, and David Ellsworth’s book and Jimmy Clewes’ videos.
3. Disregard all experts who say there is only one way to do a thing.
4. Join the AAW in addition to the local chapter. It’s worth it just for the magazine but there are a lot more benefits.
5. Learn to sharpen. Dull tools don’t cut, no matter how good your technique. My brother already has a belt sander and wants to use that rather than buying a new grinder and CBN wheels. I know it’s been done, Has anyone built a gouge sharpening system with the Harbor Freight belt sander?
6. Same with chainsaw. Buy quality and keep it sharp. Have multiple chains and do some field sharpening then rotate them, but then just take them all in for a pro sharpen for $5.00 each when they all get dull. You’ll know you’re doing OK with both the chainsaw and lathe if they are producing long curly shavings.
7. Learn to cut bowl blanks, both conventional and natural edge.
8. His club, like ours, offers mentoring. Find one and take advantage. I learned so much from Don Maloney and Tom Boley.
9. Choose a way of mounting bowl blanks and get good at it. Worm screws are fast and safe and all chucks come with them.
10. Make cardboard or Masonite circles for all the sizes that you’ll be using.
11. Mark the minimum and maximum diameters on your chuck with a Sharpie.
12. Learn multiple ways to jamb chuck.
13. Learn the simple burnished Walnut Oil and Renaissance Wax finishing system
14. Learn to use Anchor Seal or other wood curing methods.
15. Always be conscious of the “line of fire” and stay out of it.
16. Eye protection always and lung protection when sanding.
17. Always take something to show and tell.
18. If they have “Ya Gotta Eat” lunches, attend them and take something to show. If they don’t have them … start one.
19. Whenever you get a chance to get a critique from someone more experienced, go for it, even if you have to pull it out of them.
20. Go to symposiums and other gatherings of woodturners whenever you can.

So, there’s a start of what could be a very long list. What else would you tell your new woodturning brother? Email me. I’ll post it here and pass it on to my real brother. BTW this experience has confirmed to me the truth of the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Just try clearly communicating some of these points using only words. If a picture is worth a thousand … live video with close ups of tool presentation must be worth a million. We both have smartphones so we’ll be trying to visit each other’s shop by FaceTime or Zoom Video Conferencing. I’ll report back on how it works. What a great time to be alive, this 21st century!

Happy Turns,

Dave Robinson
CAT President