Ok…not relax…

I haven’t had a moment to post since the last one, despite thinking I would have some time. AWGB seminar work is endless at present, calls, emails, catalogue preparation for the Live Auction (details to follow shortly) and a mountain of other things that have to be done before the 12th August. On top of all this there’s been the usual stuff…

Last Thursday I had a demo to give in Suffolk, and it was an unusual demo…a quick re-work and vastly shortened version of a full day version…I wasn’t at all sure if would work before I did it, and I’m less convinced now. A few kindly souls said they enjoyed it and that they’d maybe give decorative turning a try, but on the whole I think it’s a non-runner for the future. The main problem is the absolute reliance on there being  plenty of actual turning in a demonstration. I think for some there is a direct relationship between the quality of the demo and the amount of mess made.

Perhaps I should have invited those so inclined to the workshop…they’d go away thinking they’d been given the keys to the Harrods storeroom.

The only turning I actually did was a simple bowl, and this only to demonstrate the use of egg tempra as paint…and then the results were dreadful after rushing through what can take hours in the normal run of things. I did take a few examples if finished pieces that I’d quickly prepared the day before…

The first is the Al Stirt platter I re-turned and finished…(now sold)

Second and third were an off centre bowl and a lidded bowl with finial…

A student spotted them in a box and asked to try one herself on Tuesday…

So off she went. Never having turned a lidded anything, and barely beyond the rank beginner stage, I think she did okay. The picture is quite poor as I had to rely on the camera phone…

Opps…saved it too small and now it’s gone!…I’ll replace from phone tomorrow…

Anyway…I’ve also had to turn a hollowform to commission from some french maple brought over two weeks ago. I warned that it was green, and would require some time to dry after roughing, but the item was required within a week! Oh well, warnings given and accepted I turned exactly what was required. Not to my taste at all, but you know what they say…the customer is always right…

Far too plain. So I turned an optional finial top for it. But the customer loved it and brought be a case of wine as a thank you! Anyone else want one?

The Maple was interesting to turn (awful)…and so different from UK maple. But then we don’t have forty degree summers and minus twenty winters. It makes for a lot of hard-soft-hard-soft-hard-soft whilst turning. And as bland as an Asda Madras.

I’ve been more tired than I can remember being for a long time, so knowing that the next few days are going to be very busy I took a day off today and we went to Ely in Cambridgeshire to see the Cathedral. Which is gorgeous. John would have loved it too. Stained glass to die for (many have!) And they do courses for £3! John, you’re too expensive 🙂

And Ellie got to sit in a “throne” used in the King’s Speech, which was filmed there. Now she wants to see the film to see if she can spot the chair…sorry, throne.

So tomorrow I have a visitor due, an important piece to finish (or, more likely, start again), and a demonstration on Friday evening to prep for (NO AV and NO OPINIONS), a sign to make, some clock pegs, and…damn I know there’s something else…


And relax…

I was in London for what should have the been the last leg of the restoration of floors and stairs on saturday. With travel I put in a 21 hour day. And at the end of it I felt my age. And now it seems I have a stair banister and spindle set to turn and fit. Will it ever end? It feels like I live there myself now and just do a long commute for the week in the workshop.

The chairs I also restored for the same client received a welcome return and they were thrilled with them, so that was one good thing. The lower stair well was transformed from a dark non-space into a bright and welcoming entry to the apartment, and that also received a good response.

Decades of paint on the stairs refused to budge to stripper, even after two coats and an hour, so the heat gun and scraper were the only way. Horrid job.

Sunday I only popped into the workshop for a short while to meet a student. Monday back to normal. I spent the day trying to turn a special piece which I finished at home in the evening. Not at all sure if it works so I’ll hold off posting it yet.

I have a student and a demonstration this week, so lots to do for both. I also have an important piece to make after I decide what it is to be! And a commission for an anniversary due by the 29th. And on top of that I have a ton of work to do for the AWGB seminar and another very large commission to complete, and a week-long shared exhibition in Dunwich called Four Elements in late August. Other than that my time’s my own. So don’t expect too much on the way of posts!

Back to oddments…

A local woman left an old unfinished bowl for me whilst I was away at weekend. I don’t know what the wood is…possibly cocobolo? I’m not good on exotics as I use them so rarely.

A friend (have I done this already?) brought me two lovely large sections of wet Cherry a few weeks ago, and I turned a vessel from part of one lump. It was turned green to a finish, and although it looked fine it was a little bland, so after some thought I decided to try something I’d been meaning to do for ages…add real leaf skeletons as a decorative freeze.

I liked the effect so did a quick ogee-shaped bowl with a wide rim in sycamore and applied the same techniques…

Gilwell24 2011

Although it seems impossible, it was the Gilwell24 annual scout event again yesterday. Mike Rothwell and John Leach and their team from East Herts Woodturning Club had managed to beg and borrow about sixteen lathes from Charnwood and Axminster, tools from Barry Surplice at Henry Taylor tools, finishes from Chestnut Products, and a host of other bits and bobs from various sources, and together with the monumental task of organising the event all was in place for an early start on Saturday.

The Association already have a link with the Scouts, having prepared the new Scout Initiative with them, and the Woodturning tent at Gilwell24 is used as a brief introduction to woodturning for the Explorer Scouts and leaders.

The AWGB were represented by Chairman, Reg Hawthorne, Secretary Mike Collas, and myself. Reg had actually only intended to be there as liaison between the association and the Scout leadership, but such was the demand for sessions he was quickly roped in as a tutor.

Last year we had 120 scouts through the teaching area, but this year we had 194 between 8a.m. and 7.15p.m. A long, long day. But great fun as always.

The Explorer Scouts seemed to really enjoy the opportunity to use the lathes and tools, and some even returned having completed the taster session last year. Without exception they all went away with a smile and a memento in the form of the object they had turned.

Barry Surplice, owner of Henry Taylor and Hamlet tools, enjoyed the day so much he’s promised to return next year.

In the afternoon this young lady was directed to my teaching station.

In one of those weird moments of synergy she told me that she lives very close to Bucklebury Common, and mentioned a plaque in the village dedicated to a woodturner, and that this was why she thought she’d have a go. The plaque, of course, is for George Lailey, The Last Bowlturner, as he was known, made famous by the travel Writer H.V.Morton, and raised to the giddy heights of Craftsman celebrity as a result. And more recently it was Robin Wood who re-invented George’s technique for making nested bowls on a pole lathe from a single blank.

She told me that every year a woodturner comes along to the green and turns all day, and that her Mother had bought many lovely objects off him over the years.

Does the turner wear a waistcoat and a straw hat with wooden flowers on it?


Stuart King then.

She was shocked that anybody was at all aware of Lailey, the Green, or the turner who kept the annual tradition.

But it made the spurtle she turned all the more special for her. Next time she can take it along to show Stuart, who I’m sure will be impressed.

It was (and always will be) a long and exhausting day, but I wouldn’t want to miss it. For me that’s it for the year, but for the East Herts group there’s another similar event shortly, and more in the planning. The dedication and energy of this group is without parallel, and the efforts they make to spread the woodturning word, get young people involved and interested is frankly staggering. And the look on every face tells the story…young people relish the opportunity to actually get hands on and make something. And many quickly spotted the possibilities.

It was a great day. Thanks to all at East Herts WTC, Henry Taylor Tools, Axminster, Chestnut, Charnwood, and the Scout HQ at Gilwell. See you next time!

It took a long time…

Two years ago Al Stirt gave me three platters from his demonstrations at the 2009 AWGB seminar. They were incomplete, and were only demo pieces, but still…they were by Al Stirt. So after a hearty thank you I packed them away and carried them back to the workshop in the van.

A couple of days ago Al emailed me concerning the 2011 Live Auction at the AWGB Seminar and I was reminded of the platters. I pulled them down from the top of a cabinet today and thought I’d play with one of them.

But what do you do to a platter that is turned in a very distinctive style, and is heavy with the signature of another turner? A black rim and carving was out…that’s what Al Stirt would have done – in fact, he’d already coloured and carved a small section during the demonstration. So…what?

There being no mounting point on the platter, I turned a jam chuck and managed to mount it between the jam chuck and the revolving center with the aid of a block of wood to prevent damage to the shallow bowl section. Upon spinning the platter it was quite badly out of true…two years of further drying having had an effect…so truing was going to be difficult. And it was. But sharp tools and a delicate touch brought it in to true and removed the colour and carving.

As the wood was lightly spalted sycamore, and dreadfully bland, it needed something. I remembered a colouring idea I’d had a while ago after looking at some old Georgian buildings in Spitalfields, London, and set to with a few new (to me) colouring ingredients. The intention was to try to recreate the look of the plaster walls with their many coats of distemper showing through. The final coat is a thin wash of white to knock back the previous colours.

The results are different, and quite subtle, and I’m not sure if there needs to be some kind of accent…but I’ll have a think about it and maybe try something later in the week. At least it’s not what Al Stirt would have done. (Maybe there’s a reason for that!)

I wonder if I should send the images to Al Stirt so he can roll his eyes and sigh?

Woodturning tuition…what is it?

What is Woodturning Tuition? This is a serious question.

It seems to me that the most of what is offered as such is actually woodturning an object tuition. The problem stems from both tutors and students. Students (most often) want to take a finished object away, and tutors want to provide what students want in order to maintain a service that has earning potential. No surprise there then.

The scenario usually goes something like this:

S: Do you teach woodturning?

T: Yes I do.

S: Great. can I book a day to learn?

T: You can book a day, but you won’t learn to turn in a single day. I can only skim the surface of the various aspects in a day. Safety, lathe introduction, wood selection and preparation, tools and sharpening, tool use, basic cuts Etc., etc.

S: Well maybe I can just get straight onto the lathe and make something?

T: Sadly not. You need the other things and I don’t do the Introduction course without them.

So they come along and you go through the safety and lathe and tool stuff, the wood selection and prep, and they listen and watch with a glazed expression. And then in the short time left they expect to produce a great finished item. But worst of all, they then expect to go away and have the skills to turn anything safely.

It’s not going to happen is it?

Med students aren’t taught to do an appendectomy and then sent away with the claim that, “well you’ve mastered that one, the rest will come to you as you try”. No. They are taught anatomy, physiology, skeletal studies, and a whole host of other things before they get on to the actual cutting.

The more I teach the more I feel this is how it should be with woodturning tuition. But it’ll never sell as an idea. Students want immediate results. A tangible proof of their day’s activity. They want, in fact, one thing. A bowl. They want a nice bowl.

I can do that. I can provide anyone with the  opportunity to turn a bowl. It’s simple. I could make one for them in just under ten minutes. But most students take all day to produce a good simple bowl. And if you are also trying to pass on techniques, techniques which will be transferable to other areas of turning, then it should (but can not) take longer still. So what do we (the tutors) do? We walk them through a bowl…

stand here, cut there, move here, use this tool, use that tool, feet here, hips this way, arms in, bevel up, bevel down, flute up, flute down…

there you go. Your first bowl. Ain’t that great?

And they usually think it is. They are proud and glowing with the flush of success. I did that, their eyes say. But most have been so focused on producing the first object that they then struggle to go away and produce another. Many return, or call, with problems…I can’t get rid of the rough bits in the wall of the bowl (torn end grain)…how do I turn the sticky – out bit (tenon) for the chuck?

Oh dear.

If students would allow themselves to be taught the techniques and forget the object, I know they could go away and produce a decent range of objects safely by using the techniques they would learn. You don’t go for a driving lesson with the intention of being guided through getting from A to B. You go with the intention of learning how to get yourself between many other A’s and B’s by learning the driving techniques.

The saddest thing is that I think I know why this happens; it happens because producing an object is viewed as good value, and standing at the lathe all day and doing nothing but practice beads and coves is viewed as poor value.

In my opinion it’s the best value you can get. Let somebody who know how to show you how, let them stand over you while you make the mistakes that everyone makes, let them tweak your skills until you can do it without thinking, and then you can go  away and make anything. The techniques are the basis of all turning. They are the second set of tools you need after the actual tools. They will allow you to break rules, make the cuts you need to produce your masterpiece, and do it all in relative safety and confidence.

So come on…forget the first bowl will you! Learn to turn and then when you get on your own lathe your first bowl will be your bowl…your design, your bowl. Not one dictated by the tutor and shaped by his guiding hand and words.