I am always surprised at how many people have no concept of making something from scratch. Reminds me of a young man who came to my shop and saw something I had made and asked me “So you just take some wood from a tree in the forest and make something out of it?” Well, yeah, and that’s a little sad to me as a craftsman and carpenter that he would be surprised by that.
For “Get Woodworking Week”, I wanted to tell you about a newbie who came to my shop a couple of years ago. One of my son’s college classmates was looking for a unique birthday gift for her husband. I had given them a bowl for a wedding gift and they were really fascinated by it. The wife wanted her husband to learn how to turn a bowl, and approached me about supplying turning lessons as a surprise birthday gift. We agreed on a fee which worked out pretty good for me, since I agreed to give him at least five lessons on turning, and she agreed to make me a red velvet cake, a real southern classic. I work for food — and donations to my Habitat Chapter.
Husband came down to the shop and we mounted up a bowl blank for him to try. I had a blank bought from the High so it was already round and flat on both sides and ready to go. We went over gouge sharpening and some short bits of technique and a little demonstration time, and then I handed him the bowl gouge.
When beginners start to turn I find myself doing another analysis of where to stand to keep out of the way of flying tools and arcing lumber. I want to be able to see what the rookie is doing, but I do not choose to get hit in the mouth with a 5/8 inch steel gouge. I seem to recall that the first thing my student did was stick the tool in there pretty good and jam it up. Thankfully, he did not let go of the tool and the belt on the lathe is set a little bit loose so the wood stopped turning for a few seconds until we could pull the tool out of the wood. He kept trying though, with me helping him to adjust the angle of the tool and teaching him to listen to the wood and be able to hear when it sounds right. You can tell a lot by listening to the sound the tool makes when it is cutting, and that is a good thing to know when a beginner is trying to learn. You can stand back a little bit and still know what is going on with the tool.
It took us a couple of hours and I stepped in a couple of times to straighten out a cut to make it easier for him to continue, and finally we ended up with a pretty decent little bowl. We put some finish on it and with a little bit of additional finish in a bottle, the whole thing came full circle when he took his new bowl home to his new wife. I had a blast and I think he did too. We have lost touch since, but I hope he will continue his new found woodworking career one day. Maybe she will make me another cake when he does.