Still resentful that back in my school days girls were channeled into home economics while boys got to take woodshop and metalshop (apparently I can hold a grudge an awfully long time), my thoughts turned to woodworking. I have always wanted to learn to do woodwork, and lately I have been noticing spinning and weaving tools with lovely wooden handles. Eureka! Time to learn to use a lathe.
When you think about it, woodworking is not all that far from fiber arts. A tree, after all, is composed of fiber. The cellulose that makes up 40-50% of a tree's bulk can be used to make fabric such as rayon or viscose. So what if it takes gallons of chemicals and reducing that tree down to its cellular level to get there. It's still a fiber. So using a lathe to turn wood would simply be an extension of my fascination with all types of fiber arts. Right?
Anyway, over the course of a few hours, that thought turned into one of my typical obsessions. The internal dialogue goes, "I MUST learn to do <<enter name of craft>>. I will just take one class, and get it out of my system. I don't need to buy any equipment, tools, or materials. Or books. Or magazines." Then I go off and start searching the web for classes, which leads me to forums on the craft, which lead to conversations about all the cool equipment needed, which lead to books, and before I know it, I've ordered a couple of books from Amazon.com and started a list of things I MUST have do learn the craft properly.
At least this time I actually made it through the first class before I was over at Harbor Freight looking at the lathes.
There are several places in Southern California that offer woodturning classes, and I was lucky enough to find Rockler Woodworking in Pasadena. They were offering a 3-week class on woodturning beginning in just a couple of weeks... perfect to fill in a big chunk of the TriCommunity hiatus. And the teacher was Pete Carta, whose name and photo popped up on so many websites that I recognized him immediately when I walked into the store. He does some fabulous pieces, and turned out to be an excellent teacher.
The one thing I was a little shy about was entering a brand new arena all by myself. So I sought among my family and friends for
I LOVED it. There were only four in the class (our fourth was a very nice college student named Michael), so we each got plenty of help from Pete.
The first night we were introduced to the lathe, talked about safety, and started learning some basic techniques. First, we took a rough-cut chunk of liquid amber wood and used a roughing gouge to trim it down to a cylinder. This part was really easy and fun.
|Here's Mary Concentrating on her Spindle-to-Be|
Our first class was over before we knew it and each of us proudly took home our very first spindle. Unfinished and slightly fuzzy, but still an object that warms my heart. I've had it sitting on my desk at work ever since and it just makes me happy to look at it and think of all the possibilities it holds.
Our second class was on turning bowls. I wasn't all that interested in bowls at the start. What I really wanted to do was learn to turn fiber arts tools. My attitude changed completely when we got started. I'm not going to describe the techniques in any detail because I'm sure to get things wrong.
We started with already roughly shaped blanks. I could kick myself for not having taken a "before" photo or more "between" shots for that matter. We started with what was to be the top of the bowl attached to the headstock. Then we shaped the outside of the bowl.
Everyone's bowl had a different shape. I was fixated on getting control of my tools, so I made a very straight line from top to bottom. The others made their bowls more curved. Truth be told, I think theirs are more pleasing to the eye than mine, but I was really happy to have actually been able to do what I set out to do.
Here, you can see the guidelines we had for the bottom of the bowl. The outside circle was used as a guide for the outside edge. We used the inner circle as a guide to cut a channel for the chuck that held the bowl as we hollowed out the inside.
Here you can see the bowl with the bottom now mounted on a chuck that has jaws that fit in the channel we carved. We're ready to hollow out the top of the bowl!
Here's Katie's bowl after she finished hollowing it to her taste. After this step, we sanded the bowls with five increasingly fine grits of sandpaper. Then we applied butcher block wax liberally and buffed it.
The final step was turning the bowl around and trimming out the base. Here's Katie's bowl remounted and ready to be trimmed. I love the curves she put in her bowl.
This is my bowl after sanding and waxing -- ready to be remounted and have the bottom finished.
Here is my finished bowl from three different angles. I was thrilled that the shape turned out exactly as I had envisioned it, and at how the grain and color really popped after polishing.
And these are the four finished bowls. Michael's on the left -- he was the bravest and made his bowl very thin. Mine next then Katie's, then Mary's. I think they're all beautiful! And now I want to make more bowls...
Our third class was on pens. Once again I went in thinking I would like learning more techniques but I was not all that interested in pens. Wrong! I think this was my favorite of the three sessions.
Before we started on the actual pens, we practiced by using the rough gouge to trim a piece of wood down to a cylinder, then we used the spindle gouge to shape it. Before we started, the piece was square and looked like the dark bits on the ends.
I had fun practicing tapering and shaping with the spindle gouge. It seemed much easier this time and I didn't end up with all the fuzzy edges I made the first week.
What surprised me was that we used the same large gouges we used the first two weeks. I had assumed that on a more delicate piece we would need smaller tools. Wrong!
Pete had pen blanks already pre-drilled with tubes inserted and we got to choose from several different woods. Mary and Michael chose bloodwood, Katie chose tulipwood, and I chose walnut. It turns out that bloodwood is also known as logwood, a common natural dyeing material. I happened to have a ziplock bag in my purse (girl scout training, dontcha know) and Mary went home with a nice bag of logwood sawdust for the next dying session. See - I knew I could turn this into a fiber art topic.
Each blank was mounted on a #1 Morse taper mandrel (I think). Here's mine in various states of completion:
|Blank mounted and ready to turn|
|Cut to a cylinder|
|Ends tapered roughly to fit the bushings|
|Polished and ready to assemble|
|Katie's pen - tulipwood|
|My pen - walnut|
|Mary's pen - bloodwood|
|Some of Pete's pens - to show us some possibilities|
During the course of the class, I managed to acquire a lathe and basic set of gouges. I know people either love or hate Harbor Freight -- I happen to be on the love side because I haven't yet had a bad experience with their tools. The only down side to the one I purchased, a five speed benchtop model, is that I failed to notice how the speed is controlled. On this one, you have to remove a couple of lids from the body of the lathe and physically adjust the drive belt. This is not going to be as easy or convenient as a variable speed drill with a simple dial on the front. Darn it! And the gouges are nowhere near sharp enough to cut wood cleanly, so I am also the proud owner of a bench grinder. Already signed up for next month's class on sharpening the tools and there's another class on turning pens in my future.
All in all, I think the whole experience was a resounding success. I loved just about every bit of what we did, and have all kinds of ideas for things to make bouncing around in my head. And everyone came home with the same number of eyeballs and fingers as they started with.
Now if I can just figure out how to stop thinking about the cnc router I saw at the Rockler store...