Turning Archive 2006
>I had posted this a few days ago on WoW, but realized this morning that several WoodCentral members do not go to WoW. Given that Russ is a prominent member on WC, here is the posting again for those of you who have not read it. To put it into context, I recently stopped to take 3 days of classes with Russ in Idaho, on my way home from LA. The following recounts my experience:
Well folks, I got home from Post Falls, Idaho, where I spent 3 days with Russ Fairfield and his wife, Gerry. My body does not know what time it is, and although this day started for me around 4:30am, I am too hyped up to go to sleep.
Early on the first day, Russ stated that he had not invented anything, nor did he make anything unique. Well, I don’t know if that is true. But even if it is, what I thought of was the claim made by BASF(?), where they say, “We don’t make the things you use, we make the things you use better.” In the same way, while Russ may not have invented anything, he sure helps you make whatever you do better.
If you go to take a class with Russ, make sure you clean out the hard drive that is in your brain before you go, as you are in for a huge data dump! When Russ is explaining something, or answering a question, he does not just tell you what to do, but also why. I had expected to learn about the properties of wood, but we also got into metallurgy to understand why certain steels are not well suited for scrapers, while they might make adequate gouges; into the chemistry of finishes and crystalline structures, to understand the difference in appearance of spar urethane versus polyurethane; into how optics explain why the inside of a bowl looks shinier than the outside, after the same treatment; the elements that explain how the eye can be fooled into perceptions of the thickness of a piece; why our senses are more forgiving of a slight bump in the middle of the bottom of a bowl than of a slight depression; why you should leave a bump on the base of a bowl before sanding; how to get the same look using different finishes, and how to get different looks; the physics of what causes depth in a finish, and how that makes some chemicals unsuitable as a finish; why the first coat of oil on some woods takes so much longer to dry; why different grinds work in different situations. In addition, we got into applications of principles of design, and how to fix screw-ups in turning and finishing.
But the most valuable lesson of all that I learned from observing him and working with him was with regard to process. IT TAKES WORK to get a good finish, it takes time, and it takes patience, and you may have to back up and redo several steps. You can learn to do things efficiently, but you have to give yourself time, and you have to give the finish time.
I also have to thank Russ for having the wisdom to marry Gerry---she greeted me as though we were old friends, and, on the 2nd day of my visit, announced that she had always wanted a son, and would I consent to be her adopted son! What was also funny was she had mentioned to her neighbors that they had an Indian visiting them, and, as a result, the neighbor’s kids and their mom trooping through Russ and Gerry’s place, as they wanted to see what an Indian looked like! I was glad to oblige!
The three of us had a great time together over meals or just sitting around after working, as Gerry talked about the history of her family, and Russ regaled us with stories of his checkered past,. I thought that I had done a variety of things in my life, but it is nothing compared to his exploits! Our conversation covered politics, philosophy, religion, history, and, over the course of 3 days, I think we solved most of the solutions of the world! (Well, no one would ever accuse either Russ or me of not having an ego!) Russ tries to play the role of ye olde curmudgeon, but his basic good nature constantly breaks through. Good food, thought-provoking and humorous conversation, wonderful scenery, and a convivial atmosphere made for a great 3 days! And the turning and finishing wasn’t too shabby either! :-)
The only complaint that I have is that Russ has this self-deprecating habit of starting an instruction by saying “You probably know this already”, or “I’m sure I’m telling you something you know…” He stopped doing this, when I told him that he was really making me feel like a dummy!
Russ was named as a sage by his peers and his students. After my time with him, I realized that the title is woefully inadequate in describing him.