Turning Archive

Feel *PIC*

John K Jordan
>>>But it all comes down to feel. The brain has to connect to the hand and be aware of what is happening at the cutting edge.

I think feel and sight are the important things. You can learn how to start by listening, watching, and reading but you can't learn how to feel the cut without doing.

All this about riding the bevel and flutes and presentation got me thinking some time ago. To me, cutting tools are basically the same - they have a sharp edge that engages the wood. I don't see a lot of difference between 1) a straight skew edge cutting a curved spindle surface, and 2) a curved bowl gouge edge cutting a flat surface on the face of a platter.

With a beginner who has never touched a lathe the first tool I put in their hand is a skew chisel, about as simple a tool as possible. I have a spindle already turned round and let them hold the tool against the wood while I turn the lathe by hand. With a bit of verbal guidance the person very quickly learns what to do to make the edge cut and not cut, cut shallowly and cut deeply. They learn to feel the wood with the sharp edge and the bevel and learn how to move the tool to keep it cutting. After a few minutes of that I turn the lathe on at the slowest speed. After a couple of minutes of that the speed goes up. In 10-15 minutes they are making reasonable planing cuts. We typically have NO catches.

I think the simple edge of the skew goes a long way towards teaching the most basic thing about controlled cutting on the lathe. If you start with the skew, everything else is easy.

An example: this girl, 18, had just two lessons, one with the skew and spindle gouge and a few weeks later turned a nice bowl during her second lesson. She had no lathe access outside my shop. Six months later (last week) she wanted to make a present and picked a squarish small winged platter - a project that challenges some experienced turners because of the need for very controlled cuts while "cutting air". This was her third experience at the lathe and was a spectacular success. I never touched the piece except to show how to use the gouge, Hunter tool, negative rake scraper, hand scrapers, and sanding block. The finished piece is almost perfect and is getting the danish oil regimen this week. (Pictures of the piece later.)

I admit to being quite skeptical she would get very far on this piece without having a disaster. It probably would have been a disaster without learning the feel of precise tool control in the first two lessons.

BTW, I did watch every cut and made suggestions as needed. Not one time did I use the terms "open" or "closed" or about riding the bevel. I taught my philosophy of making almost every cut a practice cut. I showed, she tried, she cut. (and not one catch!) Good clean fun!


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