When I was taking shop at BHS in Mr. Lynch’s class I got very interested in a machine called a wood lathe. There was only 1 lathe and about 30 some students in class so you know how much time you got to use it.
When I was teaching at Massanutten Vo-Tech, they also had one lathe in the carpenter shop. I couldn’t keep away from it, so I was using it in all my free time. When I was at BHS we never had any instruction on using a lathe. It was mainly set up for doing spindle work, such as a bed post. I was never too interested in that phase of turning. I catered more to ornamental or bowl turning. After I retired from teaching I got interested in plants and greenhouse work. Park Seeds in Greenville, SC. advertised they were having an open house, so my wife Kay and I decided to go down and check it out.
On arriving in town we noticed a sign beside the street that said “Festival of Flowers”. We thought that was as good a place as any to start out. When we got inside we found out it was nothing but a large craft show. BUT there was a vendor there selling his products…lathe turned items! I bought one – still have it.
After I retired, my mother, who cared for my father, died. My father was an invalid who later got Alzheimer’s. I inherited her job as his caregiver for the next 7 years. While I was tending to him, I had a lot of time to practice woodturning. I went out and bought myself the first lathe I could find and started making wood chips. I started going to craft shows, a lot of craft shows. I was in my glory.
I finally found a better lathe, a Delta, that worked very well. Most of my work was made on this lathe. Then about 10 years ago, I found a deal on a bigger lathe at Rocking R Hardware, a Powermatic. It was heavy enough that it wouldn’t walk around the shop after you. When looking for a lathe, get the largest you can afford. It also had an adjustable speed control, which is a very essential feature when turning large pieces, sanding, or turning out of balance pieces. It can handle pieces of wood up to 20 inches diameter, which is fine, because I can’t lift anything larger than that! My doctor forbids me to lift anything heavier than a gallon of water because of two ruptured discs. A 15 in. bed extension came with the lathe. When I started out, I bought myself a set of tools that cost around $46.00 for 10. I learned a lesson there, each tool should cost around $100.00 each for a good one.
I like to buy my turning tools unhandled. I make my own handles from saplings, preferably dogwood with bark still on it and long. They are rough and easier to grip and hold onto. You change your way of thinking as you progress into the woodturning field, or I did. When you are hollowing out a closed top bowl, my favorite, it takes a strong grip on the tool, or it could get away from you, catch, and knock a few teeth out. It takes courage and nerve to stick your tool into that small revolving hole. In a natural edge closed top bowl you can’t let the tool touch or rub the opening or you will mess up the bark edge. You shouldn’t try this type until you get some practice.
Another machine you will need is a hefty bandsaw. By all means get a carbide blade for it. It will save you headaches and money. Mine is an 18 in. industrial saw with a ¾ in. blade. I call it my mini sawmill.
I love scrounging wood. That’s as much fun as turning it. One Christmas, I found seven wild cherry burls on my porch that Santa (my daughter, Joni and her husband, Tony) had left. Who could ask for a better Christmas!
When I was teaching at MTC, I would pass this yard with a very unusual looking tree. One evening on the way home I noticed it was gone. An abrupt U-turn was in order. I inquired about the tree and was told it was up in the wood shed. I asked for a piece of wood and was informed I could have it all, if I would contribute something from my lathe. Deal done. I came home with the whole tree in the back of my Isuzu Trooper. See photo Unknown wood No. 1. It is closely related to Staghorn Sumac.
I have never been able to get the species of tree identified. There is a place in Wisconsin that identifies wood, and they had no idea what it was. They wanted a sample of the wood to put in their archives.
I would also take along a chain saw when we would go on our camping expeditions out west, just in case. I always liked to get a piece of wood at each location to make into a souvenir.
That is how I filled a 32 x 84 ft. building with great wood. I have enough wood hoarded up to last me two lifetimes. When you see a piece of wood you have to be able to visualize your end result. I found out that this is something most people can’t do.
Jcoffman1938@gmail.com for questions.
Next Month: How I got interested in Nantucket Baskets.