Tuesday, March 6, 2007
Turning Tips Unplugged pt.2
This is a picture of Blacksmith Marc Maiorana in my class at the Penland School in North Carolina. Marc is a fantastic blacksmith. He and I found so much common ground that we've created a blacksmith/greenwoodworking/toolmaking class that we'll be teaching at Penland this summer.
A few more tips to improve you're turning while the lathe is unplugged. Of course I have to talk about sharpening! Imagine if I laid out 10 boards, each 10 feet long and I handed you a razor sharp carving gouge. Then I asked you to carve singe line down the length of each board. Would the gouge be razor sharp at the end? Now think of the piece spinning in the lathe. How quickly would you travel the same 100 feet?
For a turning tool to be controllable, it is vital that it's edge not only be sharp but geometrically correct. By riding on the bevel at all times, turning becomes stable and fluid. The problem comes when the tool dulls and rounds ever so slightly. Then in order to engage the cutting edge, one lifts off of the safety of the bevel and CATCH! The problem is compounded by the fact that a dull tool cannot take a light cut, so by the time you do get the cutting edge to engage, the size of the cut is overwhelming and you lose control. Which brings me to the next topic,
Quit bullying the tool! It is more common to think that we should squeeze the tool to death rather than go sharpen it. The problem is that as we tense up we lose our ability to respond with any sensitivity. It is also exhausting! I show my students, that just two fingers at the back of the handle can control the cut. Hold the tool like a bird, just firm enough so it can't fly away. Remember, the tool rest is a fulcrum and the reason we have those long lathe tools is to benefit from the leverage it gives us. Anyone who has tried turning with the tool rest too far away can attest to that!
A last thought for the day is to recognize the importance of our body's role in turning. Turning is a dance, you can't stand in one place. It's vital that you keep your knees bent and practice moving your body in a way that will allow the tool to do it's job. I take a tip from the Japanese here, always move towards stability. Our tendency is to start cutting what is right in front of us as we stand balanced and then as the cut proceeds away from us, we reach away, falling out of balance. If you place yourself in the position that you will be at the end of a cut, and then shift your body to where the cut begins, you will be moving towards balance and a more fluid cut. I like to keep my elbows in and the back of the handle touching my body whenever possible, benefitting from the stability of my whole mass. Get used to moving more than you expect.