Thursday, December 13, 2012


No this is not about shavehorses, that's too silly to even argue.
I had Ken St. Onge from Fine Woodworking in the shop the other day shooting photos for the second installment of turning articles that we are doing. I'm happy to say that they've added a third.

Some of you may have noticed that I am decidedly left handed, which for most activities isn't so difficult to translate for instruction, but Ken was convinced that for the publication, we should shoot me turning right handed.

Now I've heard it said that if you are first learning to turn that you should practice with both hands, and it sounds great, after all, you are awkward no matter what you do, so that would be the time to become ambi capable.
I didn't.

Granted, for lots of the turning, such as the first ten beads, I simply knocked em out lefty, but for the photos, I had to turn right handed, in slow motion, stopping about four times per detail for pictures.

A while back, I read an interesting experiment that focused on "The Curse of Knowledge". This is when you forget, or can't imagine that someone can't understand or perform something that you know. In the experiment, one person tapped a tabletop with the rhythm of a song that was in their head and the other person had to guess the song. Almost no one guessed the song, to the amazement of the tapper, who assumed it was obvious.

When teaching, I always try to keep this in mind, hoping that I can both empathize with the student not knowing and going through the stress of learning and also to help come up with the best way to bring them along in understanding and doing. While turning right handed, I was thrown from a place of comfortable knowledge, back into white knuckle terror.

As I rolled a bead with the skew, stopping for photos, I tried to take my own advice and apply the motion that I've described to students so many times. To my amazement, it worked. Not the prettiest beads, but there were no major catastrophes.

So, when you see the photos, or watch the videos that Ken shot (at the end of the day!) take a closer look, and know that I've had a refresher course in what it is to learn to turn. Maybe they can photoshop some blood back into my fingers.


Miles said...

I'm left handed - and read with delight that you are as well. Not strongly left handed, but the saw handle, the plane tote, chisel, screwdriver, etc. ... all naturally fall to my left hand.

Publishers should recognize that - I'm steadily reversing diagrams and pictures. Basic examples: shooting board, sawing, etc.

My bench has the vise at the "wrong" end, new one will have it on the right end - and I'll see if that works any better.

Cheers - Miles Thompson
Enfield, NS

Steve Tomlin said...

I'm a greenwood carver in the UK and have been going through similar experiences since I went on a spooncarving course with Fritiof Runhall from Sweden who suggested that learning to carve with both hands would result in better symmetry and less tiring of the hands.
It's a fascinating process to go through and one that's benefitted my own teaching too.

Peter Galbert said...

Thanks for the comments, perhaps someday we lefties will have full citizenship!

NPC said...

Woodworkers are slow to adopt, but since your kind has already been in the Whitehouse who knows were you could go.......

NPC said...

Damn auto-type. It should have read 'where'. Afterall I did graduate 3rd grade

gregoire68 said...

Thanks for your efforts to teach people in the "hand" of their preference. I learned to turn spindles watching your videos. Your left handed turning was a simple mirror image of my right handed method. That made it quite simple for me. Thanks again for sharing your skill. Greg

Tico Vogt said...

I use the technique of switching to my non-dominant hand when I teach guitar to beginners. It helps me to realize what they are up against.

Bern said...

Mollydookers ├╝ber alles!!!

GrumpyNeanderthal said...

I think we all understand you are a talented craftsman/artisan, but I must say that you are also a skilled communicator and teacher... your writing technique is very good. I enjoy your blogs not only from the woodworker prospective but I find parts of them applicable to other things which interest me outside of woodworking. I pass them along to my son who I think can learn from you even though he has no interest in woodworking.

greg said...

I find myself deliberately pushing my "other" handed manual skills. In turning and carving, the angle of the required cut frequently requires using "off" handedness. The folks I play pool with know I won't use the "cow", preferring to use the opposite hand to make the shot instead. I'm not ambidextrous by all means, but I encourage everyone to try their skills with their "Other" hand.

greg said...

I have followed all your posts and videos on turning, and it never occurred to me that you were left handed. I found the YouTube segments very helpful, and never gave a thought about which hand you were using. The comments you made, the techniques you show - apply to either hand. I think FWW is silly asking for you to do things right handed.

Unknown said...

I agree with Greg. I learned to turn watching your videos as well and never noticed you where a lefty until I came to your shop. I noticed I was replicating your exact approach to how you held, worked and placed the spindle in the shave horse and finally realized it was a bit awkward because I was imitating a lefty. Then Curtis continued the on slot of lefty influence. Fortunately, like my father, I can do most things pretty well left handed. Like Greg mentioned, shoot pool.

I understand in an editors office it might seem reasonable to ask you to switch but frankly I think the average person is smart enough to get the concept without the need of seeing it actually done right handed. I mean, how do the leftys get by with all this right handed instruction? I guess you would say they are just smarter. L :)

Unknown said...

After working on your 24" tool rest I had serious tool rest envy so I made my own tool rest so I could be like you and whip up and down the lathe. Was the best thing I ever did to speed up the learning process.

BTW, I put up a post about what mine looks like, if anyone needs an idea. They are simple and well worth doing.

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I love these chairs , I also dabble with chairs and stools and other bits and pieces that are one off and a bit more quirky. One day maybe I will take a windsor chair course . Anyway hi from Scotland cheers

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