Monday, March 5, 2007

Turning Tips Unplugged

Turning is a skill that takes a great deal of practice to do consistently. The good news is that there are many things that can be done to help even before you turn on the machine. One is lighting. I like to use a raking light, which is simply a light off to the side of the lathe. A raking light casts shadows on inconsistencies of shape and makes the condition of the surface easier to see. Another consideration should be the condition of the tool rest. It's a cruel joke that early in your experience, you are more likely to "catch" a tool and have it ding up your tool rest, making fluid cuts even more difficult! Take a few minutes to file and smooth your tool rest. A good waxing also goes a long way, I always keep a block of paraffin and a scotchbrite pad (to smooth the wax) handy.
Having trouble with a tool not cutting and all of a sudden grabbing a huge bite? Turn off the lathe, and check to see if there is any compressed wood on the bevel of your tool. It's enough to keep you from the cutting edge until it's too late and you lose control. Clean off the junk on your finest stone or buffer. Green wood especially loves to build up on a tool this way.
One last pointer is to have a plan, which is different from just a pattern. As you see in the picture, I have roughed out a turning, carefully locating all of the major diameters and shapes. This is the beginning of a series of tasks that I do in the same order every time I turn. Think about it like driving to the grocery store. If you go the same way all the time, preferrably the fastest route, you will immediately notice a wrong turn or where the potholes are. And if you are like me, there are many potholes along the way! By first roughing out the entire piece, I have a much easier time ensuring that all of the elements are present and correctly spaced. As you can see, they are rough, but they are there. I never start by finishing any one part before locating the others. As an art student, I took note that Picasso finished the eyelashes on a portrait before he detailed where the body was! I was no Picasso then and I am no Picasso now. So unplug your lathe and become a better turner!

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