Beginner's Guide to Woodturning
While many of you are are very experienced woodturners, there are also a large number of you who are just getting started. This month, we're going to cover the skills that you need for getting started with this hobby. Beginning with a good foundation will allow you to build your skills more quickly, and be able to more fully enjoy this wonderful hobby. To get started, we wanted to share with you a letter we received from one of our newer customers from this past year, Barbara Piper.
"It was a cold bleak day in the middle of winter in Northern Michigan, and I was looking for another excuse not to run the vacuum cleaner. I’ve always wanted to try woodturning since back in the dark ages, when I was in Jr. High, and was told I couldn’t take Woodshop because I “was a girl!!”
I’m not a novice to working with wood, my Dad taught me a lot and I, being a basic wood geek, have worked with different wood projects for decades, including restoring antique carousel figures which required a lot of hand wood carving. Being familiar with most woodshop tools, and seeing no reason I shouldn’t try woodturning (other than I’m 72, female and weigh about 122 lbs) I signed up for a couple lessons with a local woodturner.
The day of lesson 1, for about 4 hours I was thoroughly intimidated, but being a bit stubborn and determined, I decided to continue with lesson 2. When I left his shop I had a basic introduction to grinders, the lathe, various tools, and I actually with his help made a bowl!
Next step: acquire lathe, tools, slow-speed grinder, lathe accessories, sandpapers, finishes, a shop apron and ventilated “Darth Vader” helmet, etc. Not that I knew what I was doing, but I did figure out that this was not going to be cheap!!
When I asked my instructor about acquiring turning wood, he suggested I take my chain saw, cut down a tree, slab it up, cut into turning squares, etc. That sounded like a lot of “work”! Since I only have a small chain saw, live in the middle of a wooded area and I don’t cut trees close to my house, and I live alone, I figured I had better look for an alternative. Thanks to the internet, I discovered this site [turningblanks.net] and I had my wood."
Barbara (Barb) has now completed nearly 100 bowls, and has gained lots of experience over the last year. In her note, she brings up quite a few good topics, so let's look at each in closer detail.
Take Wood Turning Lessons -
When getting started, it is incredibly important to begin learning from someone that has more advanced skills. If you try to just teach yourself, not only will you most likely be performing things in an unsafe manner, you'll also be incorrectly teaching yourself the techniques required to do things properly. It is far easier to learn from an experienced turner initially, rather than try and go back to re-learn the correct habits later down the road.
Learn to Sharpen Tools Properly -
Never try to sharpen tools on a grinder freehand! This is very dangerous, and will not produce a consistent, quality edge on your tools. Invest in a good quality 8" grinder and the proper accessories for sharpening turning tools. There are a variety of attachments on the market. One of the most popular systems is the Wolverine sharpening system, which can be fitted to most bench grinders.
Use Proper Safety Equipment -
Make sure that you get the proper safety equipment, and use it every time the lathe is in use. Accidents can, and will, happen at some point. Don't wait until after an accident has occurred to get the proper safety equipment. We have a large amount of information concerning safety equipment in our prior newsletters. Go through the archive, and familiarize yourself with all of the correct equipment and procedures. Remember, safety is no accident!
Get Quality Tooling-
Quality lathes and tools will make wood turning far more enjoyable. While it may be tempting to get the most affordable machine and accessories initially, make plans to buy more quality items in the future. Keep these items in mind when making your purchases:
- Quality tools stay sharp longer
Carbon steel tools are cheaper, but get dull more quickly. Investing in high speed steel tools or carbide-tipped tools will greatly reduce the amount of time you spend sharpening.
- Quality chucks reduce vibration and fatigue
Inexpensive lathe chucks are not machined to strict specifications. This can cause excessive vibration in the workpiece, and can eventually wear out the bearings in the headstock of the lathe, and will make turning quite a bit more difficult.
- Quality grinders improve sharpening quality
8" grinders do a better job of sharpening than 6" grinders. Consider upgrading to a larger bench grinder when possible. Also keep in mind that the sharpening wheels that come with most grinders are too coarse for grinding a fine edge on your tool. Purchase a quality stone wheel that has a finer grit than the one that comes standard with your machine. A finer edge will remain intact longer, and cut smoother than one which has been only roughly sharpened.
- Quality sandpaper lasts longer
Avoid using cheap sandpaper. Higher quality sandpaper will last longer, and cut more cleanly than lower grade sandpapers will.
Use the Proper Tools -
Some turning tools can be a bit intimidating to use when getting started. The bowl gouge and skew are two of the most popular examples. It can be frustrating to learn to use these tools properly, but once you become proficient with each, you'll see that they are definitely the tool for the task at hand. Try not to become comfortable with using scrapers to do everything, as they leave a much rougher surface which will require a lot of extra work in sanding when your project nears completion.
Slow Down the Finishing Process -
Many new turners try to hurry up and finish their project once they are done turning. Remember, the finishing process can make or break the quality of your work. Slow down, properly sand everything, and take your time when applying the finish. Always follow the manufacturer's directions, and allow each layer of finish to properly dry before reapplying the next coat.
Be Careful when Cutting Turning Stock -
There are many problems that can occur when cutting turning stock from trees. Leaving rotten wood, or minute cracks in a piece of turning stock can allow the piece to fly apart when on the lathe in some cases, and can be very dangerous. Try to remove any rotten areas, cracks (particularly ones which follow the growth rings of the tree, also known as "shake"), small limbs which jut out, and loose knots before getting started.