Teachable Moment

Note – This post is from our newsletter archives. It was the Vice President’s message by Eric Lofstrom from the July, 2009 issue of Chips & Shavings.

Summer is the season of working in the yard, tackling projects, traveling, and turning. Well, some of us find time to turn during these warm months. It seems the past few summers have been so
busy I’ve had to block-out some time on the calendar just to ensure I made a few shavings and kept my skills sharp. During a recent scheduled turning session, I was using one of my favorite tools…the skew…and I had a moment to stop and think back to when this tool raised my hackles. Have you given any thought to how it feels to learn a “brand new” skill? I can hear some of you already saying out loud, “First of all, I still shudder when I think of the skew! Secondly, I’ve got so many things that are new to me in turning, I have those feelings all the time!” But, bear with me.

I had one of those deep thoughts… before I ever used a skew, WHY was I so afraid of putting this tool to a piece of spinning wood? I thought awhile… a trusted source told me I should be. Of course, my early stumbling attempts firmly reinforced this belief. I had several severe catches, one after another, chunks of wood flew off the lathe. When the tool caught, I tightened my grip, widened my stance and dove in as if going to battle. With each catch, the answer seemed obvious: control the tool with more force. But this sweat inducing death grip only made the tool bite with more pant filling excitement! I walked away from the lathe exhausted, nursing my bruised ego and sore forearms for days. How had the skew survived in the arsenal of so many turners when it was such a nasty tool? I would either persist in practicing skew techniques until I made more long curly shavings than catches or decide I’d wasted too many incredible chunks of wood and admit defeat. I couldn’t help but think, “How would my initial experiences have been different if my introduction to the skew was focused on its versatility and the beauty of cutting wood?”

Somewhere along the way, I began shifting away from tightening my grip to viewing each catch as a teachable moment. A moment where the wood and tool give you feedback on how they interact. An opportunity to turn off the lathe and look at why the tool is catching by performing a slow-motion replay. If I wanted to learn how to use the skew with confidence, I needed to deepen my understanding. By stopping the lathe and putting a little effort into observing the mechanics of cutting wood, my opinion of the skew began to change. The skew moved from the “barely worth hanging onto” position in my tool rack to the coveted “Top spindle tool I would want with me if I was stranded on a tropical island with a lathe and unlimited wood.”

During these summer months of traveling and tackling projects, I encourage you to take a moment to think about being “brand new” at something. What are your expectations? Are you open to observing and learning, or will you grip your ego and go to battle? Despite a busy schedule, remember to set aside time for exploring something new. You might just discover a favorite tool or technique! 🙂