When I was in junior high school my favorite class was shop. In seventh grade we did a variety of projects with many different materials. Metal, leather, plastic and wood were used. In eighth grade we were able to pick our projects and I made a coffee table of walnut that my folks used until they were gone. I also made a small chest of drawers which is in my home now. In ninth grade we were able to use the lathe for the first time since it was dangerous to use. I was so intrigued that I made many projects on the lathe. The first bowl sits under our phone in the kitchen. It sits on a board that I turned and carved to fit both the bowl and a letter opener and it was returned to me as well when my folks had no more need.
That summer we visited an uncle. He had a lathe he had never used and he gave it to me. My dad put it in the trunk and we took it home from Southern California. I bought lathe tools from Sears or Montgomery Ward with earnings from my paper route. I still have those tools on my tool cart for memory sake. With those basic tools my dad and I created all sorts of things over the years. Then I left home for college. Before college was over Gail and I were married just before our senior year began. My lathe stayed at my parents home until my father was gone.
I brought my lathe home to Issaquah and our boys and I made a baseball bat. Then it sat as life went on busily. While visiting Port Townsend I saw wood pens in a store and I said to Gail I could make those and she giggled because I said that quite often about lots of wood things. A few years later I wondered into a woodworking store and spotted kits for pens and asked the owner what was needed to make a pen. He gave me a two minute lesson and a list of items needed for the lathe. I bought all the accessories and that is when my lathe interest reignited. I actually had to sit down and spread my legs in order to hold the lathe still since it was mounted on a rickety metal stand with casters by my father. I made quite a few pens in this way and finished them with wax.
Chatting with a customer about my lathe experience, he mentioned that he rebuilt old lathes and we worked out a deal that really benefited him and I had a larger lathe. It was less than wonderful, but I managed to use it to make all sorts of things and a multitude of pens. My friend Tom Bageant had a lathe and he bought a chuck that expanded to hold things and I borrowed it and made my first bowl since junior high. It was extremely poor at best, but inspirational. After much thought I decided to purchase a real lathe and bought a General lathe with a headstock that rotated and moved along the lathe bed. It was wonderful.
Tom and I were at Woodcraft in Seattle when Jack Wayne encouraged us to come to the South Puget Sound Woodturners Club meeting. We had heard of the woodturners club many times and thought it was probably a few old guys sitting around telling stories of the past. After Jack’s encouragement we decided to go to the meeting. We were stunned at what we encountered. There were over fifty wonderful turnings on display. There were over a hundred folks at the meeting, all ages and both men and women. My friend from the past, Lynn Olinger, was at the meeting and we had not seen each other in several years. We rekindled our friendship. Tom and I joined that night.
That was the beginning of a wonderful journey. One of the first meetings Dale Larson was there as a demonstrator and taught about turning wet wood and bowl turning in general. I took notes and tried to do this at home with limited success. I then went to a few sawdust sessions and learned from Eric Lofstrom, Jim Cotter and Bob Sweazey. Eric taught me how to sharpen tools by hand without a jig. Bob taught me about cutting the outer edge of a bowl to size and shape before going deeper into the bowl to maintain stability. Jim Cotter taught me all sorts of general turning information. He continues to be a wonderful source of help to me as president.
After spending an afternoon with Eric at his home I was inspired yet again. The next meeting at Show and Tell I displayed this little bowl that I had made using techniques that Eric had shown me. At the meeting Dave Schweitzer taped me on the shoulder and suggested that I spend some time with him. He thought he could teach me some things that I had not learned yet. Wow! What a great experience.
I spent an entire day with Dave listening and learning and turning. I was there for over eight hours. Dave jokes now about how he and Lu thought I would never leave. After returning home I was definitely inspired and turned around 250 wet wood bowls. That way I was able to practice the techniques that Dave had taught me. By the time some of the bowls had dried and were ready to be returned my skill level had improved. After turning another fifty or so bowls my techniques were far more refined.
I spent more time with Dave as he helped me refine my methods. Then Dave did an all day demonstration at Nancy Sweazey’s. I learned even more. The thing that stuck in my head was Dave saying that if it took more than twenty minutes to sand a bowl he figured he had not done a very good job of turning it to begin with. This was another challenge for me to improve my techniques to accomplish using less sand paper and less time to finish a bowl.
Now, after many demonstrations and learning so many things, it is always exciting to come to our meetings. No matter what is being taught one can always take something from the teaching and incorporate it into what you’re turning at home. Tom Bageant is a fine example of doing that with his turning. His light houses, and now his light house pepper mills, are a result of using the many techniques he has learned at club meetings over the years. I can hardly wait to see what he will come up with next.
Now that you know why I am excited about coming to our meetings I hope that you too are inspired to come and learn and use what you have learned in your turning.
See you at the next meeting.