What is Woodturning?
Have you ever heard of a craft called woodturning? I hadn’t until a couple months ago. And now I am hooked. When I was drawn to start exploring woodworking a few months back, I realized it was a very broad hobby. Which I suppose is part of the lure, there is SO MUCH you can do in the world of woodworking. Spending time in some of our local woodworking shops, I discovered the art of woodturning. There are so many beautiful things people make! Bowls, vases, candle sticks, pens, salt and pepper shakers, lamps, just to name a few. Do a search on Google Images for woodturning, and you will see! Basically imagine anything that is made of wood that is symmetrical (or close to it). I bet it was made on a lathe.
The Lathe and Tools
Oh yes, the lathe. That is the woodturner’s tool. I had never heard of or seen one until recently. It’s a very non-intimidating tool. You just pick a piece of wood, and either support it and one end in a chuck (it’s like a round clamp that you can tighten down) or between two centers, and the lathe spins the wood around.
We ended up with the Nova Comet II Midi Lathe and Sorby’s 6-piece traditional turning tool set. Our decision was based on a combination of capacity (what sized items we expected to work on), reviews, recommendations from the pros, and price. The Nova Comet II fit nicely into all our prerequisites.
The turning tools are essentially different shapes of scrapers and chisels that you use to form the wood. Depending on the shape of the cutting edge, and how you present it to the wood surface, you end up with different patterns on your piece.
Turning is so far a very organic process for me. Probably because I don’t really know what I’m doing yet, or even all I can do, so I just jump right in! I start with a general idea of how I want something to look, and as I work on the piece a more defined pattern takes shape, and I adjust and modify as I go, until I am happy with the results.
Now of course, you can absolutely map out the design and carve to a specific shape, and that is what a lot of people do. But for me, for now, it is more of a creative adventure, and the pieces take shape along the way. I am by no means an expert. FAR from it. I have only turned a handful of pieces. But each one teaches me something new, and each time they get a little better.
One thing I have learned, and learned the hard way a few times already, is that you definitely need to plan out the “dead space” at the end of each piece, where you are holding it to the lathe. Depending on if you are holding in a chuck or spindle-turning, you need to leave enough room at either end to part off the piece from the main wood stock, and to do any smoothing/shaping of the ends. This means starting and ending your project an inch or two from the actual end of the wood piece.
Here are a few of the things I have turned so far. Mostly just practice pieces, except for that last short one does actually function as a candle pillar. And it turned out nice enough that I am even happy leaving it out on display.
Once the piece is turned, you can also sand it on the lathe. Depending on how smooth you get it with the turning tools, it might not need much sanding (this takes practice!) I’ve been running 150-200-300-400-600 grit sand paper along my pieces until they are nice and smooth.
A lot of people will use a sanding sealer at this point, let it dry, then re-sand with the last grit used.
There are a variety of products you can use for finishing your pieces. So far, for these spinde projects I’ve tried, I really like using beeswax. I just run a piece of solid beeswax along the piece while it is turning on the lathe until it is coated with the wax. Then take a paper towel and run that along the piece so that it heats up from the friction. This melts the beeswax and sets it into the wood. Repeat 2-3 times until you’re happy with the finish. It turns out nice and smooth, with a matte shine.
I expect as I practice and get better that I will be able to post some specific projects, and provide a more step-by-step description of the method I used. But for now I wanted to introduce woodturning to any other newbies out there like me!