Diary of a Professional Woodturner – Part 12

Monday 9 July 2018

As you know, this series is based entirely on the work I get and my experiences in and around the workshop each month.

So far, when writing these articles, my customers have kept the work varied, often challenging and usually quite interesting. Each month it has been pretty easy to pick out several jobs on which to base my articles.

This last month is the first that I have found it more difficult to find interesting tales for you. Much of the work has been run of the mill turning that has kept me busy at the lathe and the money coming in, but really doesn't make great reading. Looking back over the month there has been the usual mix of walking canes, finials, newel posts, trophy bases and shop fitting display components. However, if I look hard enough there were a couple of things that happened that may just fill up the pages for this, my penultimate diary article, and continue to keep you entertained…

Demo material

Now I am writing these articles my name seems to be spreading further afield and I am demonstrating to more and more new clubs. I have, however, been demonstrating since 2007, when I took the first tentative steps onto the circuit. Because of this, some clubs have seen most of my current repertoire of demos. One such club is the Heart of England Woodturners (HOE) in Stratford. I have visited them on a number of occasions which have included a couple of full day demos and several evenings too; so when they booked me for yet another evening demo last month I was wondering a little what I might present them with. Until the Woodworks show in May, it looked as if I was going to have to come up with a whole new demo, but these I like to test out first on my own club and I'm not booked in for that until much later in the year. Fortunately, at the show, the chairman of HOE came for a chat and mentioned that several members had requested to see a platter being made. This was a huge relief for me, because although demonstrating a platter is not something I have done before – as most demo lathes aren't really big enough – many of the techniques are similar or the same as bowl turning, so all I had to do by way of preparation, was to come up with a suitable design.

My first reaction was to try decorating the rim with colour or texture or burning, but after some consideration, I decided that this is not my style of work. To try and do something that is so far out of character and out of my comfort zone in a demo is a recipe for disaster. My style is more for simple designs, well made, that feature a small detail which adds a little touch of class to a job. After making a sample in the workshop, I was happy with the design and so made a small platter in the demo, which seemed to be well received. I am currently working on a few ideas for new demos so if they book me again, I will be prepared!


As with demos, there is a certain amount of preparation required for lessons. Mostly cleaning the workshop so it at least appears to be organised, as well as cutting some appropriate timber and sharpening my tools. The subject for the lessons is always discussed before hand so both myself and the student know what to expect.

I don't usually write much about my lessons here because I wouldn't want to put off potential students for fear that I will be telling the woodturning world about them in the magazine. Last month I had a student that gave me a slightly more unusual challenge than the more common fear of the skew chisel, so I thought I would tell you about it.

A chap rang and put a proposition to me. He told me how he planned to ask his girlfriend to marry him by way of giving her a ring that he had had some involvement in making. He asked if that would be possible and, of course, my response was “œno problem.” After discussing what he had in mind and me reassuring him that he could make one in half a day easily, he booked a half day lesson with me.

The only slight problem was that I had never made a ring before so I had to work out the process and identify any potential pitfalls so I could teach him how to do it. I cleared a morning in my diary to have a go at making one and was pleasantly surprised how simple it was to do. Based on this I was able to work out a loose structure for his half day lesson.

As it had taken me less than 15 minutes to make a good ring, I decided that, in a four hour session, he might as well learn some of the basics of turning and not just how to make a ring. So when he arrived I gave him the usual safety talk and showed him how the lathe works and explained my plan. He was pleased with this and the sample rings I had turned so we made a start. After a couple of hours he was cutting pretty passable beads, coves and even using the dreaded skew without a single catch. Seeing that he was taking it in well I talked him through the process of making a ring and then, step by step, he made one, from start to finish. The first was a little thin so he made a second, which was much better. He asked if he could try one more, and as it had only taken him 35 minutes to make the last one, I happily agreed. He went away with three boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) rings that he had made entirely himself, with only my guidance, some practice spindles, a box that I had made for him to present the ring in and a very big smile on his face. One thing I forgot to mention to him in the safety talk was that woodturning is a highly addictive pastime, so maybe I will see him again for more lessons in the future?

Getting jiggy

I would consider a jig to be a homemade piece of kit that helps you to achieve a desired result safely, and often quicker than without it. I have several that I regularly use in the workshop including my long wooden toolrest for turning walking canes and stair spindles, and the router jig which allows me to cut flutes, grooves and reeds along spindles. The indexing jig which gives me 24 locking spindle positions and the drilling jig which makes end drilling spindles easy, repeatable and safe.

All of these jigs are made for regular use and designed to last. Occasionally though, a job will come in that requires a one-off jig to be made, which allows a single operation to be carried out safely. Last month just such a job came in.

The actual turning on the job is hardly worth a mention. I was supplied a drawing and some prepared timber to make 20 blocks which would allow light fittings to hang down straight from a sloping ceiling. The iroko (Milicia excelsa) was to be turned to 64mm aiameter and have a slight step at one end to suit the light fitting.

A 12mm hole needed drilling down the centre and a sanded finish. Where it got interesting was that one end needed cutting to an angle to sit against the sloping ceiling.

I decided that my tablesaw, fitted with the fine tooth blade would give the best cut and so be the best option. I just had to find a way of holding the turned component safely while it was being cut. A jig was called for.

Unlike my other jigs, this one needed to do the job for these 20 blocks and then be essentially disposable, so it needed to be simple but effective. I planed an angle on the edge of some softwood and ripped a 25mm (1in) wide strip from the board. These strips were then glued and pinned in two parallel lines to a piece of thin MDF, forming a simple "V' block. This would sit flat on the saw bed and against the sliding mitre fence. A stop was glued and pinned into place so each block could be positioned the same every time and then I just needed a way to hold the block in place to be cut. I went for the simplest and cheapest option, several layers of wide masking tape. I set the angle on the fence and carefully made a cut. It worked perfectly and so, after a little adjustment of the angle to get it perfect, I cut the whole batch of 20 blocks. A light sand over the edges and they were ready to deliver. All I have to do now is decide whether to bin the jig or keep it 'just in case'.