Diary of a Professional Woodturner – Part 5

Monday 9 July 2018

You know the saying about buses? You wait for ages then two come along at once. That seemed to be very much what happened last month with demonstrations and with decorative stair spindles.

It was a busy month all round, but it was particularly busy for my demos. I have demonstrated all around the country and throughout the year I do two or three a month. Back in February, I had a cluster and again, last month, I found myself demonstrating every weekend with a few mid week as well. I usually do a lot more evening demos than Saturdays, so it was nice to do some full days, as they give me an opportunity to look at some bigger and more detailed projects.

Likewise, some months I can make no stair spindles. Often, when I do, there is just a couple of replacement spindles after a drunken party or a bit of DIY gone wrong. Last month, I had two jobs that required replacement spindles but they weren’t normal spindles; both of these separate jobs had twisted details running around a section of them. I will describe these in more detail later.

Demo days

When I have an evening demo, my average day starts with my alarm waking me at around 6am. I should explain that my alarm is my 11-month-old son, William, who wakes at between 5.30 and 6am each morning without fail! After some breakfast, I will usually spend part of the morning catching up on paperwork, then head for the workshop around mid-morning.

I will probably do a bit of work before lunch then, after lunch, I will begin packing up for my demo. This usually takes a couple of hours of gathering together tools, preparing timber, dusting off the demo lathe and stands, sorting out the goods I sell at the demos and loading up the van.

I will then head home, freshen up and set out for my destination. It will usually take a couple of hours to get to the club and I always make sure that I allow plenty of time just in case of traffic; I usually aim to arrive around 5pm to miss the worst of rush hour.

I can then relax and await the arrival of the first club members.

With the demo completed, I head home. Saturday demos are much the same, except I will load up from lunchtime on Friday ready for an early start in the morning. I will usually unload the van at the workshop before arriving home on the Saturday evening.

Watching demos

I still enjoy watching demos at our club – Tudor Rose Woodturners – and last month they organised a Saturday demo with Stuart Mortimer.

Although I have given a lot of demonstrations over the last few years, I still enjoy watching other professionals at work. When I first started going to demos it was all about learning technique and taking in as much as possible. I still do learn from demos but I also watch with a professional interest.

I always try to take notice of how demonstrators present themselves and what they are doing, and I will try to incorporate the best things into my demos. For example, I watched Simon Hope demonstrate at an evening demo last month and his description of why shear scraping works better than normal scraping is something I will be using myself; not the technique, as I do something similar to this already, but his description of how and why was clear and just seemed to make good sense.

Other work

Demos aside, I had a lot of turning work to do last month; this included some large curtain pole finials for a regular customer, a collection of turned fruit, a pair of Art Deco-style newel posts and some stained and polished sofa legs for a regular customer who is an upholsterer.

I do a lot of work for the trophy and engraving trade and was asked to make a replacement base for a golfing trophy in oak (Quercus robur). I also make some gear knobs for a client that supplies parts for classic cars. You'd think that a gear knob was just a gear knob, right? Well, apparently not; these particular knobs are for classic Lotus' and, I am told that cars from certain years have different shaped gear knobs, so I am asked to carefully replicate several different designs and stain them to a specific colour before inserting the Lotus badge, which he provides me, in a recess in the top. There were also several samples to be made for jobs which may be coming up in the future, including some stair spindles, newel posts and carved newel caps for a large job in London for a local joinery company, and some fancy brush handles made in walnut (Juglans regia).

Googbye to the Jet

Ray came back for his second lesson at my workshop and to collect the Jet lathe. He was very impressed with the Wadkin but was still pleased with his new toy.

Before the lesson started I had collected the Jet from my parents' house, where it had been stored and, at the end of the lesson, we transferred the Jet from my van into his car, along with all of the various jigs and parts that went with it. I waved goodbye to my old faithful lathe. I was a little sad to see it go and it brought back old memories.

Decorative stair spindles

It was just pure coincidence that two separate jobs came in from two different parts of the country in the same week, both of which were stair spindles which featured a twisted detail. The first pair were relatively simple, featuring a double-round bottomed groove, spiralling along a parallel section of the spindle.

The second pair were a little more complex, featuring a four-start twist with rounded tops and a small flat fillet between them. These had clearly been mass produced with a specialist cutter so were more challenging for me to replicate.

I have had quite a lot of experience with cutting twists but watching Stuart Mortimer demonstrate – a master of twists of all kinds – had reminded me how much I still had to learn about them. This was the first time I had made a four-start twist but drawing on my experience, I was able to work out how to set it out, dividing the spindle into a grid, based on the sample and I was able to achieve two pretty good copies. I have found that setting out is so important; once you can get your head round this, cutting the various twists is easy. I worked with my small Microplane files then a file to improve the shape, and finally lots of sanding, first by hand and then using a length of abrasive.

I was pleased with the final result and more importantly, so were my customers. One of them sent me a picture of a row of spindles in place and I couldn't spot which one was mine, so I guess that is a good job well done!