Learning to Woodwork - The Lathe

Learning to Woodwork - The Lathe

Woodchuckle: Learning to Woodwork - Part 2: The Lathe

Illustration by Mike Del Rizzo

When I left you last issue I was hiding out in my shop, more afraid of facing my wife than I was of facing my lathe. As the temperatures dropped into the deep-freeze of a Yukon November night, so did my fear of Kelly, and I bravely ventured back to the house. Besides, I figured that after three hours spent in the frigid shop she would assume I had been playing with my new toy. In reality, all we had been doing was getting better acquainted. We seemed to have reached a partial understanding regarding how it was or wasn’t going to maim or kill me and I was getting quite familiar, almost comfortable, with all its parts. I could now slide the tail stock back and forth with aplomb and lock it down with a casual flick of my wrist. I could push the start and stop buttons with equal disregard and during one cold induced mad-minute, when several of my neurons had closed down, I even contemplated plugging the thing in. Luckily, I had quickly come to my senses before something terrible happened.

At one point I even spun the wheel thingy on the back end of the headstock and was absolutely thrilled to see it turn like a well-oiled machine. Which, come to think of it, was really all it was.

Yessirree! That was some lathe. Too bad I didn’t have a clue how to operate it.  Or the nerve, really. As I sat in my comfy chair, all snuggled up beside the roaring woodstove, I delved into the large box of books I purchased along with my new tool collection. Buried deep within that storehouse of esoteric woodworking knowledge I discovered a video tape by some Australian fellow who, as I recalled from my days as a part-time father, also sang popular children’s songs. Raffee or Rafter or something like that. Maybe Raffan! Doesn’t matter. It seemed like a strange mix of professions to me but who was I to talk. The tape was labelled “Super-Duper Extremely Advanced Woodturning  Techniques,” Or something like that. It also had a disclaimer written in blood across the bottom: “Don’t even think about looking at this tape until you have been successfully turning since at least childhood and are now a minimum of 55 years old.

I gleefully tore the cellophane off and popped it into the machine, sat back and waited for the woodturning police to come crashing through my skylight. Nothing happened, so I turned the TV on and watched enraptured as the man on the tape happily turned ugly knobby pieces of tree into salad bowls of incredible beauty. After watching the first 15 minutes I was filled with such enthusiasm; I just knew I could easily do the same thing.

Maybe not quite as well as the guy on the tape – at least not the first bowl – but certainly by the second. I flicked off the TV and rushed outside to the shop, slowing to grab a handy chunk of firewood from the woodpile as I rushed past. I jammed the piece of wood onto the shiny, spinny thing and confidently threw the switch. I watched in horror as the wood chunk wobbled around faster and faster until it finally tore loose at an extremely high speed in the general direction of my head and departed the shop via the wall. I never did find that piece of wood.

It was obvious that I might have missed a crucial step somewhere so I trudged back to the house.

Maybe I should start smaller and work my way up, I thought.

Maybe I should read the books I had purchased for just that purpose.

Maybe, just maybe, I should consider taking lessons!

When I stopped laughing I settled down, grabbed the first of many woodturning books and began the long process of learning how to properly and safely use a lathe.


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