Doug Hall: Iain, first let me congratulate you on being selected by the staff of Highland Hardware as the winning entrant in the Highland Hardware Screwdriver Handle Turning Contest. Everyone here was very impressed with your entry. It was a wonderful blending of both form and function. What guided your choice of wood selection? Was it contrast, color, grain or a combination?
Iain Tyndal: Really, it was the contrast. I have a fair amount of offcuts left from cabinet making projects and use them up by gluing up contrasting woods. It could as easily have been walnut with maple inserts, but I think the two darker woods are more appropriate for tool handles.
DH: It seems to be very ergonomic - was this shape a process of trial and error or was it a form that you have found comfortable with other tool handles you may have turned?
IT: The shape was based on my British cabinetmakers screwdrivers, but the proportions were based on the Golden Ratio. Basically the handle is twice the length of the screwdriver barrel and the line of the taper runs roughly to the tip of the screwdriver.
DH: When did you begin woodworking and what type of projects did you start out making?
IT: I began woodworking in high school shopcraft when I was about twelve. I really enjoyed it and my instructor even said I had "potential", but my parents wanted me to pursue a more "respectable" profession, so I became an engineer. I kept up woodworking, however, and eventually set up a workshop. I still have a mahogany platter and bowl, and an eggcup set complete with stand from these days.
About 25 years ago I also had a small shop in Toronto where I produced numerous bowls, a writing desk, nest of tables and a full size cabinet for a man's collection of smoking pipes. I also made a few wall hung cabinets inspired by James Krenov.
Two or three years ago I tired of engineering and decided to pursue woodworking fulltime. Last November I build a separate workshop behind the house and was able to use the garage for its intended purpose. Today I receive most of my work from interior designers, so I do a good bit of restoration. I also take commissions and have recently completed several pieces of furniture, namely two dining tables and a blanket box. I am in the process of building a curio coffee table and it looks like I will get a commission to build a serving table for a dining room.
DH: How did you start woodturning and what were your influences?
IT: Again, the woodturning was all part of shopcraft. I had no real influences in high school – just my imagination. However, when I started turning again in Toronto I picked up some of the books by Dale Nish to help my technique and was definitely inspired by some of his work.
DH: What are your favorite projects to turn and what woods you enjoy working with?
IT: I really enjoy turning bowls, but am beginning to get more interested in centre work. That screwdriver handle has inspired me to do more and I would love to put beautiful handles on a set of chisels. Back in Scotland we have a kitchen tool called a spurtle. You'd call it a stir-stick. Anyway, I'd like to turn a few of these with thistle-head ends on them. I have no favorite wood to turn from an aesthetic point of view, but maple is a blast. If you're turning it with the right technique you can get a continuous shaving blasting over your shoulder. That is fun.
DH: In terms of different turning tools, which do you find the most pleasure in using?
IT: Gouges and skews. The cutting technique is very rewarding and satisfying.
DH: For someone that is considering woodturning as a hobby, what advice would you give them to help them get started? Do you recommend that they take a class with an experienced turner?
IT: Phew! Am I fit to give advice? Okay, buy a small fullsize lathe – 12" swing and 36" center. Never mind the mini-lathes unless you want to turn nothing but pens and small items or have space limitations. They're fun, but I think you'd grow out of them.
Right from the outset buy HSS turning tools. Even if it is a smaller beginners set, buy quality. A 3/4" round nose and square scraper is fine too, and lets you get into bowls right away. (Don't get me started on all this snobbery about the cutting techniques.) You can always add the big gouges and skews as your skills develop.
I'd say taking a class or two is almost a must. Reading books is fine and dandy, but looking over someone's shoulder and being able to ask questions is by far the quickest and safest way to get started. There is an element of danger, although slight, in using a lathe. Better to get a feel for turning with a watchful eye on you. That way you might not fill your britches the first time a tool catches the wood.
DH: Do you have certain books or DVD's that you value for their content?
IT: The Dale Nish books were good for their time but are kind of arcane nowadays. The bound set of three Richard Raffan books are about as comprehensive as you're going to find and worth every cent.
DH: I understand that the name of your company, Pentland Lothian, has personal meaning, could you explain the background for us?
IT: I come from Edinburgh, Scotland which is in the Lothian counties. The hills to the south of the city are The Pentlands. The picture on my business card is of the Pentlands from were I grew up. I thought the name had a ring to it and might make a decent store front sign one day. Then there is always the "You can take a Scot out of Scotland but..."
DH: As a last question, do you like your martinis shaken or stirred?
IT: Ha, ha! Tyndal, Iain Tyndal, prefers a Shcotch, shingle malt Shcotch, regardless of what that other bloke from Edinburgh drinks.
Iain Tyndal works from his shop in Lawrenceville, Georgia. For more information about his work, visit his website, www.pentlandlothian.com. He may also be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.