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Sharing the Love of Turning

by Curtis Turner
Round Rock, TX

Note: Click on any picture to see a larger version.

This Christmas season, I had the wonderful experience of teaching my oldest son to turn. I have looked forward to this opportunity for a long time. It was a strong sense of passing on a unique skill from father to son that appealed to me the most. However, I knew it was important that my eagerness did not trump good judgment. There are two important elements that should converge prior to teaching young children. One, they should be at about 12 years old and have the maturity to listen, understand and develop safe practices. You should be the ultimate judge of readiness. However, the following simple guidelines will serve as a good starting point.

I promised myself I would treat my 12 year old son as I would any student. While it's difficult to maintain an arm's length approach to teaching loved ones, it is an important component to an enjoyable experience for both parties.

I always keep several goals in mind while I am teaching. First, a focus on safety. In this case, my wife would never forgive me if I had to take him to the ER, again. There was a minor carving accident involving an overzealous 12 year and a very sharp Mora knife (this was not his first time carving). Fortunately, this was a minor injury and thankfully the sharp knife left a clean cut. By the way, it should be obvious that it is mandatory to maintain a well-stocked first aid kit in the shop. Anyway, helping a student to understand safety, as it relates to turning, is of the utmost importance. Fortunately, my kids have developed a good practice of using safety glasses when they come to the shop. So, he quickly accepted the fact that he must wear a face shield while turning.

The attention span of children are not the same as those for adults. Therefore, I knew I needed to adjust my expectations. I wanted this to be an enjoyable experience and not something he felt pushed or rushed to do. So, we took frequent breaks. I also gave him the control to say when enough was enough. I do not expect him to love turning the way I do. I do, however, believe that learning a new skill helps to expand a young person's horizons.

The other element to teaching is having fun. I believe an instructor should maintain a fun approach and an environment in which students are allowed to ask questions and express opinions.

We began our class with my standard safety talk. Then we progressed to discussing the major components of the lathe.

Photo 1

The project we selected was a slim line pen. The tools we used were a large Crown Spindle Roughing Gouge (see photo 1). A bit of an overkill for such a small spindle project. However, this choice was intentional. The extra mass of this large tool aided in his ability to control the tool. As it turned out, this was his favorite tool! We also used large and small scrapers, as well as, the Easy Wood Tools Easy Finisher (see photo 2). I also showed him how to use a duck bill shaped gouge (see photo 3). This unique tool is somewhat like a gouge and a skew combined.

Photo 2
Photo 3

First, he tried turning standing in front of the lathe. However, this put him almost at eye level to the spindle forcing him to reach up to turn. Then we placed my mini carving bench at the lathe for him to stand on. This allowed him to turn with more control (see photo 4).

Photo 4

We spent several hours working on techniques and discussing various tools. By this time, he was ready for a break.

I am very pleased to have been able to share the joy of turning with my son. This was only a tiny taste but the door has been cracked open to a new world. We look forward to returning, after the holidays, to complete the project.

The rewards of teaching are immense and I derive great satisfaction from teaching others. However, the greatest satisfaction is sharing this experience with my son. This probably meant more to me than my son. Hopefully, years from now he will look back on this time with fond memories.




Curtis was the 2012 President of Central Texas Woodturners, a member of the American Association of Woodturners, and a member of Fine Woodworkers of Austin. Curtis teaches and demonstrates nationally for Lie-Nielsen Toolworks. He also owns a studio where he teaches and works. Curtis lives and works in Central Texas with his wife and four young children. Take a look at his website at www.curtisturnerstudio.com.

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