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Dale Nish Lecture Notes

Dale Nish Lecture Notes

Dale Nish Lecture, 1988 Highland Woodworking

By Jack Warner.

If Dale Nish had not become the foremost teacher of woodturning in this country, he could have become a comedian.

Even if you are an accomplished woodturner beyond the need of instruction, a seminar with Nish is worth the price of admission as entertainment.

A perfect image of the dour Scot, he rarely laughs aloud, managing a wry grin at most.

But sardonic wit, japes and anecdotes about himself and his best friends, who are the rest of the world's great turners, merge into a steady stream of comment as he works.

In the two-day seminar I attended recently at highland Woodworking in Atlanta, he confined himself entirely to a Superflute gouge, a 3/8-inch gouge, a 1/2-inch shallow gouge, a heavy round-nose scraper, a skew chisel and a parting tool, for both facework and spindle turning.

He works quickly and economically, concerning himself with simple, graceful bowl shapes and not emphasizing thinness of wall.

Remember, speed kills

Nish had much to say about safety at the lathe, but it could all be boiled down to two words: speed kills.

"I often am called to act as an expert witness in lawsuits" involving injuries received at the lathe, he said: "I've never seen one yet that didn't involve high speeds," speeds much higher than are necessary.

It is an unfortunate thing that all commercial lathes with which I am familiar are made to turn much faster than most turners would ever need - 2,500 rpm and higher - while none has speeds as slow as we would want. About 375 rpm is the slowest I've seen; 100 would be nice.

Speeds above about 1,200 rpm are pretty much in the province of spindle turning.

I don't think a bowl turner really needs to run his lathe any faster than that, although certainly some very well-known turners do.

What is really important is not the speed of the lathe, but the speed of the perimeter of the work-piece.

I am not mathematician enough to provide an answer, but you can imagine that if your lathe is turning at 800 rpm, and a piece 12 inches wide is mounted on the spindle, then the perimeter speed is much greater than the spindle speed. (Editor's note: a bowl's perimeter speed at 800 rpm is about 30 mph. At 2500 rpm, it would be about 90 mph).

Particular dangers arise when a turner attempts to work large laminated pieces at high speeds, Nish says. If the piece delaminates, it has much the effect of a shrapnel grenade.

It is my experience that a 10- or 12-pound chunk of wood will do nothing but fall directly to the floor if it comes off the lathe at a speed of 400 to 500 rpm, which is quite adequate for roughing out.

There is simply no need to operate the lathe at speeds high enough to pose an obvious safety risk.

The lurking danger, of course, is the delamination problem. Even a piece of solid wood, if it is faulty internally, can break into small pieces in an instate.

Wear A Protective Mask

A lathe spped that might not be nearly enough to throw the whole piece of wood could well be enough to hurl parts of it with destructive force. That's why it is wise to always wear a protective mask.

But don't count a mask as though it were armor. Nish said a friend once had a fearsome accident and remarked, "I sure am glad I was wearing a face mask. It only broke my nose and knocked out mw two front teeth."

Nish considers Raffan the most technically competent woodturner he knows, and can't imagine there are any turners of note anywhere in the world he docent know. But he says Rude Osolnik is the best turner he knows.

I am not quite sure the difference, but I expect it may have to do with Osolnik's view, as Nish put it, that "there is no such thing as scrap wood."

Nish contends the venerable turner of Berea, Kentucky, has turned more wood than anyone, and much of it has apparently been wood that no one else would care to turn; he actually received an award once for the best utilization of waste wood.

Osolnik has a major show on view right now at the Great American Gallery in Atlanta; I expect to report on it soon and anyone interested in the art of the woodturner should not miss it.

Also to be seen at the gallery is a new collection of Nish's wormy ash pieces.

These items - most of them formal vase shapes - are quite remarkable and show Nish's approach to turning at its best>

The forms are excellently judged; the worm-eaten wood is sandblasted and left unfinished, which grays the surface and gives the pieces the look of something antediluvian, formed by eons of erosion rather than turning.

Actually, Nish says, the sandblasting came about as a practical matter - the worms that invade any fallen ash in Utah pack their tunnels with their leavings, which harden like cement.

Sandblasting, he says, was the only practical way to clean them up.

Dale Nish Lecture, 1988 Highland Woodworking

Written by Jack Warner, woodturner, potter, and writer. Originally published in Wood News Issue 21, Spring-Summer 1988.

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