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The following article was originally published in Wood News No. 22, Winter 1989.

Instant Gratification
by Jack Warner

There is a suspicion in the minds of some woodworkers that people who spend most of their time at the lathe have forsaken real work in favor of instant gratification, dallying in a world of flash and filigree.
Let me tell you about this instant gratification business.

Sunday, 11:30 am. Opened up a plastic trash bag resident in the garage since two kind friends brought it to me from North Carolina at least two months ago. The large object in it is supposed to be a burl from a birch tree. The percussive effects in my lower back confirm the size; it weighs at least 50 pounds. Can't tell yet how much of it is burl; the cut face is fully oxidized and covered with mold.

11:45 am. Deposit wood on workbench, cut face up; prop it to stability with scrap chunks, run the portable planer over it a few times. The wood revealed is lovely.

Noon. After staring at the lump of wood for 10 minutes, I cannot decide whether to go for broke and turn the whole thing or be cautious and slice it up into several pieces. No obvious lines for slicing reveal themselves; it could mean considerable waste. When in doubt, get advice.

12:15 pm. Call my wife down to the basement, ask her what to do. "Go for it," she says. OK. But it needs to be done right; I am not interested in having a 50-pound lump of wood pounce upon me. We have got to get the thing mounted as close to balance as possible.

12:45 pm. Risking hernia, I hold the bolt of wood while my wife racks the vestigial tailstock of my bowl lathe in and out. We test various positions; don't find the probable center until about the fifth try. The idea is to turn off the waste and true up the cut face, after which I'll glue it to a scrap disk on a face plate. 1 pm. Switch on the lathe. Not too scary. It's close to being balanced, and the lathe is wobbling only moderately.

1:20 pm. Roughing out completed. The bolt is about 16 inches in diameter and about a foot long. We remove it from the lathe and glue-mount it on a faceplate with Hot Stuff.

1:30 pm. Back on the lathe, very close to being on center, too. With the tailstock brought in tightly, refining the shape proceeds apace; I have no idea at this point what the shape will be. It'll come.

1:45 pm. It comes. The only shape this hog will take, without sinful waste, is that of a fat, closed jar. I am not partial to closed-vessel turning, but we won't get fancy. The opening will be ample.

2 pm. The outside is complete; the wood is beautiful. There are several bark inclusions that may open up as turning proceeds. On to the interior; there is a huge amount of wood to be wasted out of this piece.

2:30 pm . I've gone as far as I can with the Superflute; the piece is opened up about 9 inches wide and down to about 2 inches from the base, around an inch-wide column still held by the tailstock. I want to keep the tailstock in place as long as possible; this thing is still very heavy. Out comes the Thompson tool, made especially for closed turning. It weighs almost 10 pounds.

3 pm. Friends come over; I'm grateful to stop for a few minutes and chat.
3:30 pm. Back to it; the tailstock finally has to come out Very gingerly, now; a catch with this much weight at the perimeter could tear it off the lathe.

4 pm. It occurs to me that, with the increased interest in woodtuming these days, there might be some profit in training a couple of beavers to do this work. I mean, the important stuff, the art part, was done in the first half an hour; the rest of it is just trying to remove wood without ruining the thing. Thinking about trained beavers reminds me of the greatest of the untold stories of Sherlock Holmes, the one about the politician, the lighthouse and the trained cormorant. The tool catches lightly; no damage, but a warning to stop woolgathering.

5 pm. Shovel shavings into a bag. Wife, unable to lure me to lunch earlier, provides cookies and encouragement. Upper half is about the right thickness. Bark inclusions are opening up at the apogee of the curve, but the bottom half is still much too thick.

5:30 pm. Hog that wood. Legs beginning to quiver a little; back whining and sniveling. Getting close; don't lose it now.

6 pm. Final scraping and smoothing. I don't think I can do any better than this, so I stop.

6:30 pm. Outside, and lower half of inside, sanded to 150 grit. There are all kinds of surfaces here; silky smooth to rough bark. Upper portion of interior sanded by hand, not too well, but I'm giving out.

7 pm. Take it off the lathe, remove the faceplate, handsaw off most of the scrap, sand away what's left. Not the way I usually do it, but this piece is bigger than usual.

7:30 pm. Sign the piece and it's done. So am I. Knees knocking, I stagger upstairs. My wife, who will oil the fat jar over a period of a week or two, brushes me off, cleans the chips out of my ears and fixes me two of her extra-special hamburgers.

That's instant gratification for you.

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