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My Career in Woodturning

by George T. (Terry) Chapman

The first time I tried to turn a piece of wood was using my Shopsmith. I turned out a couple of quick spindles and showed them to my wife who professed suitable admiration. That was enough to keep me going. A Shopsmith is not much of a lathe, but I was hooked on turning because I could make a project quicker on the lathe than with any other tool.

A couple of years later, a guy at work offered to sell me a small lathe. It was very old and to move the tool rest holder required an open-end wrench under the bed of the lathe. Even rotating the tool rest needed the wrench. I decided that I wanted to try a bowl and in my ignorance, selected a chunk of dry walnut root – grain running in every direction and tough as steel. I thought it would have pretty grain inside. On top of that, the only turning tools I had were the ones that came with the Shopsmith. Who knew they were spindle-turning tools not fit for bowl turning and not well sharpened? I stuck one of those tools straight into that root and it threw the tool right back at me. I was not going to let that thing beat me, so I jammed it in there again and I think it flipped the tool completely over the lathe and off the wall beyond. After several tries, I backed off, threw that root out, and went to do a little more reading. It is a wonder I survived.

I think it was about that time I took a class in basic bowl turning from Frank Bowers at Highland. We went through the basic stuff and turned a few platters from dry framing wood. It was a lot of fun and a wonderful introduction to bowl turning.

In one of my books was a suggestion to make a recess or a rabbet in the bottom of the bowl blank and use the expansion chuck to hold the bowl. I had a nice piece of cedar someone gave me and I had gained a little technique by then, mostly from Frank’s class. I remember standing there admiring that bowl and my technique, noting how smooth the wood was, watching those chips fly, and smelling that wonderful cedar smell. Suddenly I heard a loud bang and I was turning air. The lathe was still running, the tool was still in that perfect position, everything was just as it should be – except there was no wood! I had not paid sufficient attention to that little crack running across the face of the bowl. The expansion chuck exploded that bowl all the way across the shop. When I found the pieces over in the corner of the basement, one of them had a big dent in it from the impact with the bed of the lathe. If the bowl had bounced off my head the way it bounced off the lathe bed, it would have been a serious situation. I will always wear a face shield.

A few months later, I was turning a bowl on my little lathe, and while taking a fairly aggressive cut, I became aware of a curl of smoke over my shoulder. Even in that early part of my turning career, I was fairly sure that smoke was not normal. The motor burned up and since the lathe was so old, there was no way to replace the motor. I suppose you get what you pay for, and there is always a little good in everything. The good in losing that little lathe was a brand new Oneway 1224 from Highland. The Oneway is a beautiful machine and I used mine for several years as I improved my technique with lots of practice. I did get to a point where I wanted to make bigger bowls, so I sold the 1224 and moved up to a beautiful Oneway 1640 with an outboard attachment. If I turn outboard, I can make a bowl up to 24 inches in diameter, and I can pretty much keep up with the demand for bowls that large by myself.

Turning is a joy and I still turn regularly, mostly bowls. There is a lot of wood out there that needs rounding up. Keep on turning!

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