Booth for Mount Gretna
There are days when life just gets in the way of life. When that happens, no matter what the desire, I struggle to get out of my chair to go to the shop and do something different. 95 F and high humidity in the shop also does not encourage creativity. Fortunately for me, I do not need to make a living through my woodturning, so there is no real pressure other than personal desire, to get out there. I am thankful that I do not have to make my living through creativity on demand. It also helps me to remember that many great artists of the past, such as Leonardo da Vinci, survived through the use of skills outside of art alone.
All the more reason to honor people like David Ellsworth and other turners who worked their whole lives to change woodturning from a practical craft into an art form in its own right. Those folks have lived through a lot of lean years and deserve every penny of their work currently sells for. I will gladly follow the path they created until it comes time to create my own direction. I am glad to sell my stuff because it creates a space for me to try new ideas. Selling is also an affirmation that other people like my creations and it encourages me to continue.
On sultry summer days, I am also reminded that I am privileged because I can create at my own pace and sell at my own price. For this alone, I am profoundly grateful.
The biggest problem with having to work for a living is that it gets in the way of doing other interesting things in life. It's not that I dislike my job - on the contrary, I am one of the persons blessed with having a job I enjoy for the most part. These days, my mind seems to wander toward turning during the day, particularly when I am stuck on a problem that seems to have no solution. It is really cool to have a hobby that is perfect for those of us diagnosed with ADD. Turning is the fastest wood project I know for going from a chuck of wood to to a finished product. I can mount a piece on the lathe and have a small bowl finished in about 15 minutes - 1/2 an hour if I am being picky and artistic. Sanding takes another 10 and if you just want an oil finish, that takes another 5. Of course, larger projects take longer, but sometimes I need to just grab a small piece of wood and go for it. Make a challenge at the same time, like see how thin I can make it in one cut. It's a problem with a beginning, middle and end and those are sometimes hard to see in the Engineering work I do.
I was out in the shop this morning making jam chucks to finish off the bottoms of hollow form vessels. You need to turn the piece around and mount it backward on the chuck to be able to finish off the bottom and, hopefully, remove all evidence of the original mounting. I have tried various ways of doing this and so far the most satisfactory seems to be a long piece of wood that goes through the hole in the top and jams against the bottom of the vessel on the inside. This method makes it so there is no stress on the sidewall of the piece you have finished and therefor reduces the potential damage to the outside surface. It is also a pain in the butt to do.
My lathe is made by Nova, and own of the great features of this model is that the head stock can rotate so you can work the inside of hollow forms or other vessels without having to lean over the lathe bed. The problem is that if you don't line up the head stock perfectly when rotating it back to home position, it sits off center with the tail stock, which is the biggest problem with the design. I guess it just reinforces my long held belief that our greatest weakness is just our greatest strength exaggerated.
My friends will say I sweat the details - my detractors say I am too picky. I guess it is just a matter of how you look at it.
The show is over, the tent taken down, the animals have all been put to bed. Actually, it wasn’t a circus, though I did see a lot of people. The location of my both was not the greatest so when it rained on Sunday, folks wanted to avoid the mud and stay on the pave section of the walk ways so the traffic was not as much. Nevertheless, I made the sales volume I was hoping for plus a bit and it was gratifying having positive feedback from the many lookers who did not buy anything. I think I will try again next year and, if I get in, I’ll ask for a better booth location. Also, I have some ideas about selling that may improve things even more.
The reality of my permanent employment is sinking in and today the golden handcuffs are chafing a lit bit. The “golden handcuffs” are those paychecks that the company provides which are good enough to discourage you from looking elsewhere for employment. As I reflect on the show, I am aware that the Art Show is like an open invitation for compliments. Fortunately I did not have anyone make the loud negative comments about my work. I guess those folks just walked by. I also understand that the show was an excellent stroke for my ego, which always wants more. Reality is that it takes a lot of effort to prepare for one of these, so I think I’ll target a few and enjoy the process instead of turning it into another job.
Today, I finished the main components of my boot for Mount Gretna by purchasing some table cloths for cheap at Home Goods. There is one shelving set left to put in the display in the front right hand corner along with my sign, which will go in the center at the back. All the letters are off the lathe for the sign so all that remains is to finish off the back of it as well as the last varnishing the R and N in the name. I got the "Square" credit card reader in the mail yesterday as well as some postcards to give out to people who may want to attend the show ($1 off admission). So with 2 weekends left to go, I feel like everything is in pretty good order. There is lots to do to fill in the blanks and spaces. I plan to post pictures on the wall and have printouts of writings as well as needing to make labels, but the major tasks feel complete. From now until show time, everything else is icing on the cake.
As mid-August comes closer, I am working more on preparations for Mount Gretna. This weekend has been spent finishing pieces and making a sign for my booth. I was going to make the letters completely out of turned pieces of wood but had a flash of inspiration today - why not start with raw wood and have the letters progress through to finished turnings so there is all different stages in the sign. With this in mind, this morning I traipsed around the yard and sorted through my stacks of wood for pieces that were the right size and shape. I still have 3 letters to go, but I am already very pleased pleased with the result.
In addition, I have been working on finishes. It is even though the high gloss looks good , it has to feel smooth as well, so today I pulled out the 8000 grit sandpaper (or perhaps emery paper since it doesn't feel like sand at that fine a grit). Now several pieces feel as smooth as they look and I can put them in the finished pile. I took some pictures too, which my friend Jim Bowman will tell you, is not easy with high gloss surfaces. It helps working with the light booth I made, but even so, it is really hard to avoid reflections and glare. It's all part of the learning curve (pun intended).
August 26, 2013
The amazing thing about wood turning is how it helps refine your skills in other areas such as shooting pool. While you may think there is no connection, there actually is one - sanding. You see, the shaft of a pool cue is varnished to make look nice but it is really sticky when you try to make a shot. When I was in college, I was to the Snooker Club and we were given a tutorial by the Canadian/World Snooker champion who insisted that the first thing you do with a new cue is sand the varnish off the stick to make it smooth. Jump forward 35 years.
Last Sunday, I took my sand paper down to my daughter's dorm to clean up the rather crappy cues that were in their Rec Room. I started with 220 grit to sand of the varnish and stepped through to 600 grit to make that satiny smooth finish that makes my bowls so tactile. The result on my daughter's game was immediate and remarkable. Her shots got straighter and it made her a whole lot harder to beat in a game of pool. Who'd have thought?
One week and still writing. This is the most consistently I have ever kept a diary. Last night Jim brought over some tables for my display at Mt. Gretna so things are starting to take shape. I still need to get a "Square" for credit cards, but that should be straight forward if all my friends who use them are to be believed. Last time I was in any kind of business for myself was with Granddad at Baker's Harness Shop in Maple, Ontario in 1978. We had heard of credit cards, but we were a strict cash or check operation. Until he noticed I was doing it differently, Granddad even answered the phone with "hello" since there was only one phone line into the place that rang in both the house and shop. That was the way with Granddad - I don't recall him really liking any of my ideas for change in business methods - but he did copy things I did after a while if he noticed the merit in different behavior. It was a real lesson for me in leading by doing instead of by telling.
So now I have a smart phone that will use one of these things to take credit cards and transfer money directly into my account (at a small fee per transaction). Despite my reliance on technology at work, I must admit to a certain amount of suspicion with these new fangled devises. I guess it is a sign of aging. I seem to hear the comments of Granddad and Dad coming out of my mouth more than I want these days. Maybe woodturning attracts me because of the connection with simpler times. My problem is that on real close examination, times gone by were not simpler or easier or more difficult - just different. I know that craftsmen have always used the best tools, techniques and products they could find to do their work. If they were alive today, they would be producing very different work because they explored their boundaries just as we do. They expected us to go beyond their boundaries of creativity, just as they did. The circle of life continues.
The dog days of summer bring on a lot of activities that distract me from my hobby. In addition, there is a whole lot more to woodturning than standing in front of a lathe with chisel in hand - particularly if you want to sell the products of your efforts. It raises an interesting response to a commonly asked question: How long did it take you to make this piece?
It all depends on how you look at it. From the point of actually working on an individual piece the time may be relatively short, but should you count part of the time spent on blowing up or otherwise destroying pieces in the process of developing your skills? Do you include the hours spent setting up displays, carting your work around to potential galleries, preparing for shows? Since the question normally comes from someone who wants to estimate how much per hour you are making, do you include the costs of doing business such as tools, equipment, gas for the chainsaw and car? On the flip side, should you count the number of times you sanded off the finish and started over because you weren't satisfied with this one? Honestly, if I count my time as completely without value, since it is a hobby, it will still take a lot of sales before I approach the breakeven point. The price really comes down to what people are willing to pay. How long it took to make it is interesting for complex pieces, but best not thought about too seriously unless this craft is your livelihood.
It rained last night - finally. I've had the tent up in the back yard for a week to see what would happen to the roof when it rained. Water caused the roof to sag, as expected, so I went out at lunch time today and got some swimming noodles to support the corners better - another suggestion from friends who make their living as a craft vendor at weekend shows. It highlights the nature of innovation - it does not necessarily come as a brand new idea, but rather the application of some idea in an unexpected way. So the tent has a metal frame with nylon covering and PVC pipe filled with sand at each corner to act as weights in case of wind, and swimming pool noodles to hold up the roof in places where the metal frame doesn't work so well.
It works with woodturning as well. If you are afraid that a hollow form will explode during holing because of cracks and voids in the surface, finish the outside to the shape you want and wrap it in packing tape. It is clear and really hard to break. To prevent something from flying apart, you don't need to be crack free - you just need to keep the cracks from growing across the entire piece resulting in 2 separate pieces. They found this out with welded Victory Ships in WWII. Cracks in the hull formed in the cold weather of the North Atlantic winter would propagate around the hull at the speed of sound leaving your vessel in 2 distinct pieces in rather nasty conditions. By simply using rivets for some joints, the crack would stop at the rivet joint, and while that might create an inconvenience, it was not a problem. So once again, my university education in metallurgy has influenced my thinking in woodturning.
November 10, 2014
It has been a long year. Obviously the time frame shows it, but first the utter exhaustion of my first Mount Greta hit hard and the bladder cancer hit even harder. I as reasonably certain that they caught all the cancer since it was at stage 1 and barely attached to the side of my bladder, but surgery and treatment was tiring so it took away from the wood turning for a while. I did the Mount Gretna show again this past summer and just finished the Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsmen show here in Lancaster. The former was better than the latter, but I am learning as I go about what sells. Lots of compliments certainly help me feel motivated to turn, but I think I'll take a few days off to catch up on projects around the house.
As the date for Mt Gretna gets closer, I become increasingly uncertain about the show. My ego puts too many Automatic Negative Thoughts (A.N.T.s) uninvited into my head. They are far worse than any public condemnation. Oh the shame and embarrassment from not being good enough, or asking too much money, or being unprepared or having something go wrong, or, or, or ..... I think I need to get out my ANT trap.
There is this constant dichotomy in my soul. I want to be accepted and even make a name for myself as a legitimate practitioner in this art/craft of woodturning. On the other hand I don't want to be judged by other people for fear of coming up short and not meeting expectations. The idea of selling my creations feels like exposing something very personal about myself to the world. There are days when all the self assurance just doesn't overcome the fear. I guess that's the time I need to take a deep breath, ground myself, reconnect with the Divine and go to the space of creativity where time stands still and the shape reveals itself more with each touch of the tool. That place where I stand back and wonder how the hell I made that last piece - it just came out of the wood at me. That place where judgment is completely suspended and I am safe to create as I please.
More Bits to Turn
Ok, I skipped my first day of writing something because yesterday just got too long at work. More importantly, on Thursday evening I went out into the shop to create another letter for my sign - U from a piece of spalted maple laying around. What started out as a simple U shape idea changed form as the upper lip wasn't so easy to cut. It just wanted to stay in a gentle curve so the U got enhanced to more of an hour glass shape. Then the bottom where I which I was getting ready to cut off with a parting tool just got smoother and smoother with the skew and turned into a base of a goblet. I brought the piece into the house to show Desiree and she remarked it would be a shame to cut in half for a sign. - I should just get another piece and start again. Jessica suggested I find a piece that exploded for the U, which I had handy along with a glass from the Sally Ann. So now I have a goblet shaped vase and a letter for my sign as well. Interesting how it works out.
Last night we had our monthly club meeting of the Lancaster Area Woodturners. It was also our annual picnic so partners were invited along to commiserate over the difficulty of living with woodturners. As part of our meeting we have a "show and tell" where folks are encouraged to bring along their work to boast about or show off their failures. As the meeting was closing out, one of the more senior members (as in long time turner) remarked about the sanding quality on the platters I had shown and how my pieces have shown noticeable improvements in this regard. I felt very honored by his comments because of his experience and also because it is an area I have been working hard to perfect over time.
The rule of thumb is that as a woodturner you are supposed to hate sanding your finished piece and it is the ultimate achievement to get your hand so steady and your touch so good a piece can come off the lathe with no sanding. One of the other members was ecstatic because he had made this goal after more than 30 years of practice. For me, while tool control is something I practice every single time I touch the chisel to the wood, the math dictates that I don't have 30 years to get it right, so I need to use sandpaper.
In this case, however, my university training in metallographic sample preparation has served me well. To look at metal structure under a microscope requires a mirror finish that is lightly etched with some chemical. Going from a hacksaw cut surface to mirror finish on steel takes practice using sand paper of various grits. The same principles apply to wood. If you are sanding furniture, to rule is to always go with the grain to avoid scratches. Unfortunately, that's not possible with woodturning when the piece is turning at 50 rpm and the grain direction changes 2 times per revolution. The secret lies in modern technology (an electric drill) and using sanding disks. It also lies in caring more about the result you are trying to achieve and less about how other people think you should get it. As I get better with tool control, no doubt the amount I sand will decrease, but sandpaper is also a tool that needs to be mastered.
I almost have the sign finished for the show. All the letters are done but the last 2 - R and N. The lettering starts off as sticks and the last on is a finished turn piece, with each letter advancing the project a step. I am having fun making it along with most of the other stuff. I looked up the web site for the Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsmen for their fall show. It's already full, so I can't apply to get in. In many respects, I am relieved. I think this show is enough and when I think about the fact I generate about one vessel a week, it means to get an inventory for a show takes a while with no time for other things at the time. I have somewhere around 60 pieces to take to Mount Gretna all together. I am going outside my limits to say that if I sell more than 10, I should break even. More than 20 and I'll be thrilled. Regardless, the sign and all only needs to be prepared once so the next show should be a lot less effort.
I am looking at the finish I use on my pieces. I generally choose from 4 different ones; high gloss polyurethane, satin polyurethane (both wipe on), butchers block oil, and carnuba wax. So far the tradeoff between the two urethanes and oil or wax finish. One gives the gloss I want, while the other gives the feel I want. I am sure I can get the feel with the polyurethane as well, but currently I am having difficulty with bits of dust and debris getting into the finish which end up with a rough feel to the surface.
There are almost as many different finishes to choose from as there are varieties of wood and everyone has a different opinion about which is best and safest so the best thing is to just go with something for a while and experiment with others along the way. The real question for me is less what I like and more what attracts other people. I have heard that women prefer high gloss finishes compared to men, who prefer satin finishes. Since women are generally the ones who buy wooden vessels, it makes sense to lean in that direction for finishing pieces that you want to sell. I guess I am going to find out more when I get to Mount Gretna next month.
We had a safety stand-down at work today as a reminder to every employee about the importance of going home in the same condition or better than when you arrived at work. As has been pointed out many times, we work to live, and don't live to work. I have to remind myself about these principles in the wood shop and while working on the lathe.
It is easy to become unaware of safety when I am in the creative zone. I tend to lose track of things so safe habits become critical. For example, I don't know how many demonstrators I've seen change the position of the tool rest on the lathe without turning it off commenting all the while how this is an unsafe practice. I am starting to choose to turn the head off to make safety a habit. I am also working at doing one thing at a time and not being distracted by conflicting thoughts - keeping my mind on task. I am also aware of the sound and condition of the piece and stop to inspect any catch I have to make sure I don't create an unsafe condition. Above all, I pay attention to my intuition. When your gut feel says something is wrong, stop all work immediately and do not start again until you get the all clear signal from the Divine. It has protected me more than once.
So I’ve started a website about my hobby and feel the urge to write about this experience as I go, so why not add a blog to the site? So far, it seems each piece I have turned has a story to tell or a lesson learned about my journey. Each piece seems to generate other ideas and desires along the way. I seem to be an experiential learner. I enjoy reading the tips of others in books but have noticed that they do not teach the smell of burning wood, the feel of tools vibrating, or the sound of a thin side wall. Books can tell you to trust your other senses but cannot teach the feeling of trust. Nor can they teach a sense of danger or to pay attention to your intuition. These things must be learned through use and pushing the limits.
In 2007, when I inherited Dad’s lathe, I started out wanting make practical turning using segmenting techniques. The idea of gluing bits of scrap lumber together appealed to my “waste not - want not” Mennonite upbringing. My problem was boredom and the desire to do something different. As I have turned more I have awakened a tactile desire within myself. I have found that I want to get a feel for the turning process instead of a purely visual result. I think it would be neat to be able to turn a bowl blindfolded - dangerous as that may sound. To rely completely on touch, sound and body position would be an amazing achievement. That is way down the road.
I’ll probably return to more segmenting and have plans for more fountains. In the mean time, shape, surface, weight and the surprise of the natural grain of keep me interested and exploring my boundaries.
Oh, and it is my birthday today. 55th. What better day to start something new.
I was doing some carving last night and realized I was pushing too hard because of a dull knife but feeling too lazy to sharpen it. That always creates the opportunity to slice yourself rather seriously, so I backed off on the pressure and reduced the size of the chips I was taking. As a recent demonstrator said, "A sharp tool doesn't solve all your problems, but a dull one doesn't solve any of them". Getting a tool sharp requires either patience or a special jig or both.
I really have no excuse on either account with plenty of jigs and lots of training. To cut leather requires a razor sharp knife and a steady hand to use it. Granddad's rule was the same as any craftsman to an apprentice - sharpen your own knife and don't touch mine. If you want to be a craftsman you got to learn to maintain your own tools - no excuses, just do it. It's part of the craft.