Watching a wood turner at the wood lathe is sometimes like watching a magician at her craft. You know it is the manipulation of the hands that makes things happen but it is still wonderful to see it happen. As the craftsperson moves a tool over a spinning piece of wood shavings fly while beads and coves form behind the tool tip. Amazing as it looks, it all returns to basic cuts and movements.
All a lathe does is hold wood and spin it round. Whatever the motion comes from the foot work of the old treadle lathe or an electric motor on the modern machines of today, for thousands of years this has not changed. Wood is still held by the instrument and spun round while a wood turner stands at the side and cuts the piece with sharp tools.
This is one of the basics of turning wood. Tools must be sharp. Today's craftsperson has an advantage over the turners of yesteryear with the grinders and grinding jigs available to make sharpening fast and simple, but the necessity of a sharp edge has not faded. Also the tools of today are similar to the tools of yesterday, but made of superior steel. All that is to say that the basics have not changed since the time that wood turners were depicted upon the walls of the ancient pyramids.
Wood, the primary material, is seldom found perfectly round in nature, although it might happen. The first basic move a novice learns is to fashion a square or otherwise out of round piece of wood into a cylinder. In doing so a roughing gouge is used to teach one to approach a spinning piece of material at the right angle in the right spot. This basic move will always be needed. Very quickly the simple rule is learned that wood has a grain and that to cut with it leaves a smooth surface and cutting against the grain leaves a rough surface. Here the everyday phrase, "it goes against the grain."
It is a surprise to most new and even a few experienced lathe users that there are only three basic cuts possible in the activity. The straight line, the inward or concave curve and the outward or convex curve. A "v" cut is just two straight lines meeting in the middle. Beads are two convex curves while a cove is two concave cuts from opposite directions. Ogee or "s" curves are a combination of an inward and outward cut. Everything comes down to the three basic cuts.
Also surprising to the beginner is the idea that hands hold the tools but the body moves them into place. While we call it hand turning, tools should be anchored to the body and the whole body used to move them to the cut. It gives safety and firmness to the activity. One of the basics of the craft is learning to stand and move with the piece being formed.
Remarkably, the basics of the activity are simple; use sharp tools, present them at the proper angle and spot, master three cuts, use the whole body and ensure that the lathe holds the wood securely and spins it properly. With these simple basics, it remains to practice for a lifetime before the possibilities of wood turning even come close to being exhausted. The art and craft of wood turning has been growing for thousands of years and shows no sign of stopping or even slowing down.
Source by Darrell Feltmate