Mark ( on June 30th, 2009

Since I returned from the Marc Adam’s School, life has not offered much opportunity for me to get into the shop.  Rest assured that I will soon be doing some work to complete the Huntboard project and then I will be back onto the Sculpted Rocking Chair…nothing like having too many irons in the fire, huh?  Well summer is traditioonally my slowest woodworking time so, at least I’m consistent!

What I have been doing when I get a little time in the shop is more turning on the lathe.  As I have mentioned in the past, I’m a member of the Rochester Woodworkers Society.  I’m also a member of the Turning special interest group of the club.  This is a segment of RWS that is associated with the American Association of Woodturners.  For a couple of months now I have been working with a mentor from the Turning SIG in his shop.  My mentor Ralph has been turning for something like 30 years and teaching woodturning for a good portion of that time.

I started  the mentoring relationship because I wanted to learn more about turning hollow-forms.  However before we got started we thought it might be a good idea to work through some basic bowls in order to check and refine technique.   The thinking was that we could progress from an open bowl to a semi-closed form then to a hollow-form.  At this point we are working on a semi-closed form and I can definitely tell you that starting with the basics was the right way to go. I have learned as much about sanding as I have about refinements in tool technique!  Additionally, the process has taught me a lot about looking for the right form in a piece and the subtleties of why some forms look better than others.

I have said in the past that certain techniques seem to be well-suited to subtle hands-on illustration and correction.  Hand tool operations are one, and I think that woodturning is another.  There are certain things that are difficult to learn from a book or even videos. However, when a mentor reaches over and slightly adjusts the angle of your gouge as you turn a bowl, the message becomes clear very quickly!

Me at the LatheTurning with Gouge CloseupSemi-hollow Form 2Semi-hollow Form 1In the pictures you can see a Chinese Elm semi-closed form that we are working on in Ralph’s shop (a couple of the pictures are of the bowl on my lathe as I complete the sanding sequence).  Also, you can see a Walnut bowl that I did in my shop after some mentoring by Ralph.  For the Walnut bowl I followed the sanding and finishing sequence that Ralph teaches to achieve a nearly flawless glossy finish.

Walnut Bowl 1Walnut Bowl 2If you don’t belong to a woodworking club, I’d urge you to join one – the commeraderie alone is a great benefit.  If you turn wood, finding a mentor is also a definite plus to help you progress at a much faster pace than you would if otherwise on your own.

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5 Responses to “The Benefits of a Mentor”

  1. Good to see your expanding your skill set. I recently purchased a Jet 16×42 lathe, looks like your wooking on one as well, and started to learn how to turn. Like you I joined a local turning club and they have a mentoring program as well. Unfortunately, I am unable to take advantage of it during the summer months.

    Would to hear your opinion of the MASW class. I always enjoyed the classes, however, I believed there should have been some plans and proceedure list handed out. Did your class start to spread out in the completion of the project? My last class did and it created a lot of problems and mistakes. In addition, I did not care for the lost of time for cleaning up on the last day. (You spend a lot of money for the class, lodging, and travel to waste on cleaning)

  2. Chuck,

    Yes, I’m always trying to learn new skills. That is a Jet 16×42 that I turn on, though the picture of me turning in the post is on Ralph’s Woodfast lathe.

    As far as the MASW class, I definitely liked the class, school and experience. I think that the staff was great and the facility and operation is also top notch.

    For my class, we received just a measured drawing when we arrived – definitely not a complete plan. A set of procedures for each day would have been very helpful, as you stated. What I found was that some people were hell-bent on being first at doing and finishing every task. These people also tended to skip ahead – and sometimes made some errors as a result. That activity seemed to always occupy the instructors so I only was able to get snippets of their time on the fly. I was a bit more methodical and tried to learn their methods before going on to other tasks – after all, I was there to learn from them not just do what I already know what to do, right? So, that kind of thing was the only down side to the spread in the class – in the end, I got my project as complete as everyone else did!

    I understand what you mean about Friday and the clean-up. Friday morning was more or less just a few minor tasks and after lunch people were packing up and cleaning up. I would have preferred to have a set cut off time of say 3:00PM the clean the shop and pack away projects. With everyone’s help a couple of hours is all that it would really take. I did not mind chiping in to clean up, bt 1/2 the day in our case was a bit much.


  3. Hi Mark……….glad to see your post and a jump into the lathe. I love it when I see the word “FORM” used.

    You sure are having fun, and that is what its all about!!!!!

  4. I certainly enjoyed the article on “One man’s legacy”. I found your site earlier this year when looking for information on the “Maloof Style Rocker”. At that time you had a big head start on me.

    As seems to happen with woodworking hobbyists, we get sidetracked. I have been sidetracked in woodturning for the last 5 or so years. I n April, I started the chair following Hal Taylor’s design. Now it’s August and the legs are ready to attach to the seat.

    This project has been an exercise in doing new things and solving problems. Hal’s instructions are very good, but the leave some room for thought and improvization.

    As far as turning goes, it is like golf. You can turn one thing in a few hours, but you spend the remainder of your life improving the skills and design. I have been indeed fortunate to have a club like the Seattle Woodturners as a resource. We count among our members no less than six who are nationally known. There are another dozen who are good enough to offer their mentoring skills.

    Other areas have clubs as well. Woodturners are not afraid to share their skills.

  5. Hi Fred,

    Yes, we do tend to get sidetracked at times.

    I like turning because it is something that I can do in shorter bursts. It also allows me to be creative in a different way that furniture work does.

    Regarding the rocker, I had several things “conspire against me” to slow my progress. First, I took a “first ever” woodworking class in May to do a (very ambitious for one week) Huntboard. So, I had a lot of work to do to get materials rouch milled prior to that class. Then summer came. Traditionally, I do almost no woodworking in the summer (this year, I’ve broken that tradition somewhat with the additional turning that I’ve done). So, with all of that the rocker has been patiently waiting for me.

    No worries, as fall approaches, I’ll be back in the shop much more. Though, I still have a bunch of work left on the Huntboard too! I guess that’s part of the fun of woodworking.

    Sounds like you have a great woodturning club with a bunch of known turners. Certainly a great thing to take advantage of when you are able.


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