Turnings - A Timeless Woodworking Technique(aluminum cutting speed mill Debby)

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Wood turnings have been admired and created by artisans for centuries. From ancient bowls and decorative finials to modern pens and artistic sculptures, the craft of wood turning produces stunning works of art from simple blocks of wood. Though the basics remain the same, advancements in tools and techniques have made wood turning more accessible and allowed turners to get even more creative. Whether you're new to the lathe or a longtime woodturning enthusiast, exploring the possibilities of turned wood creations is an endless and rewarding journey.
What is Wood Turning?
Wood turning refers to the process of using a wood lathe to shape a piece of wood into a cylindrical or symmetrical form. The block of wood, known as the blank, is mounted on the lathe between two points called centers. As the blank rotates, the turner uses chisels or gouges to slowly and methodically remove material until the desired shape emerges. Though turning projects are initially formed with basic geometric shapes, more advanced techniques allow for asymmetric and artistic forms. The smooth, curved surfaces created by the turning process exhibit the beauty of wood grains and figure in ways that other woodworking techniques cannot.
While basic turning projects like candlesticks, bowls, and pens may come to mind first, the possibilities are truly endless. Vases, platters, hollow forms, boxes, goblets, ornaments, game pieces, baseball bats, chair legs, and even architectural elements like newel posts, spindles, and finials are all commonly crafted on the lathe. Turners also embellish their work with textures, carved details, coloring, or inlays to enhance visual interest. As a versatile woodworking craft, turning allows makers to be endlessly creative in their pursuit of both form and function.
A Brief History of Wood Turning
The art of turning wood dates back thousands of years to Ancient Egypt where it was used to craft furniture, bowls, and other household objects. As lathes evolved from human-powered to machine-powered, turnings became both faster and more precise. During the Shaker movement in the United States in the 1800s, wood turning was vital for creating the simple, elegant designs that they were known for. At the start of the 20th century, the Arts and Crafts movement kept wood turning popular for crafting furniture, bowls, and spindle pieces.
Today, advancements in lathe and tool technology have made it easier than ever for both hobbyists and professionals to explore wood turning. High speed steel allows tools to be sharpened for clean cutting and improved ease of use. Variable speed lathes give turners more control over the cutting process. Stronger motors provide more power for turning large blanks. And digital readouts provide precise measurements to allow pieces to be accurately duplicated.
In addition to technology, the growth of woodturning clubs, organizations, publications and online communities have helped educate new turners and inspire experienced ones to advance their skills. The American Association of Woodturners and the British Woodturners Association are just two prominent organizations that promote woodturning and connect turners from all over the world. This has helped wood turning thrive as both a hobby and an art form.
Getting Started with Wood Turning
Beginning wood turners should start with a thorough understanding of lathe safety procedures. Eye and face protection are an absolute must, as are safe practices for mounting and cutting wood. Taking a class is a great way for newer turners to learn safety essentials before investing in their own equipment. Local woodturning clubs, woodworking stores, or community colleges often offer classes. YouTube videos are another good resource for beginner tutorials.
Once you're ready to purchase equipment, a variable speed midi or full-size lathe is recommended for versatility. Though smaller, less expensive lathes may seem appealing for beginners, their functionality is often limited. A sturdy lathe with variable speed capabilities, strong motor, solid frame, and swing capacity of at least 12" will allow you to turn a wider variety of projects. High speed steel turning tools are ideal to start. A basic set of a round nose scraper, roughing gouge, spindle gouge, and parting tool will handle most beginner projects.
Good wood choices for novice turners include basswood, poplar, soft maple, and pine. Their softness makes them easier to cut and shape. Starting with spindle projects like mallets, candlesticks, and wine stoppers are good practice before moving onto bowls and vases. Be patient with learning the unique feel and cutting action required as turning is much different from other woodworking techniques. Let the tools do the work, take light cuts, and sand thoroughly to achieve smooth finished turnings.
Advanced Wood Turning Techniques
As you gain experience on the lathe, there are many advanced techniques that allow you to pursue more challenging wood turning projects:
Bowls - After mastering spindle work, bowl turning is the next major milestone. Learning proper bowl blank mounting, working on the bevel of gouges, and maintaining wall thickness are critical skills to prevent catches and accidents. Natural edged bowls highlight live tree edges while fully rounded bowls require precise hollowing skills.
End Grain Turning - Items like pizza cutters, rolling pins, and butcher block need strength from turning wood on its end grain rather than side grain. Doing this requires special care when mounting the blank and cutting to avoid tearout.
Hollow Forms - Hollow forms involve hollowing end grain concavities rather than bowls with the opening on top. Special tools like bedan, Termite, and swan neck hollowing tools allow access into deeper, narrower forms.
Multi-Axis Turning - Typically the lathe spins wood on a single axis for uniform facing cuts. Multi-axis turning allows for rotating on two or more axes to enable undercuts, asymmetry, and organic shapes. Specialty chucks are used to provide access at different angles.
Segmenting - Segmenting combines several precision-cut wooden segments into blank patterns before turning forms like vessels, bowls, and lidded boxes. Careful alignment and gluing of contrasting colors and species creates dramatic visual effects.
Surface Decoration - Burning, carving, texturing, coloring, pyrography, and inlaying are all techniques to enhance the visual appeal after the initial turning is complete.
There are always new techniques to learn as a wood turner. Having an experienced mentor to provide guidance taking on advanced methods is extremely valuable for continued growth. Patience and persistence will help you master even the most challenging projects.
The Creative Possibilities of Wood Turning
While wood turning originally provided a means of efficiently creating common household goods, it is now largely practiced as an artistic medium. Sculptural, non-functional works rival the beauty and creativity of other art forms. The Expressive Woodturning Movement has opened up bold new possibilities for asymetrical, organic, and interpretive forms.
One benefit of wood turning as an art is the satisfaction that comes from cocreating with wood's natural beauty. The unique figure patterns, burls, and imperfections of each workpiece inspire one-of-a-kind creations. Maximizing the captured beauty in a piece of wood and watching it come to life with each cut of the gouge is a magical experience.
For many turners, the endless learning, problem solving, and creating keeps their passion for wood turning fresh after decades at the lathe. There are always new techniques to master, exotic woods to experiment with, and artistic frontiers to push. Regional and national woodturning symposiums provide opportunities to glean inspiration from the latest award-winning pieces and techniques.
Whether wood turning is your profession, your hobby, or just beginning to capture your interest, there are unlimited possibilities for creative fulfillment at the lathe. With a commitment to continuous learning and growth, the journey of perfecting your wood turning craft can continue throughout a lifetime. From raw wood to finished masterpiece, nothing compares to the magical process of coaxing beauty and art from a shapeless block. That feeling of accomplishment and creative expression is what drives woodturners to keep pursuing new skills, projects, and breakthroughs in this ageless craft. CNC Milling CNC Machining