Beware the spindle thread

So anyway, I have finally succumbed to the yearning for a variable speed lathe and have gone ahead and bought one. I’d used the Jet 1015VS at a hands-on session at the local club, and it’s a joy. Instead of having to stop the lathe, open two little doors, release the tensioner and physically move a belt from one set of pulleys to another, you just turn a knob while the lathe is running. I hadn’t realised before how often I actually want to adjust the speed. Typically the workpiece is unbalanced when it first goes on, so you start at a low speed but once it’s round you want it faster.

But there was a downside. These things often don’t run perfectly smoothly (unlike the lathe itself, which is quiet and polite as long as I don’t turn it on when the index pin is engaged). Something that didn’t occur to me to check was the spindle thread. On the one at the club, the thread is the same as my old lathe so it fits my chucks. Yes, you guessed it, the thread on the new one is different. Why, I don’t know. OK, it’s metric, perhaps that’s why. The thing is, on the display model (and the way it comes out of the box) you can’t see the thread because it’s covered by a faceplate. Perhaps they do that deliberately, I don’t know. But (and tell me if this is unreasonable) it would have been helpful if the sales staff had pointed it out. I know it was in the specs, and I should have looked, but even so.

So I find myself with a lovely new lathe that won’t fit my chucks. What to do?

Well, for the moment I’m using an adaptor, which cost me another 28 quid (and two days, because they initially sent me the wrong one and I had to go to the store to sort it out) and reduces the capacity of the lathe by about two inches, if you want the tailstock up with the chuck. Well, on the old lathe, the 1014, I’d always fitted the chuck to muscle-tight, so I did this on the adapter too. It flashed across my mind while the thing was turning nicely that it might be worth standing out of the way when I stop it, and i was right. The chuck went on turning and took itself, and the workpiece, right off the lathe and on to the floor. One more piece of firewood but otherwise no harm done, thank goodness.

It’s always the first few days with a new thing that are the most dangerous.


I want to put in my tuppenceworth on the oft-heard curmudgeonly comment that woodturning isn’t skilled any more, that the new tools and gadgets make it all so easy that any tinpot hobbyist can soon put out half-decent stuff.

First of all, I can only think of one reason why this can be seen as a Bad Thing, and that is, power tools will all be so much scrap metal if a time should come when there is no longer any power. At that point the pre-industrial techniques will have to come out again, along with their associated learning curve. But at that point, the lack of people with ten thousand hours at the pole lathe turning perfectly straight rolling pins will be the least of our worries.

In the meantime, any hobbyist can buy the kit and pick up enough skill in a short time to turn out dishes and bowls, goblets and platters and other items of varying levels of beauty. And why not? If you can quickly learn how to make a serviceable item in the shape you want it, you immediately have scope for innovation and creativity that you didn’t have before. You can play with ideas for decorating your pieces, you can look at the forms and shapes all around you in a new way, you can experiment with incorporating different materials, you can do all these things right away.

And when you go to the local woodturning club you soon recognise the ten thousand hours when you see it. The kit doesn’t make a master out of you. You still need to put in the time and the practice, and none of that time is wasted. The worst outcome is an expensive piece of firewood (bar any lapse in safety precautions, of course; we all have our near misses and the associated scars). In the meantime, you’ve had a chance to enjoy your lathe. It’s democratic, and the standard of work is inexorably rising.

And then there’s the other techniques you start to take an interest in: pewter, for instance, which is probably the first contact with molten metal that most of us encounter. Incorporating fibreglass resin or epoxy in your work. Learning about different kinds of adhesives. The ideas for turning your mistakes into features. The joy of seeing what a piece of relatively unpromising firewood can look like when shaped. And of course the brainwork of solving problems of practical geometry.

And what’s really lovely about woodturners is that they are always willing to share their skills and clever ideas with the rest of us. What’s not to like?

Perhaps your curmudgeon is simply envious.


quartersawnThis was the first time I’d attended the AWGB biennial seminar, held at Loughborough University, and probably also the last. Not because it’s not any good, it was very informative and I came away from it with new techniques and ideas aplenty. Not because I’m female in a group of primarily male woodturners – there were other women there. Not even because of the pompous parading of credentials and one interminably boring after-dinner speech.

No, the reason I won’t go again is that I can’t keep my mouth shut.quartersawngoblet

So when one of the demonstrators, showing us how to bend the thin stem of a goblet, tells us that this 5mm diameter piece of wood has to be “quarter-sawn, you do all know what that means don’t you?” I can’t help saying, “well, I thought I did, but…”

For an excruciating twenty minutes I was treated to ‘the lecture’ about what quarter-sawn means. It refers to the orientation of a board, where it came from in the tree. He drew ‘the diagram’ on the whiteboard. He showed how the rings are different on a radially sawn board and a tangentially sawn board. The rest of the audience joined in, trying to explain this concept to me. What they were not explaining was how a ROUND, THIN piece of wood can be ‘quarter-sawn’. A few people sitting near me did twig (to coin a phrase) that they were all answering the wrong question and tried to help me explain that. We were drowned out in the rush to explain ‘quarter-sawn’ in the clearest possible way so that this poor woman might get it in the end.

My humiliation was complete when, after it was all over, a man comes up to me and says, “Do you understand it now?” and proceeds to turn my favourite 0.1mm fibre tip pen into a 0.3mm fibre tip pen by drawing the diagram AGAIN! He then led me to one of the stands to show me the rings in pieces of wood.

I believe the expression is WTF???

So from now on, incidents like this are referred to in our family as ‘quarter-sawn moments’.