De-skilling

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.

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