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Blog entry by StevenAntonucci posted 10-08-2008 08:20 PM 1902 reads 0 times favorited 23 comments Add to Favorites Watch

As someone who has been working with wood for 20 years and turning for 12 years, there are a few things that set me off. I’m going to jump up on my soapbox now:

1.) “What lathe is the best?” “What angle is that sharpened to?” “What tools are the best?” “What chuck…”

AAAAAAARGH! The answer to all of these questions is “It doesn’t matter.” I think far too many folks are concerned with the brand name, whether there is some perception of status or instant expertise if you own a Oneway vs. a mini lathe- it doesn’t matter! Folk overlook the basic facts- A lathe spins wood, and a tool cuts wood. A better lathe will outperform a lesser lathe only if there is a BETTER turner holding the tool.

We tend to think investing in better tools is the easiest way to get better at the craft, when the truth is that we really need to invest in our skills and knowledge. Once you have done this, most folks will realize that what they have is more than sufficient and stop asking those questions.

2.) “I can’t do what you do.”

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH! (really bugs me!) I stand there holding a sharp tool to a spinning piece of wood. It requires almost no skills at all. The root of the matter is that these folks are still mystified by the very basics of woodturning, which boil down to the following:

You either cut or you scrape. Period. A cut is supported by the bevel of the tool. A scrape isn’t. Pretty simple stuff. From there, you need to know what one looks like vs. the other, and watch your tool presentation to the wood. Practice makes perfect, but in 15 minutes, I’ve taken folks that have never held a turning tool and taught them how to make ribbons of wood fly.

If I had know 10 years ago what I know now, I’d be where I will be 10 years from now.

3.) “I like straight sided bowls”

(I’ll save the keystrokes the ARGH would require here…) Really? Have you ever seen one for sale in a store somewhere? If you did, you were probably in a pet store, because a dog dish is the quintessential “beginner bowl shape”. Usually, it is driven by two things- the desire to get the biggest possible bowl (not the best bowl) out of an expensive piece of wood (beginners SHOULD NOT BUY WOOD) or the fear of a catch in the curve or transitions.

We are all guilty of having to start somewhere, but my biggest investment in turning is my library. I have scores of books that went from how-to, to what-to, and finally why-to. Woodturning is a very tactile craft- most of the things we make are going to be handled by human hands, which can instantaneously provide feeback that our eyes cannot. If we pick up something that doesn’t feel “right”, it’s usually a red flag to our perception that something is “wrong”.

A straight sided bowl doesn’t fit into the human hand. It may be perfect for keeping the dog from knocking its water over, but let’s try to work in some curves.

Why am I ranting about this? Generally speaking, I don’t know. I guess it’s because I see an opportunity to change the way turning is taught – why, how, what. If you know why, you can apply how to make whatever you want.

Rant off. Thanks for listening.

-- Steven

23 comments so far

View SCOTSMAN's profile


5849 posts in 5037 days

#1 posted 10-08-2008 08:28 PM

I agree Steven! too many woodworkers hung up on brand names .I bought dewalt sanders and they both started to burn my hands within minutes of working with them from overheating,got my money back and got a beautiful sander here 6 inch orbital for £20 it’s a beaUTY works very well too anyway,I would not like to go back to the dark old daYS when men worked as they did in the uk in damp dingy underlit sheds full of cobwebs with about four foot of woodchips and sawdust on the floor so we have come a long long way.And you Americans taught us it does not have to be like that so we have a new generation of woodworkers here with nice shops and nice tools where it’s conmfortable to work in even for a bobbiest like me. we still have a long way to go and you guys still put us to shame well done good post steven .Alistair

-- excuse my typing as I have a form of parkinsons disease

View Chris 's profile


1880 posts in 5443 days

#2 posted 10-08-2008 09:25 PM

That’s one heck of a soap box….

-- "Everything that is great and inspiring is created by the individual who labors in freedom" -- Albert Einstein

View kolwdwrkr's profile


2824 posts in 5042 days

#3 posted 10-08-2008 09:38 PM

wow, so asking questions is out of the picture huh? What happened to no question is a stupid question. There’s a problem here. There are a lot of people that can’t see in perspective. Some just don’t think beyond brand to understand that generally they all have the same function. But what if they have a logical question, like will this brand fit my grizzly, etc.
It’s not as easy as one thinks to turn. The outside shape is easy and any tool can be used. You are turning the face grain so it’s easy to cut. But when you don’t understand the end grain you get into trouble. Nobody will just put a blank on the lathe and know how to make it hollow. There are tips and tricks that people should be able to ask about. There are also a million different tools that help make it easier. But I guess these people should learn the hardway and mess up several pieces before going to the store and buying a book that tells them how to do it, or watching a show on tv or whatever. Saves you the time of reading their post asking these stupid questions on how to make something. Maybe everyone should just quit asking questions in general. Then this site can just be a bunch of random posts with people saying “I would have done it this way had someone told me how”.
The purpose of this site is for people to ask questions and post answers. It’s supposed to be educational to everyone no matter how lame the question may appear. It may be lame to you but there could be 30 people that would love to know the same thing.
As far as straight sides go, it is all about ones perspective and vision. I’ve seen a lot of turnings with just straight sides, but with an imaculate finish. The finish and the grain of the wood is basically the design, not the way it is turned. Those are the details the artist was working on, not the techniques of turning.

I respect your opinions, but come on. People should be able to ask these questions when they feel lost. If you think it’s a stupid question then move on and don’t answer. Be glad that you are blessed with all your skill and knowledge whether you intend on sharing it or not.

-- ~ Inspiring those who inspire me ~

View lew's profile


13532 posts in 5207 days

#4 posted 10-08-2008 11:26 PM

Learning is a journey of discovery. Discovery is part exploration and part asking questions. Some of the questions are asked silently, to ones self. If the answers to those silent questions are “I dunno”, then- for the journey to continue- the question must be asked aloud.

A question is only stupid to the listener, never the one inquiring; for that is the one on the journey to higher learning.

-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

View StevenAntonucci's profile


355 posts in 5390 days

#5 posted 10-08-2008 11:34 PM


I think you missed my point entirely. I actually volunteer my time to anyone that wants it, and I whole- hearted encourage the right questions. The trouble is that most people don’t know what they don’t know.

At least once a week, someone approaches me with the following: “Hi, I’m a new turner. What lathe should I buy?” If you turn, you know that there are at least a dozen good lathes on the market that could meet that need, and the answer most people would give would be based upon some personal bias. I never answer that question, because it bypasses a great deal of the process that I think is important for someone to understand to encourage learning. Far too many turners have the “one more tool” mentality, when quite frankly, they haven’t really developed a level of proficiency with the ones they already own.

As for learning the hard way, I also believe that experience is the best teach, bar none. Do you think I’ve never cut through a hollowform? Do you think I still don’t cut through a hollowform from time to time? I’ve probably lost more things than most people will ever turn. I want to see someone try, fail and then ask the question- so they understand what the right question to ask is!

For the record, my post had nothing to do with this website or any of the others I post on. It was more geared towards the fact that most woodturners approach their education in the craft completely the wrong way. I speak from experience, having done it the wrong way myself. I could easily place half of my tools in a box in the shed and never miss them. I’ve returned many of my original turnings once I realized some of the issues, and many of them did not survive a second spin on the lathe. Failure is not my enemy. I actually welcome it, for in every failure is the opportunity to learn and grow.

Here are some much better questions that a new turner will arrive at if they have a little experience and an appreciation of the points I made:

1.) I have a Oneway Lathe, a Tormek for sharpening, and the best tools money can buy, but I still start sanding at 60 grit. Why won’t my tools cut cleanly? (could be presentation, could be the wrong shape…)

2.) What are the features that a bowl turner should look for in a lathe?

Notice how the questions become less brand-centric once you’ve built the baseline knowledge. Truth be told, I could probably pretty good cut on a Sears monotube lathe with a no name tool. The wood doesn’t know how much you paid for the stuff or whose name is on it, only how you present the edge to the wood. I’ve heard many a guy attribute quality work to “oh, he turns on a Oneway” and I’ve seen lots of guys with big expensive lathes whip out the 60 grit to fix the problems they create by not rubbing the bevel or cutting in the wrong direction. Better stuff makes things easier, not better.

So ask all of the questions you want to ask. If you are new to turning, the best question you can ask is “where can I go to learn how to do this?”. (disclaimer: I “teach”, but I don’t charge…)

-- Steven

View Woodbutchery's profile


434 posts in 5038 days

#6 posted 10-08-2008 11:35 PM

kol, I didn’t read that as a “no questions allowed” rant. Rather, it’s a rant against the presupposition that better tools make one a better woodworker.

I’m still a woodbutcher and proud of it. I’m working on my skills, and if it’s anything like musicianship, I’ve got a bit to go before I consider myself to be a woodWORKER. However, I’m working on my skills when I can. As a hobbiest, it’s all any of us CAN do.

I’ve been playing flute for twenty years, recorder for ten. I’m good enough to be semi-proffessional (occasional paying gigs, mostly voluntary work and such) and I keep working on my skills. I have some good instruments that I have aquired over time, but they don’t make me a good musician. It’s the practice.

The question I get asked most often is “How do I learn to play the <flute>m a woodbutcher.

-- Making scrap with zen-like precision - Woodbutchery

View Dan Lyke's profile

Dan Lyke

1532 posts in 5577 days

#7 posted 10-09-2008 12:05 AM

Grins. Okay, I’ll bite: We have two salad bowls, one that’s beautiful, sloped sides, one that’s fairly utilitarian, with straight sides. Yep, the straight sided one is the one that actually gets used, day in and day out. We’ll break out the other one for guests or a party, though.

On the “which tool is better?” questions, yeah, mention that I’m a computer geek by profession and I get asked “so which computer should I buy?” Let’s start with what you want to accomplish, and then have a dialog about how you get from here to there.

-- Dan Lyke, Petaluma California,

View kolwdwrkr's profile


2824 posts in 5042 days

#8 posted 10-09-2008 12:08 AM

Okay, so if I have it straight, don’t ask what tool to buy and don’t ask how to do anything until you’ve tried and failed. Sounds good to me.

-- ~ Inspiring those who inspire me ~

View StevenAntonucci's profile


355 posts in 5390 days

#9 posted 10-09-2008 01:55 AM


Still missing out. If you ask that question, the answer doesn’t really matter. You will probably not be able to use it anyway.


I have at least 50 salad bowl, and we still grab the same couple and have our “company” bowls (Salad for 12 or more!). Thanks for illustrating my point with the answer I actually give when asked that question. Not only does that dialog help them understand what they want and how they should buy, but it also preps them for the idea that there are classes out there to learn what they want to do. I teach making a bowl, but only because it uses all of the basic cutting that I teach. Learn to fish vs. give a man a fish.


Another great point. I stress practice. Seems kind of odd at first, since most people start turning to “make stuff”, but I actually just practice some times. I turn nothing, but make sure my skew skills are up to par, or that I can cut the inside curve of a bowl in one fluid motion with no tearout. Then I throw the bowl or whatever in the pile of stuff I’ll never put finish on or sand…


The answers:

A Nova 3000

A bunch of old Sorby’s that I bought on Ebay, one Oneway that I bought at a show, and a couple of Doug Thompson’s that I bought from him at a picnic with a whole bunch of shop made hollowing tools

Nova Chucks because they’re cheap and work well (never tried another so I don’t know)

Angle- a sharp one 20 something degrees I’d guess? 60 or so on the nose of my bowl gouge (Oneway) a lot steeper on the inside bowl gouge (Old Sorby-75 degrees?) ( a good question is why I have an inside and an outside bowl gouge…:-)

Thanks for listening.

-- Steven

View Eric's profile


875 posts in 5236 days

#10 posted 10-09-2008 03:09 AM

Great rant, Steven. And nice job handling the hecklers. ;^)

As a beginning (I mean BEGINNING) hand tools woodworker, I am amazed at the comments I occasionally get from very experienced woodworkers. Something along the lines of “You have my total respect, I could never do that (or do it as well).” I once even got one of these comments from a “name-brand” woodworker (whose name I won’t mention)!

What a load of bull! I’m doing hand tools because I’m kind of forced to over here, and if you cut off the power to these guys’ shops, I bet you anything they’d be able to do as good a job or better than what I can do with hand tools. Granted, the stuff I’m doing is a little bit more than “holding a sharp tool to a spinning piece of wood”, but still, it’s not rocket science. Move saw back and forth, hold chisel pointy end down, whack it with something heavy, repeat.

That’s not to say I don’t like compliments, but if I believed every one I received I’d be one cocky guy!

-- Eric at

View kolwdwrkr's profile


2824 posts in 5042 days

#11 posted 10-09-2008 04:49 AM

I think your post must have just went way over my head. Sorry for reading it the wrong way, and then re-reading it the wrong way, and then re-re-reading it the wrong way. I think I’ll just stop reading it, because I still don’t understand. Have a happy day ;-)

-- ~ Inspiring those who inspire me ~

View Woodbutchery's profile


434 posts in 5038 days

#12 posted 10-09-2008 04:59 AM

Don’t stop now, kol! This could be a whole Charlie Brown and the football thing …. ;-).

Eric, it’s not always what you’re doing it with, but the application.

Me? I don’t turn wood. Why? I haven’t found that spell yet ;-).

-- Making scrap with zen-like precision - Woodbutchery

View kolwdwrkr's profile


2824 posts in 5042 days

#13 posted 10-09-2008 05:18 AM

woodbutchery, that’s funny. Made me smile. I needed that. I would be afraid to actually kick the ball though. I just don’t have the energy right now. LOL

-- ~ Inspiring those who inspire me ~

View Derek Lyons's profile

Derek Lyons

584 posts in 5020 days

#14 posted 10-09-2008 06:20 AM

As to #1 – That’s exactly the questions a newbie should ask. It presupposes the experienced person who answers is wise enough to answer with “lathe a has feature b” while another answers with “well lathe c has feature d”, thus does the newbie learn to compare features. The newbie also learns why one sharpening angle works for one job and a different one for another. The newbie also learns how different tools function and how differences between tools are sometimes one of perception and sometimes one of having a poor tool.

As to #2 – Well, no. I can’t do what you do. My eye-hand coordination isn’t the greatest (which is why I use power tools and fences rather freehand cuts) and I lack experience. Maybe someday.

As to #3 – Yes, I’ve seen them in stores plenty of times. I’ve even owned a few over the years. (They were all the rage back in the 60’s.)

-- Derek, Bremerton WA --

View StevenAntonucci's profile


355 posts in 5390 days

#15 posted 10-09-2008 03:01 PM

Thanks for all that have participated in the “Great Debate” ;-)

I don’t mean to single anyone out, but as I mentioned at the top, this is a topic that completely cheeses me!

Their is probably a calculation that you can perform that correlates the length of time someone has been turning to the number of tools the own and the number of tools they actually USE. I’d be guilty as anyone on that curve, but I travel with 3-4 tools. There used to be a clothing store who’s motto was “An educated consumer is our best customer.” I believe that applies to turning as well…

In the past, I’ve almost upgraded my lathe twice- once to a VB and once to a Oneway 2436. While both deals fell through and I was very disappointed at the time, I look back at them somewhat grateful that they did. They are both exceptional machines that are considerably better than the lathe that I have, but for the work that I do, neither one is necessary. I would know all of the differences- both obvious and subtle- in their abilities, and while both would make some things easier, neither one would make me a better turner (just one who uses a little bit less sandpaper.) I need to upgrade myself before I worry about the limits of my equipment.

My equipment has never been the reason I’ve had a piece fail-it’s always me. Somedays, I’m just not “on” and I completely mess up on form. Other days, the form is perfect and I make the inside bigger than the outside. Some days, I push myself beyond what I know I can do, just to see if I’ve underestimated my abilities. Other days, I ruin something I know I can do but was overconfident in how “easy” it is. When I teach in my shop, I use no more than 3 tools, since I’d rather be a master of 3 than competent with many, and I still get catches when I lose focus. The tools I use for hollowing are all homemade, and the average cost is less than $5 each, smaller ones much, much less (think FREE!)

Derek- While hand-eye coordination is certainly a good thing, a lot of woodturning doesn’t require it. It’s one of the first things I correct when I teach, and usually have to remind the student a dozen or so times in a day… and there are good straight sided bowls, but those weren’t the one’s I was in reference too! ;-)

BTW- The best piece of instruction I ever got was – “gee, this isn’t very good?” and it came from a well known turner, who knew how to say it without saying it. He also knew that I would understand what he was saying when he said what he said, and at the time, didn’t know how I would take it. But he said it anyway, and I thank him. It was one of the first times that I ever began thinking about how the work needed to be able to stand on its own once it left your shop- folks don’t know or care about what you used to make it, only that your name is on the bottom. You either get the praise or the punishment.

So stop worrying about tools and start planning how to make yourself a better turner.

-- Steven

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