Evolution #3: Digging yourself out of a turner's rut

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Blog entry by StevenAntonucci posted 02-22-2009 04:10 PM 1830 reads 0 times favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 2: Making "new things" Part 3 of Evolution series Part 4: Stewardship of our Materials (Part 1) »

I’m in a rut. I’ve gotten to the point where I can usually produce a hollowform in an hour of two, which means I can make 2-3 a day if I want to, but I really don’t want to. Why? Beacause I don’t want to do “production work”?

What is production work? To me, it’s work where the creativity is decided one time, and then executed many times. We need production work- spindles for staircases, utility bowls- for our every day lives, but it doesn’t feed my creative side. The funny thing is that production turners typically make more money because there is a much larger audience for their work, and it’s easier to sell when you have customers.

But I mean production work in a very different sense that most woodturners don’t really see. I mean it in areas that many see as being creative. If you turn the same wood all of the time, that’s a rut. If you turn the same form all of the time, you are in another rut. If you only turn bowls or spindles, you’ve found yet another rut. And it seems like a very easy trap to fall into.

A couple of years back, I was turning hollowforms almost exclusively. Even worse, the rut had gotten so deep that they were all the same basic shape. The wood didn’t stand a chance. It was going to be a certain shape no matter what the right thing to do with it was. (Look up Procrustean Bed) Then, one day- almost in a fit of anger, I shut the lathe off (and mumbled some bad words) and vocalized that I didn’t want to make “another one of those”. I stood looking at the wood, and decided that the only way to stop myself was to cut away all of the usual bits and make it impossible to produce that form again. Gouge in hand, I turned away a bunch of perfectly good wood, from a perfectly good form, and I made a mess that I was now forced to look at and reevaluate. I don’t remember what happened to that form, but I know what did happen. I had gotten myself out of the rut.

We all need to figure out what makes us happy. I am driven by being different (and original), which is harder to do than being good. Technical proficiency can be achieved with practice and determination. Being original is another story. It involves taking the little bits of yourself and your experience, and putting it into your work. If you keep doing the same things over and over, you will become technically proficient. However, you will also find yourself in that rut. Even if your idea was originally “new”, you eventually become a machine capable of “copying yourself”.

I implore anyone willing to listen- if you are in this wonderful journey called woodturning, try something new today. Be willing to fail- and grow, because you can’t do one without the other.

I’m off to the shop to see what happens…

-- Steven

5 comments so far

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27248 posts in 5283 days

#1 posted 02-22-2009 05:19 PM

Steven, I believe that we all tend to get in a similar position at times, irrespective of our woodworking focus. Whether it be turning hollow forms, cabinetry, boxes etc. by the time we have “mass produced” several of these it tends to become a chore rather than an enjoyable experience. I agree completely that sometimes just completing a novel project that goes beyond our comfort zone or adding to the complexity of an established routine, such as a new finish or tinting routine, is enough to recharge our batteries.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View kiwi1969's profile


608 posts in 4903 days

#2 posted 02-23-2009 05:20 AM

My dad had the same problem, he used to turn table legs for local furniture makers as “bread and butter” work, I know it bored him but it was a neccesary evil. Certainly without it he might have had to get a real job to pay the bills which would have meant less time at the lathe. Sometimes you just gotta do what sucks so you can do what you love.

-- if the hand is not working it is not a pure hand

View StevenAntonucci's profile


355 posts in 5400 days

#3 posted 02-23-2009 03:14 PM


i hope you didn’t interpret it as a slam against production turning? I would love to be able to make a living in the shop, but it’s just a hobby.

I meant it in a less literal sense. Sometimes, even though we are doing what we love, we find ourselves doing production work. We stagnate. If we were writers, we’d call it writers block. Lots of folks never get there because it is a hobby and they only do it for fun. Some of us are wired differently and need to get past it or we get bored and move on to something else…

-- Steven

View mmh's profile


3701 posts in 5184 days

#4 posted 02-23-2009 11:21 PM

That’s one reason why I don’t use a lathe for my canes. I want each piece to be it’s own shape. I do copy my designs, but each one is still unique. Try using found wood that has unusual grain to it. I let each piece of wood “talk” to me as a guide to the shape I create.

Mimic or combine the shapes found in nature and history. The urns from ancient civilizations are facsinating. Gourds, fruit, pods, all have unique shapes and you can try to incorporate them in your work. Maybe you need to try another medium, like clay. If you had to hand build or turn on a potter’s wheel, the technique makes you think about every move.

Push the envelope with your techniques. How can you make it harder or easier? You’ll want to unlearn some of your techniques and be inquisitive like a newbee would. Let go of your old teachings and try something you may have thought to be the wrong way, just to be different. (As long as it’s safe!)

The internet is a wonderful resource for new ideas. Try seaching “Pottery” or “vases” instead of wood turnings, although there are some very unusual pieces being made. Have fun!

-- "They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night." ~ Edgar Allan Poe

View MsDebbieP's profile


18619 posts in 5622 days

#5 posted 02-24-2009 04:17 PM

life is about learning and growing, you are right! So if part of your life is “repetitive” then it’s important, in my opinion, to find that creative outlet somewhere so you can blossom and “turn” into something new lol

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (, Young Living Wellness )

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