Making the case for fancy firewood

I have a neighbor down the block who heats his workshop with wood.  So every couple of weeks, I’ll set out my cut-offs and scraps for him to pick up.  He stopped by not to long ago and told me that he simply felt too guilty to burn some of the stuff that I had put out for him.  I asked him what he was talking about.  He said that some of the turnings I was getting rid of could certainly be put to some good, artistic use.  I said that they had proven their usefullness by providing me with practice.  I told him to simply consider them “fancy firewood”.

I turn a lot.  Most of what I do is spindle work for furniture or architectural projects.  I turn on both a powered lathe and a springpole lathe.  And, I do a fair amount of “face grain” turning as well.  But if I go much more than a week between turning projects, I will start doing practice pieces, just simple bead and cove exercises.  Why?  Because turning is unlike most other woodworking skills. It requires the development and maintenance of a high level of manual dexterity to achieve a reasonable level of proficiency.   Most woodworkers who use power tools as their primary method, can go for months between projects and still accomplish the desire result when cutting parts, routing edges or sanding finishes.  Not so the woodturner.  You MUST practice!!!!

Woodturning is more akin playing the guitar, or hitting consistent wedge shots than it is to running boards across a jointer.  You must understand the tools that you are using at a very tactile level.  You must understand their various cutting geometries.  You must learn to control your tools with finesse, not by the strength of you “Popeye” like forearms (you can’t turn for very long with cramps in your forearms, by the way).  You’ve gotta get to the Zen of it and the only way you can do it is by standing in front of the lathe making shavings.

So if your wood burning neighbor tells you that your throwing away good stuff, just tell him that it’s okay – that you’re making fancy firewood for him and you’re becoming a better turner because of it.

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