March 2006 marks the start of my woodturning hobby – a hobby that I think will stand the test of time. Before getting to the actual turning I should recount what happened at the start of the month since the turning only occupies the last few days. Some aspects of this entry actually occurred before March 2006 so strictly should be in the previous entry but I felt they fitted better here.

As I have mentioned elsewhere I have always been interested in woodwork but had never had the money nor space for the tools and equipment. My partner and I had discussed getting me some woodworking equipment for a while and a lathe seemed like a good choice. The reason we settled on a lathe was because it is a fairly stand alone piece of equipment compared to the other big pieces of equipment – for example you can’t make many items with only a pillar drill – and it would fit in our highly limited workshop space. Although I was interested in woodturning it hadn’t really been something I had given that much thought to. I knew that you could make bowls and put decoration on spindles but I thought that was about it. I decided that I needed to do some research before settling on getting a lathe so I fired up the computer and had a surf.

It very quickly became apparent that I knew nothing about turning and that you could do far more on a lathe than I had imagined. In this situation my next step is usually to get a book on the subject and get reading. My partner and I needed to go to the local DIY store that weekend and by shear luck they had just that week put up a stand of books. What should be on that stand but Woodturning – A Foundation Course by Keith Rowley. One quick flick through and I knew that it would make a great introduction to turning. At that time, however, we were stone broke and couldn’t really afford to splash out on a book and what we went to the store for so we didn’t get it and I started to think that my dreams of turning were going nowhere.

Fortunately for me my partner noticed how interested I was in the book and when Christmas came round a couple of months later the book was in amongst my presents along with a hand made cheque for £150 towards my first lathe. As I mentioned above we were stone broke so this was exceedingly generous and I will always remember opening that present with the fondest of memories. My partner was upset that she hadn’t got me an actual lathe but I fully understood her reasoning – there are just too many options. I had been looking at lathes for a while and I was confused by the multitude of options and the fact that many things seemed to have more than one name.

I was fired up about getting a lathe and decided that I wanted to get one before my birthday in March. I started to research in earnest setting myself a price limit of 250 pounds (I had saved up and received some other money as well). It quickly became apparent that 250 pounds was not a lot of money to get started turning. Getting a lathe for that amount wasn’t hard but getting tools and a grinder as well would be really stretching the budget so thin you could see through it.

One thing I have learnt over the years is that when you buy tools you should buy one good tool rather than two bad ones. I’m not saying you should go for top of the range, I believe you are buying a brand name as much as a tool then, but it is false economy to buy a bottom of the range tool. Bottom of the range tools are often inaccurate and break easily which leads to a poor result and a frustrated user. There are cheap tools in my collection – a few have proved to be worth their weight in gold – but most have long since been replaced with better versions that have provided ten times the service and only cost twice as much. With this philosophy in mind I wasn’t happy about buying a 150 pound lathe (the amount I guessed I would have left after getting a cheap grinder and tools).

After much searching I came to the conclusion that I needed a bigger budget – the problem was we were still broke. The reason we were broke was because I was out of work trying, in vane, to make our business selling aquatics equipment work. It was becoming clear that the business wasn’t going to work so we decided that it was time I found a job again – that was some time in mid-February 2006 and was a very sad day.

I, however, have something of a knack at getting jobs. I have never been to an interview and not subsequently been offered the job. Some might say that I am aiming too low but I like to think I know what I am good at which is programming – yes, I’m a geek. The day after we decided I should get a job I had a look on a couple of job websites. I found an advert for a job that looked about right for me and applied. A couple of days later I was at interview. They called me for another interview a week later where I was offered the job – I started on the following Monday. All in all it took 10 days and one application form.

There is one really good aspect of programming as a career – the pay. Programmers, rightly as it is a difficult job :o), get paid quite a lot. I decided that I would blow a good portion of my first pay cheque on a lathe. I felt that this was the least I could do to compensate myself for the loss of our business. I decided to up my budget to 500 pounds and started looking around again. I found that I could certainly get a fair lathe and tools with this budget but I had a nagging doubt that I wasn’t at the sweet spot. I had read reviews of lathes with electronic variable speed and I liked the sound of that but even the cheapest lathe I could find with this feature was more than my budget could afford. As I mentioned experienced programmers get paid quite a lot and so I decided to up my budget again essentially to whatever I wanted. I decided that I was very interested in woodturning so I might as well get a good lathe from the start.

After much looking around and indecision I finally settled on the Record Power CL4. I chose this lathe because it is good enough for professional use but doesn’t cost an arm and leg – just a kidney (Woodturning magazine had a review of this lathe in the January and and February 2006 editions which confirmed this view). It should also be fairly easy to get spares for this lathe as the machine is widely stocked in the UK. I was going to place the order for this lathe when it occurred to me that my partner had wanted to buy me a lathe back at Christmas. As it was nearly my birthday anyway we decided that she would place the order and handle all the finer details.

My birthday came round and no packages had arrived and I started to get a little nervous that perhaps something had gone wrong. Around 11 o’clock that day though a truck pulled up outside and delivered the lathe, bench and tools. My birthday was on a Wednesday and it took me until the following Saturday to get the lathe put together and run-in. It doesn’t actually take that long to put together but I had other things to do as well. On the Saturday I turned my first piece of wood – which you can see below – while my partner took numerous photographs.

1

I thought this piece went pretty well for a first attempt and the next day I set about creating my second work of art which you can see below. The first piece was made completely with the roughing out gouge the piece below was made mainly with a spindle gouge. I was actually surprised now much I improved just while turning this piece. I started off with dig-ins and catches all over the place but by the other end of the piece of wood I had reduced that to just every now and then.

2

Well that was all the turning I managed to get done in March. Not surprising really considering my birthday is towards the end of the month. I got a lot more done in April which you can read about in the next thrilling instalment.