MASTERING SPINDLE TURNING IN 5 DAYS
My Conover Workshops class proved to be fun and educational.
SHOP OWNER: Don Baker
LOCATION: Flagstaff, AZ
In November I spent a great week at the Conover Workshops in Ohio, where I took the Introduction to the Lathe class followed by the 5-day class, Mastering Spindle Turning. I particularly enjoyed the 5-day class, and I received good basic training in the techniques used in spindle turning. Now I can practice on my own to improve my skills. The equipment for the class was top notch. I got a chance to turn on a Nova 3000 belt drive lathe, a Nova DVR, and, best of all, Ernie's Powermatic 3520.
We had three instructors for the spindle class, Ernie Conover, King Heiple, and Ernie's apprentice, a young man named Patrick Brown. They each brought a different teaching style to the mix. Ernie is a master turner who could shape and smooth an intricate spindle with a railroad spike if he chose to. He comes from the crafts tradition. He demonstrated how to turn our practice pieces, explaining in detail what he was doing. He provided individual help and always responded to requests for assistance. However, once he had explained the techniques to us, he expected us to find our way by practicing on our own. King is a retired surgeon who also has an engineering degree. He was more apt to step in and give us hands-on guidance as we worked. He showed infinite patience and never tired of repeating the mantra, “Stay on the bevel”. Pat is a very laid back young fellow with a great sense of humor and a natural teaching style. Ernie considers him one of the best apprentices he has ever had. I felt that between the three of them, our teachers could accommodate anyone's learning style.
We began the course by learning how to sharpen our principal tools. Ernie and his staff set up the profiles on our gouges for us with a Wolverine sharpening rig on a bench grinder. After some initial instruction, we were subsequently able to fend for ourselves by sharpening our tools as needed using the class equipment.
At first we spent time practicing beads and coves with the spindle gouge. After we got the hang of these, Ernie began to give us examples of furniture pieces to copy. These moved from simple to complex. I came to appreciate roughing and spindle gouges. I have to admit that I found the skew chisel challenging, but I came away from the class with the knowledge of proper skew technique. Now I just need to practice a lot and develop the muscle memory to use the skew with confidence. Meantime, if I am making something critical, I will put the skew in its position of honor on the rack and grab my gouges.
Toward the end of the class we were given the opportunity to make things we could take home. I made a nice mallet from some wet maple in Ernie' firewood pile. Happiness for me is turning wet wood and letting the shavings fly.
We also made earrings for our spouses, a three-legged stool, and a pepper mill. The curriculum was quite flexible. We could choose to progress through all of the class practice projects or concentrate on our own interests. One of my classmates had attended several of Mike Dunbar's Windsor chair-making courses and came to the class wanting to learn how to turn Windsor chair bottom pieces. He had brought examples to copy and was able to focus on that instead of doing some of the class practice pieces. He still received great help from our instructors.
As our last project we practiced the technique that I found the most interesting, turning cabriole legs. It requires turning between centers with uneven offsets. To make the foot requires turning a half cove that is about 90% air, which is quite challenging. For me the entire class was a great experience made far better by a fine group of classmates. I highly recommend this class to anyone interested in learning to spindle-turn or to turn furniture pieces.. . . Don Baker
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