Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Skill not Skimp

Yesterday I had a little turning to do.  Just a couple of hundred Shaker style pegs is all. In fact I think it's about 210 to be precise. In conjunction with their beautiful built in furniture, the peg rail system was the backbone of the Shakers well organised and tidy homes and meeting rooms. Everything from mirrors, candle holders and shelves was hung from them, even their  ladder back chairs. I'd taken a heap of photos both in New York at the Met and at Hancock Shaker Village, so I had an accurate account of what I needed to reproduce.

My 'handy' measuring tool, always there when you need it.

So while I'm waiting for the order of hardwood architraves, peg rails and skirting boards for the cottage to arrive, I thought I'd get a start on the pegs. I have had a good amount of Blackwood shorts sitting around for a while, so they were cut into 100mm ( 4") blanks and away I went.  I have to say I wasn't looking forward at first to turning so many pegs, but after a while a got them down to about one every couple of minutes. A few things help, some simple marks on the tool rest ( in lieu of a template ) to know where to part to. Limiting the unnecessary changing of tools, ie: not chopping and changing from parting tool, to roughing gouge, back to the parting tool, then to the skew and then a spindle gouge etc etc. And a good playlist of your favourite music to turn to helps!

That rhythm was quickly sorted, parting tool to size, roughing out with the gouge, the spindle gouge to create the flowing curve to the shaft and finally the skew to shape the mushroom top and tidy the shaft of the peg. Each tool only handled once throughout the process. Very simple and the results were exactly as I envisaged. Added to this was the usual feeling of satisfaction you get when you have made something by hand. A touch of pride. Something that with a little skill building 99% of wood turners could accomplish with little trouble.

So it always amazes me just how many people gravitate towards machines that diminish the necessity for any skill at all. For instance using a copy lathe to turn a large number of units, such as the pegs. 

Yes a copy lathe would turn them out faster and obviously with more exacting uniformity, but when that uniformity is lifeless and dull, due to the limitations of the machine, where is the benefit? And does using a copy lathe for this simple task assist in honing your skills for when the time comes for you to tackle turning something more complex, such as a baluster leg for a windsor chair? Of course not. You are back at square one and none the wiser. I don't get the attraction. Perhaps someone can tell me what I'm missing?

And no, I'm not talking about a bandsaw, table saw or even a drill press. But more so the infinite amount of jigs and contraptions that are flooding onto the market.  I've watched as the mass consumerism monster has brainwashed the average wood worker to believe that they cannot exist without the latest  injection moulded plastic gadget, vacuum assisted clamp or multi purpose multi bladed interchangeable rechargeable battery operated power tool!  You can even buy a backyard workshop sized CNC machine! Horribly cast and manufactured in China of course. And put together with just enough low quality material to ensure that in a few short years ( or less ) it will become landfill and you will be back in the same Mega-Store buying the next generation of the same rubbish machine. Brilliant!  I call it 'dumbing ourselves down.' It's as if we are signing up to be less 'able,' to allow ourselves to have a machine pop out a creation at the touch of a button, a creation which is 'ok' but we accept it's mediocracy because it's FAST . 

I guess what I'm trying to say is trust in yourself and if you don't yet possess the skills to achieve something, try. And if in trying you waste a few hours, so what? I guarantee you will be richer for the experience and more competent too. Practise makes perfect, with practise comes speed and best of all you can have pride in your achievement. Some self satisfaction.

So cut a dovetail by hand, chop out a mortise with a mortise chisel, carve something by hand or turn a peg. I guarantee you'll love it and it may just delay the 'bigger is better' CNC machine and copy lathe purveyors spreading their wrongness any further to the masses. Now back to those pegs.....

1 comment:

  1. great post. I'm beginner woodworker, and I have to say, I fell into this spiral of "you need better machine" etc. But after some purchases, I noticed that I'm distancing myself from things that got me started into working with wood.
    Heh, and your post is great reminder, to stay on my path of more mindfulness in my work. Thanks.
    Sorry for my broken english ;) cheers from Poland