Saturday, February 7, 2009

Turn Like a Mountain Biker

Years ago when my partner and I were young and fit, we used to go mountain biking. This being Pennsylvania, we have some impressive trails—hilly and circuitous.

And although I played sports my entire life—racquetball, volleyball, and fastpitch softball—and my partner did not, she could blow me away on a mountain bike.

Why?

Because she didn't try to control the bike's every move; she melded with it. And she would fly. My view on the trail was either the dust in her wake or the blue, puffy-clouded sky . . . because I was laying on my back, having gone over the handle bars.

Last week in my woodturning class as I was using my arch nemesis—the parting tool—the instructor peered over my shoulder and tapped lightly on the knuckles on my right hand. They were dead white. "You can't turn with a grip like that," she said.

It was my mountain bike grip.

Aha. Therein lies the problem. I've been trying to control my tools so rigidly, they've been fighting back.

So I asked my partner to explain to me her mountain biking technique. She said, "You have to relax and become one with the bike. You have to keep everything loose, unlock your joints, keep calm and let the 'chi' flow through your body."

"What's chi?" I giggled adolescently.

"'Chi' is energy, one's life force."

So I thanked Yoda and resolved to change my approach to woodturning.

I thought of the sea turtles in Finding Nemo—the rad surfer-dudes who rode the East Australian Current. Mellow and laid back, they would literally go with the flow.

"Be a turtle." I thought to myself in class this morning. "Become one with your tools."

It worked. No gouged wood, no fisticuffs with the parting tool, and only mild sweating. There's a life lesson in there somewhere.

And while I'm still at the bottom of the learning curve, there is one thing I'm good at . . . and that's turning eggs. My first egg was so real looking, I put it in the refrigerator in a bowl of hard-boiled eggs. Despite the teeth marks from my dogs, who decided the egg was a much coveted chew toy, my partner packed it with 2 other real eggs and took it with her to work for lunch.

Maybe she knows all about chi and melding and being calm and all that weirdo woo-woo stuff.

But I know all about being an immature practical joker.

14 comments:

Dave Griessmann said...

So this weeks class went well?

Shannon said...

Well done, eggs are really difficult to get the shape just right. I have turned many an eggoscope only to give up and turn it into a cylinder. Good points here. I often find myself gripping too tight or even holding my breath. Gotta mellow out man!

Anonymous said...

I think this is true for many manual accomplishments. I'm still much more adept in the kitchen (my long ago trade was 'cook', my knives and tongs ARE part of my hands) then in the shop, but I'm getting there... my death grip on saw handles is giving way, and slowly I'm learning to chop tails holding my chisel like a pencil. If I ever get my old styled record lathe out of the box and put together I'm going to remember this entry and try to become one with the tool. Thanks.
Vinny

Anonymous said...

I think this is true for many manual accomplishments. I'm still much more adept in the kitchen (my long ago trade was 'cook', my knives and tongs ARE part of my hands) then in the shop, but I'm getting there... my death grip on saw handles is giving way, and slowly I'm learning to chop tails holding my chisel like a pencil. If I ever get my old styled record lathe out of the box and put together I'm going to remember this entry and try to become one with the tool. Thanks.
Vinny

Woodfired! said...

Great post. Great egg! How did she take it? (With a pinch of salt perhaps.)

A light grip is the secret to many woodworking processes especially sawing. One of the many, many tips I learnt from my mentor George Ingham was to focus on keeping your shoulders low when sawing, ie they should slope down from your neck. This simple change forces you to relax your shoulder muscles and I suspect all your arm muscles as well. When I first tried this I was doing lots of heavy sawing and was tiring very quickly. The instant I dropped my shoulders I found it almost effortless and could go on sawing when bigger and stronger colleagues were reaching their limits. Seems to almost completely remove lactic acid buildup in your arms. And of course you have much better control when you're not fatigued. It's something I remember every time I pick up a saw. Pretty sure it would work the same for turning.

Japanese Woodworking Tools (Jojo) said...

Great post Kari. Although this is a redundant thing to say about your blog.

You are certainly right regarding the grip. And Woodfired! is on the money, too. I don't turn but I've come to realize that most manual activities in life benefit from this lighter grip and flexibility. Many people try and struggle with Japanese pull saws only to trow them in a drawer and go back to their good ole Western back saw. And the sad part is that in most cases is their fault. They too grab them with that Dead Grip trying to squeeze the handle. Once you teach them to just hold the saw lightly in place and let they do the work they find it's like a hot knife on butter.

Please keep reporting on your progress... and remind me not to accept any eggs if I ever come to visit you at home.

Bill Stankus said...

Your story about the bikes certainly rings true. The light touch, the right touch is so necessary. If a tool is properly tuned and you know it's limitations, the touch thing comes with practice. Appropriate touch is what's necessary.

Tho some people have the notion force overcomes everything.

Once I was demonstrating the Leigh Dovetail Jig and a fellow spoke up and complained about getting terrible results. I again showed the proper method - and he said, "That's what I do." So I asked him to show me how he did what he did.

As I and the class watched, he cut terrible dovetails. When I attempted to check his set-up I couldn't loosen a single knob - he had tightened them so tight he essentially distorted the jig's clamping mechanism. I finally convinced him to trust himself with less knob mauling and the results were perfect dovetails.

As with most things, some are naturals and practice only improves their efforts. Guys like Tiger Woods come to mind... Yet there are golfers not blessed with Tiger's natural talent but they do have the ability to learn and adapt, consequently they too are successful.

Shazza said...

Ahhhhhhhh, your partner is all knowing...in the most basic sense.

Letting go is one of the hardest things to do in life.

Melding and being calm is part of that!

"woo woo" stuff M doesn't understand either.

Your partner is very wise indeed!

Larry Marshall said...

This post made my morning, Kari. The images made me chuckle. Your egg would certainly add fiber to her lunch. I hope she was grateful.

Cheers --- Larry

The Village Carpenter said...

Dave, I actually turned a cute lidded box, so it was a successful class. :o)

Shannon, I've been holding my breath, too. Alas...

Anon, I agree that this applies to so many other things. Being able to relax seems to be a key element. And that's something we can all achieve with practice.

Mark, I'm going to try your handsawing technique. Often, when doing just about anything (walking, even), I find that my shoulders are pinched.

Jojo, that's very true about Japanese saws. And it has everything to do with a person's approach...to life! Some of us try to force things (typical of many westerners, me included) and some understand the eastern concept of non-resistance. Forcing things just makes life more difficult (imo).

Bill, I believe that about the right touch. In fact, I tried to feel the tool on the wood rather than just looking at it while it turned the wood. It really makes a difference.

You are so right, Miss Shazza. ; )

Larry, glad it made you chuckle. I cracked up when she told me she actually started to crack the egg at her lunch break. haha!

Woodbloke said...

Kari - I can sympathize with the 'white knuckle' sydrome on the lathe... I think everyone starts out like that, you've just got to flow with it, but I do know how you feel, 'specially when that tool digs in the first time, then again...and again.
Cracking egg gag by the way, hope the dog's teeth are OK! - Rob

The Village Carpenter said...

Rob, I'm glad to know that I'm not the only white knuckle woodturner!

thewoodshepherd said...

Does this mean you're going to try mountain biking again? (Ducking...)

The Village Carpenter said...

Well, that depends on whether or not someone will ride along side me with an oxygen tank....