Saturday, December 6, 2008

Woodturning is Like Softball

I played third base in fastpitch softball for 26 years.

During that time, I snagged line drives that were travelling so fast, bystanders were looking in the outfield to see where the ball had landed, not realizing it had been caught.

I hit pitches that were screaming toward me at 85 mph from only 40 feet away. I dove for grounders, slid headfirst into bases, and was bloody most every game.

People thought I was fearless.

And then came the game when both of our catchers were sick. I was asked to fill in. No prob, right? Wrong. I gained new respect for catchers that day.

When a batter swings a lethal weapon in front of your face as a ball the size of a grapefruit is careening toward your head, you'd better have nerves of steel. Or be wearing adult diapers.

But because there were onlookers and because I would never let my team down, I hung in there and didn't embarrass myself, but I sure was glad when the game was over.

As a newbie turner with very few hours of lathework under my belt, I had never had a mishap.....until a few days ago. The gouge I was using snagged the wood and the workpiece snapped in two and came flying toward my face (I was wearing a mask). It missed, but my nerves were shot.

I'm back at the lathe today but pretty jumpy. What should take a half an hour to turn is taking hours.

The lathe has made a girl out of me.

Maybe if I had onlookers or better yet, catcher's equipment, I'd at least be able to fake fearlessness.

Or maybe I should just buy some Depends.


Anonymous said...


It *is* good you feel the way you do. It is equivalent to a kickback on the table saw, I think. And every now and then we all need a reminder...

Unfortunately, there there is but one way to get over it: You get back on the horse, and ride it for all you can. Of course, you can always straddle the lathe and do something similar, รก la David Marks when he turns his hollow forms.

Give it a little time, and you will gain back your confidence. I am confident you will ;-) .

Anonymous said...


I always enjoy your posts.

I know that feeling you describe.

When I was a kid, we had a cheap lathe. Dad and I played around on it some and made a few things, but we never really got the hang of it.

I remember two accidents on the lathe (we will save the table saw kickback for another story) both of which I was witness too.

Once Dad was cutting something, a bowl, I think, and the gouge somehow flipped up and back spear-like and cut him in the chest. It didn't cut deep, but it was enough to put the fear in a fellow.

Another time, we had a bowl break in half sending one of the pieces in a horizontal direction in the general direction of the operator (Dad) and the bystander (yours truly). I don't recall that it hit either of us.

I have learned a lot that I think would help me in woodturning, but accidents and break up of the work must still be factored in to one's safety gear.

I don't have a lathe now, but want to build one. I had my heart set on a treadle lathe, but after reading Roy Underhill's latest book, I am thinking more about making the spring pole lathe in his book. It seems like it would be a lot easier to build, and I really don't expect to do a lot of turning.

Metalworker Mike said...

I have yet to have anything fly apart and hit me on the wood lathe, but I have taken my share of shrapnel from metal machines, and it certainly sucks. The only thing I can suggest is that you just stay in the saddle and remember that the sharper your tools are the less you have to push when turning, and therefore the less likely it is that something is going to go 'pear shaped' on you.


Anonymous said...

and then there are the treadle lathes... your biggest fear it getting a cramp in your leg.

Kari Hultman said...

Al, thanks for the vote of confidence!

Luke, those are some scary incidents. I can't believe a gouge flipped back and cut your dad in the chest. (That's not helping my jitters...) I'm glad you two didn't get seriously hurt.

Mike, you're absolutely right about sharp tools. And that applies to all types of woodworking.

Gary, I don't think I have the stamina for a treadle lathe!

Anonymous said...

The real danger lies in turning very large out of balance pieces that can actually fly off of the lathe. A small spindle like the one in the picture won't fly very far or hurt much if it hits you. It is disconcerting to have a catch and usually it just ruins your piece (right before you were finished). I was having a bit of trouble with catches because I had a secondary bevel on the tool. You want only one continuous bevel which rubs the work and controls the cutting edge. I would rather have the wood fly out of the lathe than get my finger pinched between the tool and the tool rest. Experiment with turning slower or faster. When you turn fairly slow you can see better how the tool works. If you weren't 1200 miles away I would stop by and help out. Relax, practice on scrap.
I once went to visit Palmer Sharpless to get some turning help. I had purchased an oval skew that I intended to give him for his help. He was trying it out on the lathe and the skew caught and he snapped about and inch and a half off the end of the tool. He apologized for breaking it but I told him I was going to give it to him anyway, he said" I don't want it"! We both sort of laughed about it. He was a highly skilled turner. It happens to everybody. It's the bb guns that'll put your eye out. Go and turn.
I still have the skew which I use on small work. I think of Mister Sharpless whenever I use it and I am glad for the shortened skew and the memory that goes with it.

Anonymous said...


What a great blog, only wish I had seen it before the WIA conference. As a chairmaker wannabe I attended all the chair related classes including the Kevin Drake turning demo. He mentioned watching the Richard Raffan “Turning Wood” video about fifty times as a great help in advancing his skills. Needless to say I came right home and ordered it. I’ve only watched it once and my confidence and form have both improved … I highly recommend it. However, I doubt that even after forty nine more viewings I will be as good as Kevin.


Kari Hultman said...

Mike, thanks for letting me know about the single bevel. I'll be sure to sharpen carefully. Also, good to hear (or maybe not so good!) that mishaps happen to everyone, even professionals. I'm seriously thinking about wearing, maybe not catcher's gear, but something more protective than my shop apron.

Lynn, thanks for the tip on the Richard Raffen video. I bought one of his books, but somehow it's easier to learn if I can watch someone work rather than just read about it. Hope you enjoyed the conference as much as I did!

johnjoiner said...

I'm at about this same spot, being kind of jumpy about all the catches, and needing to get back in there. I have to check my edges. I'll bet I have a microbevel on them all.

That broken piece is looking a bit like the handle for a bow saw. Am I close?

Kari Hultman said...

Hey John, that's a spindle for the sawbuck table I'm building. 4 spindles connect the table top to the stretchers. But you are close in that I copied the shape from a friend's turning saw. : )

Shazza said...

Ahhhh...put on your big girl panties and deal.

Kari Hultman said...

Some friend you are!!!! ; )

Anonymous said...

I enjoy reading your stuff from time to time.

re: the lathe situation, I have two words for you:

pole lathe.

you'll be glad you did. then you can give the electric one away...I've done all my turning on a pole lathe for over 20 years & have never looked back.

OK. more than 2 words...

Kari Hultman said...

Peter, Roy Underhill told me the same thing. But I'm not sure I have the stamina for a pole lathe! (I read your blog, too).

Anonymous said...

First time I used a lathe was after 9 hours of building on a maple workbench. I was tired and had no legs. That lathe scared me. No legs, no lathe for me. Met a gent with an old 13' patternmaker's lathe and it's quite formiddable. It's just soooo cool and I am torn.

Kari Hultman said...

13 feet long??? I'd definitely have to wear catcher's equipment to use a lathe THAT large.