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Nervous Nellie

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I’ve been woodworking a long time, but whenever I try a technique I’ve never done before I get extremely antsy. How about you?

Three of the projects I’m doing for an upcoming book involve lathe-turned workpieces that aren’t completely round. That is, some portion is to be left flat. One example would be the legs of a reproduction 19th-century folding stool. The legs are perfectly round spindles along their entire length except for two spots; one at the center where the legs are left flat to be riveted together to form a pivot for the folding action, the other near the bottom where they’ll be drilled to accept a rung.

To make these legs I needed to mount a rectangular workpiece in the lathe, not the typical square one, and that made me a bit uneasy. I kept thinking about things like balance and the difficulty of sanding something that wasn’t round. Some of you guys who do a lot more turning than I do are probably used to this sort of thing, and I’m in awe of some of the spectacular non-round work being produced by folks like Dennis Elliot and others.

But I’ve never done that kind of turning before, and so I was nervous. For me, “nervous” translates to double-checking everything, working very slowly, and stopping far more often to assess my progress than I normally do. And when nervous involves using power equipment, it also translates to sweating a bit until I become comfortable with it.

In the case of those leg spindles, I got the hang of it pretty quickly after the first two. By the time I turned the fourth leg in the set I was comfortable with the process, and pleased to have added another skill to my list of experience.

I’m curious, though. How do you handle new techniques, especially those involving power tools?



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