Pole Lathe Turning- Teaching in England, Sweden and Home- Part 1
Its been quite a while since I've had the mind space to sit down and write. The past year has been a wild one in so many ways both on a personal level and professional level. I admit at times it's hard to tell the difference. This year has been very exciting and also very challenging.
In keeping to a mostly work and wood working related post I'll share my most recent adventures in a few parts. The story is too long for one post. Looks like 3 parts from where I sit so I'll roll them out every week or so.
This year has seen the most travel for me ever. If you've been following along on my Instagram page you know. I've been across the country a few times and overseas too! As this year unfolded I said yes to about every teaching gig that came my way. It may have been too much. As the year comes to an end, I can take a step back and reflect on that. One of the things I'd like to tweak this coming year is to be a maker who teaches rather than a teacher who makes. So next year is a little more planned out with a 60/40 split of making/selling and teaching and believe it or not it's pretty much fully booked already. I haven't updated the calendar yet, but after a few more confirmations I will. I sure like the feeling of having a plan for the full year before this one is even finished. But I do know that whenever I'm making a lot, I long for teaching and vice versa. Maybe it'll always be that way.
In September I traveled with my lovely wife Jazmin and my daughter Ayva to England. I had scheduled to teach 4 turning classes in England and Sweden over a 3 week period. The first leg was to London which is a town too big to see in a few weeks let alone while working for two weekends. I had never been there before so it was especially exciting. I ran two workshops at Barn the Spoon's Greenwood Guild. In the middle, we went to the Herefordshire countryside and taught up at Mike Abbot's old place Brookhouse Wood. The second part of the trip was a week in Gothenburg, Sweden and the surrounding area teaching, giving slide show talks and demonstrations. The finale was 2 days in Stockholm just to kick around with Jazmin.
We planned the trip so we could spend 5 days in London before the first workshop on the weekend. We used Air BandB for our lodging in the Shoreditch area. I'll just say it proved to be not quite what it was sold to be. Photos are a funny thing. We did get it sorted and got a new place a few days later.
That week we went to the Globe Theater and saw King Lear. The theater was amazing and the play was pretty good too (admittedly I'm not a Shakespeare buff). When I was timber framing in the early 90's the reconstruction of the Globe was a really big deal. The building is basically built in the same construction methods as the original back in the late 1500's/early 1600's, joined timbers, thatched roof, etc...very impressive and a must see if you visit London.
We also went to a couple very hip parts of town and walked around all the shops, had tea and lunches, ate delicious Turkish, Sunday Roast, etc...
I got a hand poke tattoo from a tattoo artist I've been following on Instagram for a few years. This was really nice as I like it when I meet the people I only know on the web. It's my first tattoo I haven't done myself.
Jazmin went to the Cloth House among other hip shops on her list. There was awesome cloth from all over the world, much of it handspun and woven, plus glass buttons, cakes of indigo, and other special items. She's into sewing, weaving, cloth and textures, both visual and tactile. She also visited In-ku, a cool designer and maker of clothes, and bought some pants inspired by Japanese work clothes.
Ayva got to see the London Eye and Big Ben as well as visit the Harry Potter Shop. While Jazmin and I were shopping she got to hang out in several stylish London coffee shops. It was her first time overseas and I'm super proud of her. She even flew back on her own after the England leg of the trip. She helped us navigate more than a few times in the tube stations and train stations.
We visited the V&A Museum. This was an all day deal with way too much to see. A lot of it was rich people stuff like silver cups and chalices and shit. There was a lot of great exhibits about different regions and cultures of the world, filled with everyday objects and the like. There also was an exhibit on Balenciaga, a Spanish fashion designer. Interesting enough. I think there is much to learn from the clothing fashion design world in relation to craft. But that's for some other time. My favorite was the blacksmithing exhibit. Ton's (literally) of great old-school work, pierced and banded, riveted, etc..from the days before arc welders. Mind blowing work. There was a bench by Albert Paley, a sculptor and blacksmith who I was inspired by long ago in my forays into the blacksmithing world.
There was a lot of subway 'tube' and bus travel. London is a huge town.
We stopped by Barn's spoon shop on Hackney Rd. I had to see it. Barn changed the spoon carving world when he opened this shop 5-6 years ago. It is just as small as they say. It was great catching up with Barn. The last few years we have had pretty limited time together at woodworking events. This trip was nice because we were able to visit, have dinner a few times, talk about craft, the Greenwood Guild, our work, etc..I even carved a spoon in his shop.
Barn talked about his future plans with the Greenwood Guild and also his 1000 spoon project. I can't say it better than Barn so follow this link to his 1000 spoon project. The work we all do needs support, so go on...buy one of his 1000 spoons.
The Greenwood Guild is who hosted my workshops. This place is pretty amazing. Situated within a city farm, the Greenwood team, Tom, Tim and Barn, offer workshops, and are also doing an online video tutorial for members. This place is doing some great things by getting greenwood in peoples' hands and showing them how to use their hands to make useful objects from wood, like spoons and stools. They also teach youth. Really important stuff.
This was a working trip as they all seem to be.
Teaching pole lathe turning is a trick because of 2 things, the lathes and the tools. There is no way to send 6-8 pole lathes anywhere let alone overseas. Because of this these classes are rare and hard to get set up. Thankfully the Guild had their lathes already. They just needed a few modifications to get them ready for turning bowls and cups. The other part of the challenge is the tools. As hand forged hooks, you really can't buy them anywhere as easily as say a Mora 106 knife. I can't think of any makers that sell them that don't regularly turn with them and this I believe is very important in their design--as with all tools. The hook part is the real challenge to growing this style of turning. Most hooks will work in a pinch, but truly nice ones are hard to get even if you make them. Because of this, I provide them for my students. On this trip I brought 25 pounds of tools with me in our checked bags. It was a real pain to get them split between our 3 bags, not go overweight, and still be manageable while we travelled to and from the airport with them. Not all tube stations have lifts and they are deep down underground, so lots of stairs....
The two classes in London were a great success. Both were full and I met some really great folks. When I teach it's a fine balance between process and finished object focus. I always lean toward the process first. If I could --and I've tried-- I'd love to just teach process with no finished object as part of the workshop. Once the object focus sets in, skill building, the understanding of technique, and the like gets put aside. It's really a problem in many ways. But this also has to do with my own personal focus as a teacher. What I want to teach, what I see as important -- I have to put all that aside when some folks just want the thing that they made and may not ever make another again. I see the object focus thing happen with spoon carving or basketry more then pole lathe turning. With turning there is a bit more invested from the start and the process, lathes, tools, sourcing and preparing wood limit the idea that you can just give it a try once in a while at home.
I like to get folks into thinking about how the tools work. I've said this before that pole lathe turning is one of the hardest things I've ever learned to do. I say this after building boats, blacksmithing, house building, steam bending, etc..It's one thing to take a class and make a few bowls under the tutelage of the instructor. But what happens after getting back home. Sometimes weeks have gone by. Then what? I've had this happen numerous times when students can't seem to get the same results at home on their own. So I focus as much as I can on the process and the understanding of the technique. But in the end it takes practice and lots of it. It's not easy. Some folks in class were beginners and a few had some experience. I describe the classes as a tutorial style so that any skill level can attend. I try to customize the workshop for each student the best I can.
Pole lathe turning is an amazing thing to learn. It's very empowering to overcome the intense obstacles, both physical and mental that this style of turning seems to demand. There are few clear rules with hook tools besides that they need to slice the wood. Above center, below center it doesn't matter. When standing at the lathe we are bound to the foot pedal and that does limit where we can stand while turning. The low speeds and torque allow the tool rest to be placed at farther distances from the turned object than when using an electric lathe. The hooks are all different and don't forget about the shape we are turning too. Put that all together and it becomes clear that it's far from simple. There are 100's of variables to sort out. It's hard to teach and to teach it well. Many techniques just need to be memorized through practice and all I can do is support and encourage and make a simple adjustment of the tool in use as I walk around the room and show folks where the sweet spot is until it clicks.
It was a really great time teaching so many classes back to back -- I learned so much. Tuning my techniques in teaching and learning more about the tools we use, are part of it. Having to think and step outside myself and consider what the question is and framing the answers in another's point of view is something that can always be improved.
I hope to see more turning on pole lathes. I think it's really rewarding because it requires the full use of body and mind. The spirit part is a personal thing--I won't assume anything there.
I also did a cameo for the Greenwood Guild video series on micro-finials.
More next week.