Balancing frustrations

(Linked from

I’ve been spending shop time on the steeper part of the learning curve, particularly at the lathe. There are some basic techniques that I still can’t reliably execute – using a skew chisel on a spindle still seems a little hit or miss. Sometimes I get that perfect, smoothly finished cut, other times I get chatter and ridges.  I still can’t quite figure out what I’m doing wrong at times.

In turning a bowl the other day, I encountered another one of those “learning opportunities” that I’ve read about, but hadn’t experienced first-hand.  I didn’t cut the pith (the center part of the tree) out of my bowl blank.  As I turned down the rim of the bowl I came near the pith and the whole kit and kaboodle popped out of the bowl.  One commenter suggested it become a “design feature” such as a spoon rest. Another suggested I cut a series of them around the rim as an art piece.  Oh well…

A few weeks ago I tried turning a goblet for the first time.  Hollowing end-grain was the new challenge here, but there was also the more mundane challenge of keeping track of the depth of hollowing and the thickness of the goblet wall.  After hollowing, I started working on the transition between the bulb and stem, and cut right through the eggshell-thin wood at that point.  Lesson learned – again.

Lastly, I’m thinking about a new piece of furniture, either a bedside table of chest of drawers. I’ve seen some really creative designs for a bedside table, and I’d like to design my own rather than copy someone else’s plans. But starting from scratch is really hard! My first inclination was to prototype in a piece of software like ViaCAD or SketchUp, but it turns out there’s a huge learning curve for making curved 3-D parts in those programs. Now I’m going back to old fashioned pencil and paper, and that’s going to be challenging enough.  I read a book entitled “creativity through constraints” recently, and the idea is that the constraints help remove the wide-open field of choices available and make creativity tractable. A bedside table has certain constraints (height, width, length), but other than that, there are lots of free parameters in this challenge.

So, doing what kids do naturally when learning on their own, I reduced the challenge a bit last night to allow myself a small success.  I turned a cherry spatula with a nice, thick, semi-ergonomic handle.  Even that had some difficulty (see above comment on the skew), but it felt good to have a finished project I could then use to mix a batch of muffins. I’ll continue to refine the design and test it in my kitchen before I eventually settle on one I want to reproduce.

I’m finding it’s important to have some pleasurable successes. I generally enjoy challenging myself to refine my skills and learn new things, but right now a few rewards would be nice.  My day job has been pretty stressful the past month or two, so I’m less tolerant of stress in the shop.  I’ll find the right balance.


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