Practicing a Skill; One Bead after Another

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been driving out to the country side to learn a new skill its something I should have learnt back in High School when all that free knowledge was being provided but as a young man I did what some of us tend to do and just followed my heart which always lead me into the fine arts department were I never left.

Fast forward twenty-something years later and here I am standing before a mechanical mechanism, its motor churning round and round tugging at a pulley system to gather up momentum and spit it out through a rotating head. This head is where you stuff your morse taper or chuck, in order to attach a piece of wood in order for that chunk of wood to rotate in a cylindrical fashion at a variety of speeds between 1,000 to 4,000 rpms.

I’ve just arrived at the wood shop to find my mentor standing in his backyard working on planting an apple tree. For fifteen minutes we shoot the breeze about as I’ve begun talking about a new wood turner I’ve started watching on youtube. His name is Olivier Gomis and he’s creating magnificent pieces of work from his shop in France.

Once in the shop he hands me a crooked piece of pine and says “What would you like to do with this piece? It will be about an inch and a half wide once you have its turned down.” One word pops into my mind: beads!

“I’m thinking practicing only beads. Just one bead after another.” He nods his head in agreement then explains, “Remember each bead will require space on either side to ensure you have space for proper cutting. Does that make sense?” I smile and nod my head in acknowledgment.

Picking up the chunk of pine I spin it on end and mark the centre point with a compass and pencil. Then flip it over and do the same markings.

“You will get there… it just takes time and practice.”

B.W. Jackson

The pine is ready and I adjust the banjo, tailstock and insert the morse taper. Looking over the lathe I spot the pulley switch and maneuver it into the “on-position”.

Next I walk across the room to the ventilation system and flick a switch. It fires up immediately the big green vacuum sucking at the air to catch those nasty little microscopic dust particles before they enter into my lungs.

Ready to go safety goggles and face shield in place, I press the start button and spin the dial up to 1,400 rpms. Placing the 3/4-inch roughing gouge down on the tool rest and I move it forward to slide against the bezel. Slowly I pull it back down awaiting for the gouge to begin cutting into the edge of the pine.

Fourteen minutes on, I stop the spinning pine to see how much more bark exists. Only about 5% remains. Continuing on I’ve finally cut it down to approximately two and a half inches.

Pulling down the callipers I check each end and the middle looking for the skinniest part. Next I begin slowly shaving down the cylinder until all sides are evenly measured with the callipers to the same size. This process takes around twenty-two minutes.

Today, I want this pine to be perfectly cylindrical.

It’s taken 3-weeks of practice on 5-different pieces of pine to get a perfectly cylindrical 1.89-inch piece of pine.

“Hey inspector,” I say with smile approaching my mentor outside, “I believe I have this to the perfect cylindrical shape, what do you think?”

He looks it over, smiles sliding his fingers up and down the sides whilst spinning it. “I do believe you have made this one near perfect. Time for you to get at those beads.”

A half-hour later I’ve carved into the pine about 8-beads of various sizes. Whilst in the middle of the third bead slowly cutting it down with the 1/4-inch gouge it catches and pops a piece of the bead as it smashes off the face shield. Touching it with my finger I can feel the rough spot.

DAMN IT!!! I shout at the lathe.

That’s when I spot in my peripheral which scares the bejesus out of me, my mentor standing slightly behind watching as I struggle. I power down the lathe and we have a discussion about what has been going on, what I think the issue is, and how I should try to correct the use of the tool.

He smiles and takes over at the lathe, showing how to sculpt a beautiful bead.

Nearly an hour and a half later I have made around twenty-five beads of varying sizes on the three-pieces of pine that I’ve been practicing on for the last 3-weeks.

My accomplishments in the last two and a half hours have been (1) a perfectly cylindrical 1.89-inch piece of pine and (2) one decent bead out of twenty-five attempts.

Parting Bead – Cove – My 1-in-25 bead – Cove – Shoulder – Mentor’s Bead – Shoulder – tailstock

~ Aaron JacksonCrabb