While throwing wood at your face at 75 miles an hour and attacking it with sharp tools may not sound relaxing, it has proven so for thousands of people. Called wood turners, they have joined an age old profession, one recorded on the walls of the Egyptian pyramids and practiced through the ages. Yet for most modern turners it is not a profession, but a hobby to relieve the stresses of modern life.
This is not a new phenomenon. During the sixteenth century European aristocracy sought relief from the pressures of life with the use of the lathe. There was great competition amongst royal families to create ever more intricate and fantastic objects from exotic materials such as ivory and ebony. As early as the sixteenth century the Hapsburg emperors were keen hobby turners, while in Russia Peter the Great (1672-1725) pursued it with a passion and in France Louis XVI (1774-1792) was both an enthusiastic turner and an encourager of others.
Today has all the earmarks of a stress free hobby. Entry cost is low for a wood working hobby, safety levels are high, and the rewards are great. Fellow turners love to greet a newcomer and to show them the ropes so comradeship grows quickly as do results. Instructional videos, turning clubs, demonstrations, books and web sites abound. Not surprisingly, it is one of the fastest growing areas of woodworking today, particularly among hobbyists.
Starting up one has the pleasure of setting aside a part of the garage or basement to receive the tools and shavings. A lathe, grinder and some chisels are bought and anticipation sets in. Wood from the firewood pile of yourself or a neighbor is ready to go.
Picture coming home at the end of a hard day at work. The boss was hard to get along with, no one else seemed to get anything right, and everything you did felt like it was done on Monday morning. The shop door beckons. The lathe calls. A piece of wood is placed on it and the turning starts. Shavings begin to pile on the floor. With every shaving a little more of the workplace disappears form mind and memory, replaced with the sweet sound of shavings flying off the tool.
Concentration is needed here. The wood is spinning fast and the tools are sharp. A delicate touch is needed to keep one line straight and the next curved just so. All thoughts of work disappear as the wood calls. Questions arise not about the last contract or the next proposal but about line and curve and balance.
A fine cut leaves a surface that needs to be felt and wondered over. As you feel it and look at it you realize that no one else has ever seen that surface. It has been revealed for the first time in existence to your eyes and yours alone. The time has come to admire the beauty of the wood.
Results come quickly here at the lathe. There is no wait for glues to dry and varnishes to cure. Most pieces are sanded and finished as the lathe turns.
And what of the results? It may be a beautiful bowl to admire and to have admired by all who see it. It may be a gift for a friend or loved one. On the other hand it may be nothing more than a round piece of wood or a pile of shavings on the floor. More than one turner has made a bowl that is more like a funnel than something to serve salad. But where is the stress?
Not for us the expensive kiln dried, flat surfaced boards of the cabinet maker. Instead, most turners use the cheap woods destined for land fill and fire place. Never a mistake is made, only kindling and some of the prettiest kindling ever seen. In fact, what started as fire wood remains as fire wood. No one’s livelihood is in danger, no contract has fallen through, no one is hurt. Pressure leaves and peace settles in.
There is of course the stress that may arrive when shavings and dust make their way into the house. However, a nice candlestick, salad bowl, or other gift do much to return to stress free turning.