Woodturning is becoming a very popular hobby and there are a great many people teaching it and writing books about it. A look through the many adverts carried in the hobby press however can give a confusing impression. You will find conflicting claims of “the right way” “the only way” “the easy way” “the best way” etc. Books are the same, read one and all seems well and reasonable, read two and a large percentage will be canceled out in contradictions. Read enough and everything seems to be in dispute. I’ve read dozens, literally, and my conclusion is that woodturning is highly individualistic and once started every turner will develop his or her own methods and style. As a teacher my task is to get you started, safely and without building in any constricting biases so that you are then completely free to develop all your natural aptitudes.
If you don't have a lathe or any tools I advise you to have a couple of lessons first before buying anything because there is a vast variety of kit out there and if you try out mine first you'll have a much better idea of what's going to really suit you. Conversely if you drift into a big tool and machinery shop without knowing what's-what the shopkeeper will think its his birthday!
At the end of a course you will have covered all the basics, I then recommend that you go and make stuff for a few months and collect any problems you may experience until you either hit a snag that stops you or you have enough questions to fill a 2 hour session. These sessions are very pleasant, for one thing you come back as an established turner the teacher/student relationship is gone and your problems are unique to you and usually a challenge to me, nobody has ever needed a second problem solving session but plenty have come back for the more advanced tools and techniques. Its at this stage that the more difficult tools such as the variety of skew chisels are on offer plus I can save you a fortune by letting you have a go with the many and various special tools on the market, you then go and buy only the ones you know are going to suit you.
As a retired Safety Manager, workshop safety is very important to me, you too, as a minor accident, while doing no real damage, spoils the confidence that takes me hours to instill. You can therefore expect a large portion of the course to be aimed at establishing safe working practices. I am also in a position to explain all the health issues concerning the workshop. While you are in my workshop all appropriate safety equipment will be available to you, indeed under the terms of my professional insurance it must be used. If you have your own bring it with you by all means especially safety glasses I'll help you be sure its right for the job.
No special clothing is required but common sense dictates no loose or dangly bits to get caught up in the machinery nor anything likely to melt or dissolve in a solvent splash. Its also a good idea to select materials that shavings don't cling to. On the subject of shavings its also a good idea to have garments that close at the neck!
Dust can be a problem, especially during sanding operations. A dust extractor protects you while you are working in my workshop but as a hobbyist you are unlikely to be able to afford one yourself, at least not straight away. I will teach you techniques that minimise the generation of dangerous dust and how to minimise your exposure to the health and fire risks associated with it. Simply wearing a mask is not enough.
TOOLS & MACHINERY
The workshop contains a total of six lathes (one is for metalwork) but the best beginner's machines are a couple of basic Drapers. I use the Draper machines for teaching as they represent well supported versions of the bottom of the general purpose market. They will take up to 12 inches diameter and 3 feet in length as standard but as a cheap machine they have all the weaknesses you would expect in their price range. When I teach you to do good work on these machines however you will be able to do good work on anything further up the market but typically quicker. I have a trade account with Draper which means I can supply these machines at very competitive rates but even if you don't buy mine I can still provide spares and accessories, something the DIY outfits can't do. Regardless of where a person intends to end up these machines are often bought for learning on, then sold to help finance the better machine later, you can't go straight to the better machine without knowing exactly what kind of work you want it for, it takes time to develop your own specialities and interests after you learn the basics and then there is almost always a speciality machine out there for you.
Tools become very personalised early on and cheap tools are bad economics long term. The only variables are style and size so spend time with mine before you buy. Only high speed steel tools are used on my courses along with high speed grinders, the typical turner can't be doing with slow, water wheels and old fashioned carbon steel, long usage between sharpening and quick regrinding is needed so as not to break concentration and the momentum of the work. I also have a trade arrangement whereby I can provide Robert Sorby tools at discount prices, I regard these as the top of the market and an excellent investment (I use them myself) but don't expect to learn grinding and sharpening on these! There is nothing special about the grinders I use but setting them up to get the right angles and shapes on your tools every time needs understanding early on. It is impossible to do good work and often dangerous as well to try to use blunt or wrongly ground tools.
The absolute minimum requirement for any worthwhile course is to learn complete self sufficiency in preparation, care and maintenance of all tools and machinery.