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The Humble Grumble


Jean Turner, RPT

comprising...
   ...the sporadic annoyances & humble mumblings of a Jeannius.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Threads of Life

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I attended a Thread Chasing workshop last Saturday - expertly led by Jay Heryet - and generously hosted by Gerald (Mr Input Joinery, Weyhill, Andover) with ten other members of the Test Valley Turners group that I attend once a month.

Seeing that I hadn't done any hand thread chasing for nearly eight years, I jumped at the chance to attend the workshop when it was first advertised at a club meeting, and really looked forward to the refresher course and to reacquainting myself with my tools, with the possibility of learning how it really should be done.

I had learned from a book, you see. In Notes From The Workshop (or was it Further Notes?) Bill Jones details how to start and chase a thread. The technique is explained, in my humble opinion, by a true master of most things wood turning and the ability to express things in a way that I find pretty easy to understand. In his book, Bill Jones says that if one wants to learn how to make threaded boxes, then they should make fifty boxes with threads on them. The idea is that by the time they get to number fifty, they should have had sufficient practice be able to do it properly.

At the time I felt it was good advice, and set to making fifty threaded boxes. By threaded box number eight or so, I was achieving a reasonable connection and feeling a little better about my own abilities as a wood turner. This was despite the fact that my lathe could only be slowed down to around 450 RPM and at this speed, was still considered too fast by most to be able to chase threads properly.

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Three months later, by the end of the required fifty boxes (and using that fast little lathe), I was producing a pretty good thread and a not-badly shaped item of wood. Unfortunately for me, the moment of time that I concluded I could make a thread also seemed to co-incide with a problem that developed with my lathe. The bearings failed. The big lathe was unwieldy and it also started suffering wobbly bearing problems which made it impossible to make more boxes and thus maintain my newly acquired skill.

We refurbished the little lathe, but it was still not right. After replacing the shaft it worked a lot better, but that was three years later and by then I had moved on from the desire to chase threads to other things. Eight years and two new lathes with variable speed control later, the time had arrived when I could see if I could remember what I learned the hard way while making those 50 boxes that three-month period eight years before.

It was horrendous!

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I approached the wood with a speed reminiscent of someone trying to jump onto a moving bus. I jammed the chaser into the wood with unnecessary vigour only to break out chunks of wood as I tried to force the chaser around the bend. I froze at the start of the first movement for a milli-second - long enough to cause beads to form which made all further threading spiral movements very jerky indeed. And to top it all the crack in the wood which I had seen when doweling the blank and had decided I could handle, told me that I actually couldn't.

Within five seconds of my first attempt I felt I was back at square one - trying to teach myself not only how to chase threads - but trying to remember how to do basic turning. I also flashed back eight years and remembered just how hard it had been on a lathe with a slowest speed of around 450, and just how determined I had felt at the time to learn the skill.

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I was about to throw a wobbly, hand the tools to my lathe buddy and go and have a much needed cup of coffee, and then it dawned on me...

The new lathes that I own (we were working on one of them) can go slower. Much slower. In fact - they can go so slowly that anyone short of paralysed should be able to move a chaser 1cm sideways smoothly enough to make a decent thread. All it needed was a more gentle attitude and a lot more finesse. I stopped, cleaned off the hashed up and crumbling section of thread I had just made, took a deep breath to relax myself and calmly and smoothly rubbed the middle teeth of the chaser around the new 'bend' I made. I relaxed my shoulders, and listened for the whisper that I knew would come when I had it right. I watched for a shaving (instead of dust and chippings), and when it started to happen, I carried on in the same gentle way to make some more.

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It took two more tries, and I was suddenly transported back to 8 years previously, when time stood still and all that I was aware of was the sighing of the wood as the spirals were gently taken away to leave a perfectly formed thread.

The old skills we learned in past years don't actually disappear even if they haven't been used for a long time. They just get buried deeper in the recesses of our brains as we fill them up with other stuff, piling it in on top. All we need to do is remind ourselves that we still have those skills, and have the self-confidence to dig them out again from time to time, dust them off and use them again.

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As I turned the next thread along the practice spigot we had made, I made a decision to take a step back in time and to remind myself of the skills that I tried so hard to learn as an aspiring turner. Skills I have forgotten I have and which need dusting off and practising again.

Maybe as I do that I will remind myself of a belief that I once had in my own potential as a turner, and somehow along the path back to where I stand now, maybe I will find the personal 'voice' I feel I lost along the way.

Every so often when I have time, I make a box to sell. When I do, I list them in my Boxes and Prettys Page