Woodturning #2: It's not as easy as it looks...

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Blog entry by PhilipR posted 01-20-2008 11:17 PM 6355 reads 0 times favorited 10 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 1: New Bench Grinder Part 2 of Woodturning series Part 3: Green Wood & New Toys »

I’ve been watching online videos for the past couple months, and I’ve watched a video on turning several times now that Jet sent me. I’ve read several books and magazines on the topic. Regardless of all that, I can’t seem to get any work that I do between centers to turn out correctly. The biggest problem I’m having is something that I had attributed to dull tools before; now I’m thinking it’s more operator error than anything else. I don’t have enough money to go out and buy any expensive exotic wood blanks, so I’ve been practicing with poplar almost exclusively. Is it possible that all the rough cuts and tear out have to do with the poplar, or is it just my lack of skill? Maybe it’s both?

Anyway, I finally finished setting up the new wolverine sharpening jig that I recently purchased. After several comments on my last entry I was considering writing a review for the product, but I think such a review would be better left to someone who has more experience with turning. I spent part of yesterday fixing up my lathe with some added height and weight. Hopefully once I start throwing bowl blanks on there it should stay in one place.

If anyone has any suggestions with regard to good “starter” woods for turning practice, please let me know.

10 comments so far

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 3982 days

#1 posted 01-20-2008 11:23 PM

I don’t think that poplar is the best wood to turn. I think I would rather turn pine.

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View YorkshireStewart's profile


1130 posts in 3895 days

#2 posted 01-20-2008 11:53 PM

More than anything, I enjoy turning, once in a while, wood that’s quite wet . Sections of branch quite freshly cut from a cherry tree or other fruit tree, say. You’ll be thrilled at the long streamers flying over your shoulder and you’ll soon find out the correct angle for the tools. Rough turn some stool legs, leave them to dry and come back to them later for a truing up.

Personally I find pine (the rubbish we’re sold as pine here in the UK) difficult to get a good surface straight from the tool. I’ve never used poplar.

-- Res severa verum gaudium - True pleasure is a serious business.

View PhilipR's profile


17 posts in 3779 days

#3 posted 01-21-2008 12:07 AM

YorkshireStewart – I had meant to mention in my entry that I have very little access to green wood. Unfortunately, the people at the local fine woodworking store aren’t very forthcoming when it comes to suggesting places to find wet wood. I think there may be a lumber mill somewhere in the area that I can try; surely they have lots of scraps that they have no use for. Aside from that, I can’t really go around town cutting down tree limbs; especially this time of year.

View rikkor's profile


11295 posts in 3868 days

#4 posted 01-21-2008 12:10 AM

See if there are any arborists or tree services in your area. They would probably be glad to be rid of some green stuff. It is their disposal problem.

View CaptnA's profile


116 posts in 3806 days

#5 posted 01-21-2008 12:35 AM

Welcome to the lure of the lathe~
Be warned – it is addictive.
Have you tried to find turners in your area?
Books, videos, etc are all good sources of information but spending time with a turner is hard to beat.
Try going to some local shows and talking to the turners that are there. Wood stores often have classes through them, or posted in them.
Personally, I wouldn’t recommend ‘expensive exotic’ blanks yet. Imagine the frustration you feel with poplar compunded by screwing up a $50 blank… In time you’ll know when to try them. Don’t get too hung up on imports over domestic. Both can be phenominal.

-- CaptnA - "When someone hurts you, write it in the sand so the winds of forgiveness will scatter the memory... "

View PhilipR's profile


17 posts in 3779 days

#6 posted 01-21-2008 12:51 AM

CaptnA – Actually, I have taken a class already on bowl turning, but they tend to be very expensive. At this point there are no turning clubs in this area. The closest is in Louisville; about 1 to 1.5 hours away. I suspect I’ll be joining them pretty soon since the value of spending time watching other turners will vastly outweigh the cost of driving and gas money.

View Gary's profile


1288 posts in 4318 days

#7 posted 01-21-2008 02:24 AM


If a club is too far away look for online turning forums or websites related to turning and see if any members are closer to you. Then see if you can get together with someone from the club.
If not, see if there’s any WW’ing club closer to you and see if any of those members turn.
Make sure your tools are sharp and then for turning between centers (spindle turning) go to the IAP and look for online videos from a guy named Ed Davidson (YoYo spin).
Spindle turning requires a high speed, scary sharp tools, and a light touch.
Turning a pen blank is just like turning between centers.
I’ve turned a fair amount of poplar; it’s a decent wood to practice on and sometimes it can be very pretty.

Finally, if you haven’t looked at turning books and videos by Richard Raffan, do that. He’s got an easy to read style and is very good at explaining. Then, practice, practice, practice.


-- Gary, Florida

View scottb's profile


3648 posts in 4320 days

#8 posted 01-21-2008 05:52 AM

I had some 2×2 squares of poplar left over from some project, though I can’t remember what. It was nice and dry and turned better than some species I’ve tried. I’ve also got my hands on some salvaged railings, and left over bits of closet rod (an extra piece of that left over from installing a second rod in my daughters closet turned really really nice. looked like poplar, not sure what it really was – whatever the Big Orange Box was selling.

Some good suggestions above. Find a local arborist, they’ll be more than happy to give you stuff rather than haul it to the dump. Apart from that, maybe you can salvage table and chair legs if you go out scavenging on trash day?

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- --

View FrankA's profile


139 posts in 3772 days

#9 posted 01-21-2008 06:04 AM

Have a look on e-bay, I too am on a budget and have found some very reasonable pricing on exotic bowl blanks and turning squares. I started by turing pens as a cheap way to hone my skills. Just a thought.
If you are just playing around a green hunk of log is a blast.

-- Frank Auge---Nichols NY----"My opinion is neither copyrighted nor trademarked, but it is price competitive."

View SteveRussell's profile


101 posts in 3954 days

#10 posted 01-22-2008 08:28 PM

Hello Phillip,

Welcome to the Addiction! :-) I’m a professional woodturner, so I might be able to help you a wee bit.

Poplar is a good wood, but I would not call it great. I turn Poplar on occasion for spindles that are ordered to replace damaged ones, or for remodeling work. It will cut and turn easily, but finishing can be a bear – especially if you’re trying to match the patina on a 30 year old bedroom set. :-o (Long story)

You did not say what tools you are using to turn your spindles, or what problems you are experiencing. Are you getting tear out, torn grain, chip out, uneven surfaces etc? I noticed you have a grinder and a Wolvering jig, good! The jig will take much of the frustration out of sharpening your tools if you set it up and use it properly.

As for woods, anything you can get for free is good to practice on, save a few bad boys… Pine and Fir are not easy for beginners, especially if you’re trying to produce fine detail like delicate beads. I would stay away from softwoods altogether and look at hardwoods in your area… There is a great article on my website about how to find free wood to turn. There are also several articles on working with and drying green wood.

When I’m teaching new students woodturning, I like to use woods like Hard Maple, Mesquite, White Ash, Sycamore, Pecan, Walnut and Elm. You like in a great area for hardwoods, you just need to scrounge around a little. Take a cruise on heavy trash day and see if you can find some wood from land clearing, or storm damage. It will be green and it will cut easily, allowing you to concentrate on your turning skills and not how to battle an uncooperative timber.

Join a local turning club… It’s the best money you will spend. You need to get around folks that can turn well, so they can help you get over the rough spots. Like any new endeavor, you have to practice to get good. The rewards are many though, so keep a positive attitude and keep on turning! If I can help, please do not hesitate to contact me. Take care and all the best to you and yours!

Steve Russell
EWW Studio
The Woodlands, Texas

-- Better Woodturning and Finishing Through Chemistry...

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