Vlad, my (almost) 6 year old son’s biggest dream since I started woodturning is to learn how to turn. I build a work table for him 1 year ago and bought him a handplane but I convinced him at the time that he is too small for woodturning. I did promise though that we will try woodturning when he turns 6. A month ago he reminded me of the deal and asked if the small Jet lathe will be his. Over the weekend I decided to give it a try with Vlad even though he is not 6 years old yet. I’m blogging our adventures in the hope that we will inspire some of you to teach your sons/daughters woodworking.
Before I go any further, here is a picture of Vlad at work:
Good work needs good setup
I do have a 10” Jet, my first lathe, that I have not used for 1 year. This is an ideal lathe for a beginner in general and a kid in particular. It runs very smoothly, it is not noisy and can go as low as 500 RPMs (important for a kid). We started woodturning over the weekend and I temporarily installed the lathe on Vlad’s bench. It turns out that the lathe was too high and we had to struggle to do any turning. I had to put him on top of a wood block, which I did not like. I decided it is crucial to build a stand that puts the spindle at the correct height (elbow height) in order for Vlad to enjoy turning and me not to freak out that he gets bad habits or that he is in danger. I promptly bought 2 studs, designed a bench and started building it over the weekend. You can see the result in the next picture:
Needless to day, Vlad is very proud of the setup, especially because it is clearly his (it is way too small for me to work comfortably even on a chair). The 4 hours spend building the stand were well worth it. The stand is very solid and Vlad can work comfortably. He even has room to store his tools. Somehow I have the feeling some of my tools will migrate to his lathe, but we’ll deal with this latter.
When involving your 6 year old into woodturning, safety is paramount. The last thing I want is for my kid to get hurt. This will immediately result in him giving up woodturning for a long time. Here are some of the things I am doing to make woodturning safe for him:
1. No playing with the tools. Kids like to play and if I still have to do some things to set Vlad up he will start playing, including with the roughing gouge. I had to make it a rule that, when he is not turning, he puts tools down and does not touch them. I am aggressively enforcing this rule
2. No turning when I am not around. I warned Vlad that I will be very upset if he uses the lathe when I am not with him. He is not allowed to turn with any other adult or alone. Most adults have a good idea about keeping their kids safe but not in a shop. The lathe looks benign but can be dangerous if you do not know what you are doing
3. Use only roughing gouge for now. The roughing gouge is the least dangerous of tools. I grind Vlad’s gouge in such a way that the corners are rounded so a catch is not possible. The tool also has a large cutting surface (it is a 1” roughing gouge) so it is easy to use. The skew can be wild so we will not use it for a while.
4. Only spindle turning Vlad’s dream is to make bowls, like his dad, but that is out of the question for now. Spindle turning is a lot easier and safer. I found the perfect target: woodturned pens. For now we are practicing on cherry strips. Once things look good enough, well move to pens. Cherry is a perfect wood to learn how to turn since it turns beautifully.
5. Cover spur center with tape The spur center has claws that can hurt really bad if the hand gets caught in them. Vlad’s fingers are small so they can get broken by the claws. By covering the spur center in tape, he is perfectly safe.
6. Safe Sanding Sanding normally produces a lot of dust. Dust gets into the lungs, which is not good. For this reason, I started some time back to wet sand with paint thiner. For the turnings I’m doing with Vlad, we use oil instead while sanding (linseed oil). The oil goes on easily with a piece of paper. The dust from sanding mixes with the oil and fills in the pores or accumulates as a slur which can be easily wiped off. Vlad likes the oiling and wet sanding a lot:
7. Good habits I insist on good habits all the time. Once you start picking bad habits, it is hard to unlearn them. Here is Vlad using the gouge is a correct way (the gouge is big for him; for a grown up, it can be hold from the underside as well):
That’s it for now. Once Vlad completes a project on his own, we’ll post it for all to see.
Thanks for looking,
Alin and Vlad
-- -- Alin Dobra, Gainesville, Florida