Teaching a 6 year old to turn #1: Introduction

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Blog entry by Alin Dobra posted 03-26-2008 04:26 AM 2699 reads 0 times favorited 22 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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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

22 comments so far

View Betsy's profile


3391 posts in 3893 days

#1 posted 03-26-2008 04:35 AM

That’s wonderful Alin. Vlad looks quite happy. I think it’s great that you are teaching him so young. Making rules and standing by them is a lesson that he will take out of the woodshop and into everyday life.

Keep it up. I look forward to watching Vlad’s progress.

-- "Our past judges our present." JFK - 1962; American Heritage Magazine

View FrankA's profile


139 posts in 3776 days

#2 posted 03-26-2008 04:35 AM

I think it is great to get kids started young and learning proper saftey at this age he will carry it with hime for life. I look forward to seeing one of his projects.

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

View HallTree's profile


5664 posts in 3764 days

#3 posted 03-26-2008 04:42 AM

Wow Alin I love this story. What a great way to start a young boy in woodworking. He has got to be proud of his self, and of course dad.

-- "Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life" Solomon

View Woodshopfreak's profile


389 posts in 3739 days

#4 posted 03-26-2008 04:42 AM

wow. That is so great. I wish that I could have started woodworking that young and to be able to turn! Keep up the great work. You and your son. He’ll be the best woodworker when he’s older.

-- Tyler, Illinois

View trifern's profile


8135 posts in 3764 days

#5 posted 03-26-2008 04:51 AM

Great story. You may even consider taking the key out of the power switch when your are not around just to be safe. I hope he will be posting a project soon.

-- My favorite piece is my last one, my best piece is my next one.

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 3819 days

#6 posted 03-26-2008 04:51 AM


It is absolutely wonderful that Vlad is moving in this direction. I would rather see him doing something like this as opposed to sitting in front of an XBOX all day long. Here he gets to expand his mental horizons and develop his imagination while learning a valuable skill. He is one precocious young man.

Have you thought about installing a lock-out on the lathe? I know that you have told him not to do this but occasionally, especially after they become an “expert”, they seem to think that the standing orders no longer apply to them.

But then again he could probably figure out a work around- as intelligent and resourceful as he is.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View Alin Dobra's profile

Alin Dobra

351 posts in 3885 days

#7 posted 03-26-2008 04:57 AM


As trifern noticed, the switch on the lathe has a lock I can take out. I’ll start doing that to be on the safe side.

Thanks everybody else for your comments.


-- -- Alin Dobra, Gainesville, Florida

View scottb's profile


3648 posts in 4324 days

#8 posted 03-26-2008 05:01 AM

That’s great – you’ve really thought this out, and he’s loving it. My daughter is so interested in seeing me use my “Jet tool” It’s nice to see their enthusiasm and eagerness to try new things – what a great education your son is already picking up!

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

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 3985 days

#9 posted 03-26-2008 06:10 AM

A family that turns together stays together, huh?

Great looking little setup he has.

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

View Grumpy's profile


23916 posts in 3848 days

#10 posted 03-26-2008 08:53 AM

I am sure the lad is in good hands Alin, he could not have a better teacher.

-- Grumpy - "Always look on the bright side of life"- Monty Python

View teenagewoodworker's profile


2727 posts in 3765 days

#11 posted 03-26-2008 12:18 PM

thats awesome. i think you’ve got a master wood turner to be on your hands. great post.

View SPalm's profile


5320 posts in 3879 days

#12 posted 03-26-2008 02:39 PM

That is so cool. Good for you guys.
I started turning when I was 13, and some said I was too young. It looks like the rules and guidelines you are demanding will make this a lot of fun.


-- -- I'm no rocket surgeon

View rikkor's profile


11295 posts in 3871 days

#13 posted 03-26-2008 05:01 PM

This is so neat to see, Alin. Thanks for sharing it. I am glad that you are teaching him heavy emphasis on safety, too. That is a lifetime lesson.

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 4296 days

#14 posted 03-26-2008 05:12 PM

That’s great Alin,

But I recommend that you get a full face shield for him.

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN.

View ND2ELK's profile


13495 posts in 3771 days

#15 posted 03-26-2008 06:39 PM

Hi Alin

Thank you so very much for this blog. I have a 5 year old grandson who I am sure will become interested in wood working once his grandpa gets his shop up and running. It is a wonderful thing you are doing with your boy. I might have to buy a small lathe just to be doing something like this. My wife expressed and interest in wanting to build pens. Maybe I will get both grandma and Tim into woodturning. Might have to have two working heights, grandma is 6’-2”. Thanks for posting

God Bless

-- Mc Bridge Cabinets, Iowa

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