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Children in the Shop

Children have a unique and optimistic perspective of the world that most of us with more years under our belt have lost. Anyone who has watched a child with a cardboard box knows that their imagination can run wild with possibilities as they pretend it to be flying a spaceship or transmogrifying themselves into fierce dinosaurs. Even their line of questioning which consists of a single word, “Why,” indicates the purity of curiosity which most adults have lost. Children build space stations in their mind, forts from furniture, and swords from branches. Their unbridled creativity allows them to see the most amazing scenes which an experience laden mind cannot see.

Zen Buddhism has a concept called shoshin, beginners mind. Children naturally excel at this because they are not saddled with experience. In their inexperience they will not discard and idea out of hand because it may not work or is too inefficient that an experienced person would toss aside. In Mark 10:13-16 Jesus teaches that we must receive the Kingdom as like a child. The Lord knows that we become cynical as we age and that our perspective becomes one which becomes less imaginative and limited by our experience. The wisdom of the world is that no one in power would give up everything for those that hate them. But a child knows no reason that that such reasoning is not believable. A child trusts and looks to their father for all of their needs.

While children have the advantage of inexperience when it comes to imagination, adults we have the capability to transforming imagination into reality. Where a child might imagine a stick as a sword an adult with experience can actually make something that looks like a sword. Or in the case of my daughter, a wand.

Safety
As someone with more scars on his hands and fingers than would indicate a strong grasp of safety, it is crucial to consider safety before bringing your children into the shop. It is one thing to add to your own battle scars in the shop, but quite another for your child. If you want your child to have fun and want to come back they need to avoid getting hurt.

When you introduce a child to the shop you will want to make sure you have all of the safety equipment appropriately sized for the child. For the wand project with my daughter we needed a face shield. When none of the face shields we have fit her we had to head to the local hardware and pick up a new one and then modify it with some parts from a child’s hard hat since I was not able to find one which would fit her. Depending on the project you will want to find PPE (personal protective equipment) sized for children.

  • Safety glasses
  • Ear Muffs
  • Work gloves
  • Respirator

Beyond PPE, you will want to be familiar with the tools and methods you will be teaching the child. In specific you will want to focus on safety aspects of the tools so you are able to notice unsafe practices the child might start using and be able to stop them quickly. Your experience with the tools will also help pick safe spots for the child to stand to avoid debris or off cuts. Avoid using tools you are unfamiliar with yourself when trying to teach a child.

Projects
A few considerations when choosing a project for a child are their interests, attention span, and capability. Select projects which a child can look forward the completed project. A child who dislikes birds is not going to be interested in bird houses. A child who enjoys fantasy books would probably appreciate making a wand. Even though a child might enjoy a doll house (or castle) they are unlikely to have the stamina to hang out in the shop the several days it might take the make. The duration of the project can be adjusted by pre-working parts and bringing the child in for assembly. Children can be fearless to try new things when a parent encourages them, but you need to consider their capabilities. In general children are not going to be able to attain the level of precision required for many projects. Avoid projects which are going to fail if the joinery is not precise or interlocking pieces do not interlock.

Instruction
Presumably you are encouraging your child to come into they shop with you to enjoy a pastime that you enjoy. When safety is not an issue you will want to allow leeway if the child is having a good time. Keep your expectations of productivity reasonable. It is probably best not to work on a project in which you are heavily invested. Especially when they child may need direction it is best to give your complete attention to the child, not your own project. Work on your own projects on your own time.

Since you are instructing a child you will want to keep an eye on their progress. Some parts of the project can be simple and require little more than a starting instruction. Sometimes you will be required to step in and assist or perform a demonstration. As the adult you will need to discern whether a child is struggling because it is challenging or they are just not ready for a particular task.

Another reason a child might seem to be struggling is boredom or exhaustion. Avoid the boring parts of the project (like sanding or finish) especially for early projects. If you feel it really must be done come back after the session in the shop has ended. Exhaustion for a kid does not necessarily mean out of energy, but mentally they are incapable of concentrating on the same task and need a break. Avoid drawing out the sessions in the shop with children too long and err on the side of shorter sessions.

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Acquiring and Preparing Bowl Blanks

One of the great things about bowl turning is that I get most of my wood for free. Assuming you don’t count labor. Over time I’ve built up a bit of a reputation among friends and family as the guy who will help take down or clean up fallen trees. That means several times a year I spend a Saturday or night after work I get to spend some quality time with my chainsaw. As a reward I get my choice of wood for turning before the rest gets turned into firewood or otherwise disposed.

Required tools
Since bowl blanks cleverly disguise themselves as trees, you will need some tools to before you start hoarding. The saw is the most important tool for harvesting your own bowl blanks, but there is some additional equipment which can make things go much smoother.

  • Chainsaw – Beside the saw, make sure you have files for sharpening, bar wrench, PPE, and consumables (chain oil and gas).
  • Tarp – Bring a tarp to keep chips and bugs out out of the carpet of your trunk or interior.
  • Trailer or hitch carrier – Either work great for moving logs, but keep in mind you will need straps to secure the wood.
  • End grain sealer (with brush) – I use Anchorseal2.

Chainsaw
You will want to get a chainsaw with sufficient power and bar length for the bowls you are interested in turning. Our lathe has an 8″ swing which means just shy of 16″ diameter for bowls are the largest we will be turning. The blanks to reach that size for a standard orientation bowl (not live edge) will need to be slightly larger to start. Then figure that the widest part of the tree is going to contain the pith and discarded. That puts me in the range of about a 20″ bar to get the maximum size bowl I will be turning.

I use a Husqvarna Rancher 455 with a 20″ bar which has been reliable for me. In the winter I have found that I need to let the saw warm up a bit before it reaches full power, which is normal for small engines. In addition to the saw you will need the standard tools for saw maintenance such as the sharpening files, bar wrench, bar oil, and a gas can. You will also want to consider your PPE: glasses, ear muffs, and gloves.

Types of wood
You will most likely want to harvest local wood so it would be good to familiarize yourself with the local species. While it is possible that you will find something not native to your area that was brought in for landscaping, you will mostly be dealing with native species. For the most part you will be interested in hardwoods, but do not rule out all softwoods as I have seen beautiful work in some cedars and even pine root bundles.

You will want to familiarize yourself enough with your local species to be able to identify the woods during the growth seasons by their leaves (which is easiest and most consistent). Though after the leaves have dropped you will still want to learn how to identify trees without having to cut into it if possible. Walnut and cherry have some distinct bark which are easy to identify. Birch is fairly easy to identify also, but not necessarily the subspecies. Those are a couple species local in my area of the midwest. Other types of wood I find especially desirable in my area include maple and box elder. Fruit trees can also be very attractive, such as apple and pear, so keep an eye out for when orchards are being turned over.

Beside the species of wood, you will also want to consider which parts of the tree you may be interested in using for bowls. The trunks tend to produce nice straight grain bowls. Limbs are also usable for bowl turning since they are not subject to the same requirement of not warping as lumber. Burls are odd growths which can be found on trunks and limbs where the grain changes directions and can be quite desirable in turning. Root bundles for smaller trees, usually decorative trees in yards, can be pulled up and cleaned with a power washer, and these pieces tend to have lots of bark inclusions and can be otherwise similar to burls. Another portion which is often overlooked is a nice even crotch, especially in walnut. These can be turned into beautiful heart shape pieces.

How to find wood
Assuming that you are new to bowl turning, you will need to work at developing a network of friends, family, and acquaintances who know that you are on the look out for wood. Until you have built up a steady stream of wood and a backlog of blanks you probably do not want to be too picky. Since you are probably still in a learning stage turning any wood will be good experience, especially to learn the ones you really like and which ones you will want to pass on later. Having a handful of business cards printed up with your contact information, social media links, and your interest in acquiring wood will which can be given to anyone can also make it so people will contact you when they have a tree down. I give the cards to folks I have gotten wood from so they can give them to anyone they know.

When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth. – Genesis 9:16

Craigslist
The Craigslist free section is a good place to start after a wind storm. Within a day or two after a storm lots of people will post ads for free you cut firewood. They are just looking for someone to get the tree cleaned up as fast and cheap as possible. You want to be one of the first on site to pick out the sections which are ideal for your purposes, otherwise a well meaning person may show up before you and cut up the best pieces into firewood length. Once the wood is firewood length and not sealed in a short period of time it will check and become useless for bowls.

Tree service
Tree service companies often consider the trees they take down as an expense since they need to take them to the landfill unless they also process and sell them as firewood. If you can develop a relationship with a tree service company you may be able to get them to call you on interesting finds, such as burls or unique trees they need to remove. So stopping by a tree service company may be a way to get a line on some exciting wood. But until you make a relationship with someone from the service it will likely be the least reliable source.

Processing logs into bowl blanks
Once you have acquired some logs you will need to process them into bowl blanks. This process can be intimidating the first time, but will get easier once you have found a method which works for you. I cover my process in the video below. Below the video I will cover a few things that didn’t make the cut for the video.

You will need to setup a location where you will process your logs into blanks. One of the sites picked up some wood I acquired some very large cut offs from some white oak. I use these pieces to hold the log sections as I rip them. This is easier on my back since I do not need to bend over when cutting. It is also a good idea to keep a few off cuts around to help prop the wood in place when cutting.