I’ve never been one to start slowly, so why should learning the lathe be any different? I had the tools, the will, and some basic know-how. I also had the safety equipment and have been around power tools and sharp objects long enough to know how to not injure myself. At least not too much…
So I loaded up some scrap wood to get the hang of using the tools and to get a rough idea as to how to hold them, how much pressure to use, what angles, etc… Sure, I read up on it, watched a bunch of videos, and had some good instruction from the guys at my local Rockler store, but nothing beats really doing it yourself and feeling and seeing the results.
Along with the lathe and tools I also picked up a few round blanks from that first trip to Rockler. A figured maple and a Japanese walnut to be exact. If you’re going to do something, why not dive in head first, right? So I started with the Japanese walnut blank.
The initial steps were easy. Just mount the blank onto the faceplate and then screw the faceplate onto the lathe. Spinning it up I was glad that it wasn’t too off-center, and I started working on making the blank round. Yep. That was easy. So I moved on to making the bottom smooth and cutting out a mortise for the chuck to grab on to…
I measured twice, marked twice (make the marks nice and bold, right?), and went to town in making my mortise. It was a thing of beauty! I was so proud I even got the dovetailing in there. Then I tried to mount the chuck. I had made the mortise too wide! Even fully opened I couldn’t get the chuck to grip it. So much for thinking I was good at this… Since I liked the height and shape, as well as now being afraid I’d screw more up, I didn’t want to shave down the bottom and try again. Instead, I just dove into the existing mortise and added a smaller mortise inside. In hindsight, it’s a bit of a hack, but it also looks like an intentional design choice, so I’ll take the little win there.
Now it was time to flip the bowl around since I now had a properly sized mortise. Digging out the center of the bowl wasn’t too bad. I had to pay attention to the sides as a few times I moved the tool out some and caught the opposite side of the bowl causing a bit of a gouge that I’d have to clear up. I am glad though that I decided to keep the sides pretty straight for this first piece though as that made it a little easier.
After some extra sanding and some mineral oil for the finish I had my first finished bowl!
Looking at it afterward all I can see are the little issues. I can see tool marks, there’s plenty of grain tear-out, the walls aren’t of an even thickness (or even a solid gradient), and so on… but I’m also super proud of it. Besides, if I don’t point out the “defects” almost anyone who sees it thinks it’s awesome.
One bowl in the books! Lots more to go!