Wood on the Lathe

flat turned bubinga bowlI am an expert woodworker … I just am. I have a natural talent for the craft, and I have dedicated myself to it for over 40 years. It is exacting work about which I am serious, and while I do get satisfaction from a well-made project, I would not describe making furniture as a good time. On the other hand, I do woodturning for fun. I am decidedly not an expert turner, as the letters I get from real turning experts demonstrate every time there is a picture of me at the lathe in the print magazine. (“Rob, your form is really terrible!” “Rob, it just hurt to see you using that scraper when you should be using a so-and-so gouge.” All of those comments are appreciated, have come to be expected and are taken to heart.)

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The Rapidly Rising Cost of Steel

I remember the halcyon days when M2 high speed steel (HSS) turning tools hit the market. No longer did we have to worry about burning at the grinder, and HSS tools held an edge forever — compared to plain carbon steel, anyway.

The last decade has seen a proliferation of turning tools made from exotic powdered steels. Powdered refers to the manufacturing process where iron, with the necessary alloying elements, is mechanically mixed in powder form, then sprayed into a furnace where the powders become plastic but do not melt. The resulting blob is cold worked to form bars for machining. Powdered metal technology allows much higher amounts of alloying metals such as vanadium (which increases edge holding) than conventional blast furnace manufacture. The price of such special handling is significantly higher, but PM steels give extraordinarily longer tool life for metal cutting.

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And On With The Show!

Rob PortraitAre you ready for some holiday entertainment? Well, you are in luck! On November 12th and 13th I was in Chicago to do a couple of demonstrations at the Craftsman’s Experiential space. I was asked to demonstrate some examples of woodturning – which I was more than pleased to do. One fun aspect of the event was that both sessions were streamed live on the Internet … with people asking questions in real time. (I even answered some of them!) Another fun detail is that those live feeds were then converted into Internet quality video … and you can see them here and now. (Okay, or you could view them later, but why wait?)

The folks at Craftsman were great to work with and the resulting video is not bad as well.

So take a look and let us know what you think of it.

Rob Johnstone
Woodworker’s Journal