When I was 4, I started turning wood. We had a big lathe with a direct-drive motor, a handwheel to the left of the headstock, and a giant rotary switch that went “clunk” when you turned it on. The direct-drive motor meant that the beast had incredible momentum, and the handwheel meant that you could get it up to turning speed with a few yanks and no electricity at all. So, with the aid of a stepstool, I proceeded to learn the basics of woodturning. Many simple candlesticks followed, and eventually I got old enough to use the lathe under power – and without a stepstool, though that took longer.
Turning is a great way to get started in woodworking if you’re the impatient or easily distracted type – like me – because of its immediacy. You can take a piece of wood, chuck it in the lathe, turn for an hour or two, put on some wax, and you have a finished product. Some people specialize in making bowls, or pens, or bottle stoppers – I eventually settled on making spinning tops. They were easy to make, fun to play with, and took relatively little material. Unfortunately, all of the tops I made I either gave away, sold, or left with my parents, and I haven’t been able to track down a single picture. Hopefully I’ll be able to find & post one shortly.
After a while working on the wood lathe, I moved on to turning metal – the idea is the same, but instead of a hand-held tool, you turn a set of dials that move a cutting tool left-right and in-out. While this isn’t as good for creating free-form shapes, it’s great for making cylinders, tapers, and – with the right set of gears – threads. After reading up on turned wood boxes, I decided to try making some out of turned brass. The first attempts were fairly crude, but fun to make and to play with, so I went on to make more. Many years and many boxes later, I still enjoy making them. The brass boxes for sale here represent almost ten years of trial and error, learning how to make the thinnest walls and smoothest threads possible. They’re still turned on a manual lathe and finished by hand. The top and base threads are cut to match each other, rather than to an arbitrary size, so no two boxes are exactly alike.
Things have changed a lot since this picture was taken, but I still love working with the lathe, and still enjoy sharing the things I make. I hope it makes you smile, too.