An Amazing Experience – Woodturning at Safe Harbor Boy’s Home
It all started with Beth Ireland, reknown woodturner and furniture maker for 25 years, who this year devoted her life to what she calls “Turning Across America”. Her mission is to travel across America for a year, teaching woodturning to youth groups, schools, and clubs, to introduce them to the joys of turning wood on a lathe. When she contacted our club, Northeast Florida Woodturners Association, we immediately thought of Safe Harbor Boys Home, a haven for troubled kids.
Kay Seivert and Ed Malesky, President of the club, organized the event with Safe Harbor leaders. The club volunteers were eager to assist. Most of them are well-educated, retired professionals in the field of education, engineering, banking, medical field, or other highly technical skill, and now want to give back to the community. Volunteers included Kay Sievert, Ed Malesky, Gene & Nancy O’Donnell, Baxter Luther, Tom Gryzbala, Stan Hull, Ray Smith, Jim Ford and Chuck Molnar.
When we first arrived at Safe Harbor, we had intended to do a two-hour orientation and then start turning in the afternoon. However, the boys, estimated ages from 14 – 17 years old, were already at the workshop door. One of the amazing things – the boys were very polite, “yes-ma’am” and “no ma’am”, and welcomed us with smiles and handshakes. They seemed to be good kids. It was evident that Safe Harbor leaders were a positive influence on them. Mr. B.J., their teacher and House Parent, was seemingly larger than life, strict with the rules, but a compassionate man. He was certainly a major influence in their lives at Safe Harbor. Another amazing thing – their desire and eagerness to learn. Although, I must say, who can resist the lure of creating with wood on a lathe?
Beth unloaded her well-organized van/home and the action began. As she instructed them about the components of the lathe and what they would learn to make on the lathe, their eyes were riveted on her, and you could feel the eagerness in them to get to the lathes. The volunteers were mesmerized by Beth as well, for she is a wonderful and skillful teacher. It was easy to tell she loved what she was doing.
Their first task was to turn a square piece of wood round, which they did with fearless exuberance. Some struggled, but did not quit. From then on, it was non-stop turning, as they learned about controlling the roughing gouge, making coves and beads with their home-made spindle gouge, and using color on wood. Beth kept up the pace, showing them how to make their own turning tools using lathe and grinder. They loved the sparks flying from the grinder! There was never a dull moment.
Reluctantly, some of the boys had kitchen duty and left to prepare lunch for the group of volunteers. They were just as excited about us eating lunch with them and talked non-stop about what they had learned as we ate. As soon as possible, they were back at their lathes. Beth gave them license to use their imagination and they made some amazing things! One boy made a tool handle with hundreds of beads on it. Another made a simple, elegant tool handle. They also made whistles and pens. Josh, the very creative one, made a huge #2 pencil and an idol. Real woodturning talent began to emerge among the group of seven boys, and again, amazement at the speed at which that talent developed.
The three-day class was a total success from day-one, for both the boys and volunteers. It was a thrill for us to bring such simple joy to these kids. One boy who has been at Safe Harbor for two years volunteered this: “This has been the best week ever!” The club hopes to establish a continuing education program for them and future Safe Harbor boys. Beth Ireland noted that this program would be a great opportunity for our club to carry out the AAW’s mission of “bringing woodturning to the community”. I hope we can make it happen.