Assisting Nick Cook at Arrowmont

I’m just back from a jam-packed weekend at Arrowmont School of Arts & Crafts in Gatlinburg, TN. Nick Cook was teaching a class called Turning for the Kitchen, featuring creating a lot of different wooden utensils used for cooking.


Arrowmont School of Arts & Crafts

It turned out his regular assistant couldn’t make it and a friend working at Arrowmont suggested me. I knew Nick, since we had brought him to Jacksonville to do a demonstration for the Northeast Florida Woodturers Association, so I was in.

The class ran from Thursday afternoon through Sunday afternoon, but I had to leave Wednesday, since it’s a nine hour drive from here too Arrowmont. I met Dave Hankey, the Wood Studio Operations Coordinator, who walked me through all my duties. Nick then came and we talked about the scope of the class.

If any on you have seen a demo by Nick, you know that his preference is to turn out lots of projects during a demo or workshop. In this case, he had brought kits with enough material to make:

  • Honey Dipper
  • Spurtle
  • Muddler
  • Snowman Ornament
  • Coffee Scoop
  • Rolling Pin
  • Bottle Stoppers
  • Peppermill
  • “Magic” Saltshaker
  • Tealights
  • Bowl
  • Plate
  • Natural Edge Bowl

Quite an ambitious agenda.

It turned out to be even more challenging when we met all the students on Thursday night and realized that all of them could be considered newbees. In fact, several had never seen a lathe up close before, but they were all very excited about the class and ready to go.


© Ed Malesky 2011 - Nick doing a demo

Nick started with some basic demos and got everyone on their lathe to do a couple of practice pieces.


© Ed Malesky 2011 - Everyone at their lathe

We had nice mixture of men and women, since there was a large contingent of Pi Beta Phi sisters attending. The Pi Phi’s are a Fraternity for Women, who started a settlement school on the current Arrowmont site in 1912.

We let them take it easy Thursday night, but told them to be prepared to hit the ground running on Friday morning – and hit it they did. Nick worked though a whole series of demos and then it was off to the lathes to start their spindle turning projects, such as the honey dipper and spurtle.

© Ed Malesky 2011 - Nancy makes a spurtle

Nick and I went from station to station helping them with their body position, the best way to hold the tools, the ABC’s (anchor, bevel, cut) to help them get started. Some were more comfortable, but for most this was a new experience. It seemed that my most often used line was that “the cut doesn’t go where the tool is pointing, but where the bevel is pointing”. This concept took some time to be understood, but slowly, project after project, it was beginning to sink in.


© Ed Malesky 2011 - Nick helping Jean

Nick’s plan of doing any smaller projects was paying off. Each project built on the previous one and the students were really getting excited that they had produced something functional.

Saturday they spent nearly all day designing and then turning a peppermill and “magic” salt shaker. This was the biggest project they had done so far. Thankfully, Nick and I had stayed late the night before preparing the blanks so that they could get through the project in just one day. Once turned and sanded each piece needed to have finish applied and get it ready to use.


© Ed Malesky 2011 - Adding finish to their projects

Sunday we moved from spindle turning to facework. These were the most ambitious projects and included tealights, a plate, bowl and natural edge bowl. After Nick demonstrated everything, we were running a bit short on time, so people picked one or two projects to do, instead of all four. Since the techniques used were “new territory” again, Nick and I were back spending a lot of time with each student showing how to properly use a bowl gouge and the new cuts that were required. While we could hear “catches” off and on, in the end everybody produced a nice body of work that they could be proud of.

Amazingly enough, I even managed some lathe time and produce a few projects.


© Bob Wall 2011 - Ed gets some lathe time

One nice thing that Nick does for the student, is to have a drawing for all the pieces produced during his demonstrations, in this case 22 pieces. While we ate lunch. Nick drew names for his hat, so people could choose the piece they wanted.


© Ed Malesky 2011 - Nick draws a name from the hat

I think everyone had a great time and I know there are several who plan to get into wood turning in a more serious way. You can definitely see the pride on all their faces in our group photo.

© Ed Malesky 2011 - Proud woodturners

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