I just got back from the John C. Campbell Folkschool in Brasstown, NC, where I assisted Michael Mocho in his Advanced Woodturning class. The class was called Refinements: Design Developments for Woodturners and was to focus both on design and some techniques to add creative possibilities to turning, like multi-axis techniques, many on-lathe textural strategies and free hand creative sanding. I had assisted Michael once before for a more basic class, but it was going to take students that had some good fundamentals in turning to get the most out of this class. We were both happy to find that everyone had the skills to get a lot out of the class.
I had picked Michael up at the Atlanta airport and we drove to the Folkschool discussing our plans for the week. Michael and I scoped out the woodturning studio and made sure we were already to go, then we met the ten students briefly and then set up to meet in the studio after dinner. The studio is equipped with 10 student and 1 instructor Powermatic 3520 lathes.
When we got everyone in the studio, it was easy to see they were ready to go. Michael reviewed his plans for the week and discussed some options. Everybody set up their station and we called it a night.
Before Monday’s class Michael had turned a series of shapes and asked everyone to pick a shape and duplicate it. This would give us a good idea of what skill level people had, which would determine the pace for the week. However, that wasn’t the end of the challenge. Next he asked them each to draw their own shape, using a mirror to help visualize the design and then modify the drawing until they were happy with their shape. Michael then showed how to make a pattern from the drawing and how to lay out the pattern on the blank and take the measurements off the pattern and reproduce it on the lathe.
Everyone headed off to make and turn their own shape.
One more twist was when they were asked to reproduce that shape one more time. Back to work they went, working on this as well as the next challenge – making a simple box.
The students had different levels of experience, with a number having made boxes before and some going through it for the first time. Everyone gave it a good effort.
One aspect of the challenge was for each of them to turn a box that would have a finial. Everyone was asked to make a series of finials with a ¼” tenon to try in the boxes. This got several of the students excited, since it would provide a great way to really see what finials would work with each box.
Michael then set up the boxes and the finials and tried a few combinations.
Then he asked some of the students to pick their favorites. It was amazing in how aligned everybody’s impression of the best combinations were. It was a great exercise in the innate understanding of design, or at least what works and is pleasing to the eye that all of us had.
Interspersed in the challenge were demos by Michael showing all his texturing tricks. He loves to do chatterwork, using the Sorby spiral tool, freehand sanding and a number of other techniques. Several of the students used these techniques to further enhance their work. He also showed how to make threaded lids. What was great about his approach was that it didn’t require the typical high priced woods, like blackwood and boxwood to get good threads – it only took his “Magic Elixir”. This “elixir” helped to turn good threads in the maple and cherry we were using.
Many of the students tried all of these techniques and most had good results.
We also took time each day to have a presentation of some of the student’s previous work. These 5-10 minute sessions gave us a great opportunity to critique what worked and not and to also give us some great ideas of the kind of things that can be done with woodturning. All agreed that it was very helpful to see the many works and discuss their design components.
Several of the students had brought their own projects and spent much of the remaining class time working on them.
Michael always spent time with the students helping them along with their projects.
By Thursday night most of the projects were done. Some were leaving early on Friday so even though we missed Dale, we took a group photo. The smiles show how much the students enjoyed the class.
Friday was clean up and everybody took their projects over to the display of all the Folkschool attendees.
It was another great week at the Folkschool. As usual, I learned a lot, both from Michael and the students. Even though I was an assistant and didn’t get time to turn myself. I felt the trip very rewarding, being able to help some of the students on their woodturning journeys and making a lot of new friends.