A Day at School

For the last three years I have been asked to participate in one of our local elementary school’s Cultural Arts Festival. They hold this two day event at the end of the school year as a way to expose the kids to local art and culture.

This year I asked Bob Hunt to join me. This would give us both a chance to do some woodturning and try to give the kids a little information about trees and hopefully give them some encouragement to try making things on their own.

We, of course, had our minilathe, but this festival also had a potter, some Hindu dancers, a poet and musicians. I know there were more, but we were so busy turning we didn’t get to see any of the other participants.

One thing I like to start our session with is a discussion between hardwood and softwood trees. The kids can’t get over the fact that these tree categories have nothing to do with how hard or soft the wood is, but rather whether the trees have needles or leaves.


I tell them we mainly turn hardwoods and then we showed them some examples of the kinds of things we turn. They were pretty amazed we can turn bowls and hollowforms from wood we find along the side of the road.

I then proceeded to turn a spin top. We did five sessions during the day, so after the first session we had competitions between the tops to see which one would spin the longest.

Bob then changed the tempo by turning a pen. The kids were amazed at each stage of the pen making process. Bob was very cool about turning the pens because he had an ulterior motive.


You could see by this time we were beginning to make quite a mess. This was a cause of some distress to the teacher who’s room we were using. I think she feared that we would never be able to get all the shavings cleaned up. Actually, that might really be true.

The last project was to turn a shallow bowl from some 2×10 southern yellow pine. I often had only 5-6 minutes to turn the bowl, so I did some of the fastest bowl turning I had ever done.


The kids couldn’t help laughing at the mess I made. They especially liked when the shavings landed in my hair and beard. I even managed to send a shower of shaving out towards the kids, which they thought was pretty funny.

The kids really seemed to like the demo, but then Bob popped his surprise. He told the kids he didn’t have enough pens to give everyone, but had two and mentioned that their teachers probably deserved them. All ten classes felt that this was a great idea and the teachers were really touched.

I hope we can do this again next year, but I’m guessing that we won’t be in the same teacher’s room.

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