Sylva Spoon


Thomas Bartlett3 Comments

Apprenticeship Day 12

"Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people." - Charles Stewart

Today was a solid day of turning. Jarrod wasn't about in the morning so I went to my default setting of mandrel turning. Last night Jarrod was up late finishing things off for the ASI show. He spent all of today getting everything ready for that. So I was more or less left to my own devices. 

A few final items in the drying box

A few final items in the drying box

As mentioned previously, the plan for next week is to do a bunch of turning. For me to rough out a bowl and set it aside for Jarrod to finish we need mandrels. The better I get at turning, the more roughed out bowls I'll be able to produce, the more mandrels we'll need. They're also good practice. Dry wood, with no 'gearing up' you get with a larger piece of wood driven by a smaller mandrel. 

The last thing to do on a mandrel, before it comes off the lathe, is to flatten the ends. You want the tenon end flat so it sits in the bowl at a 90 degree angle, and the back should be flat to make smacking it into the bowl easier. When Jarrod first showed me how to turn mandrels I was amazed at the tiny nubbins he was able to turn at each end. I was so proud when today, I managed to make nubbins of my own:

I even took pictures. 

So there I was, basking in the glow of my newfound awesome turning skills, working on a fresh mandrel and Jarrod comes into the shop and douses that glow with an icy bucket of reality. He watched how I was turning, stopping me to correct the angle I was holding the tool. He hopped on the lathe to demonstrate a technique I was clearly struggling with. He then looked over my shiny new mandrels (nubbins detached) and pointed out all their defects. All of them. The list was long.  

My dreams were crushed. It was fantastic.

One of the things Jarrod established early on in the apprenticeship is that there is a difference between criticising ideas and criticising people. I love that concept. When Jarrod was (politely) telling me all the faults and inadequacies of the mandrels I turned, it's not a criticism of me. This is such a tricky thing to internalise. To remove your ego from the conversation. Especially with handmade objects. I made those mandrels, so it's easy to make the mistake that they're some sort of extension of me. Tom in mandrel form. But they're not. They represent my skill level, but that's not a constant. As proven by the nubbins. 

This kind of nitty-gritty, soul destroying tearing apart of my greatest turning accomplishments is exactly what I'm after. Honest and helpful feedback on ones work is really hard to find. I think this is down to two main reasons:

1) People are concerned the criticism will be taken as a personal attack so would rather not give feedback for fear of sounds like a dick

2) There's a lack of expertise about the object/technique/idea under scrutiny. 

Most people in the craft world are hungry for this kind of feedback. A lot of us craftspeople work in a kind of vacuum. We make things alone and often the only tangible feedback we get is whether or not an object sells. And it's almost impossible to get actionable reasons out of why that's the case. 

Apprenticing with Jarrod gives me access to all the useful feedback on my craft I could desire. We've established an understanding that we're both able to comment on the others work without it being taken personally. I can ask for Jarrod's expert opinion and he's happy to give it to me. I'm also free to disagree with him. We both need to be able to give reasons for why we think something isn't working. For some things, it's a matter of personal preference. For others, there are good design, function or aesthetic reasons why changes need to be made. 

And once Jarrod had thoroughly torn apart my earlier efforts, I hopped back on the lathe and did work that was better than before. It's still not perfect and that's great.

Even tinier nubbins

Even tinier nubbins

For the afternoon, Jarrod had me finish a bowl I had previously roughed out for him. He wants to have me making more things for myself, not just roughing out stuff for him. It will give me the chance to practice some of the finer work and through that I'll be able to work the roughs down to a more finished form.

It took me a couple of hours to do. I struggled with the undercutting of the core. The hollowing reaches a point where the rim of the bowl stops me from putting the tool where I want to. I don't have the techniques dialled in yet for how to get around that. So I'll make sure I take the time to watch Jarrod do some hollowing next week. 

I finished the bowl. I feel like it's pretty close to the form Jarrod suggested I go for. There are a few lumps, bumps and inconsistencies I can spot, so I can only imagine the laundry list of errors Jarrod will come up with when he gets a look at it. What fun.

This bowl represents me. It is me. I am a bowl. 

This bowl represents me. It is me. I am a bowl.