Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Yale Presentation: The Turner’s Trade

All images in this post by Jessica Smolinski, Courtesy Yale University

Last Friday I traveled down to the Yale Furniture Study in Connecticut to give my presentation about historic turning. After a good seven hours on the road, I arrived in New Haven with an hour for setup. It was just enough. I was choking down the last few bites of my lunch as the attendees started coming in.


I began the presentation by comparing two 18th century chairs from the collection. I wanted to show the difference between the chair of the turner versus the chair of the cabinetmaker because, from an artisan’s perspective, turning had certain advantages over bench work. 


Inside the shop I had my portable spring pole lathe setup. I showed the features and basic operation of the lathe as well as the few tools needed. It seemed important before making shavings to talk about how turning uniquely met the values and mindset of the preindustrial world. I proposed that by exploiting Pye’s “workmanship of certainty” that the lathe offered, the turner could produce components that epitomized the regularity and perfection (roundness) that was so desired. I also pointed out that, to top it all off, it was affordable.



Then we made some shavings. In order to best demonstrate historic turning, I decided to walk through Joseph Moxon’s 17th century instructions. I read brief excerpts and demonstrated what he described. I also demonstrated several kinds of details that Moxon didn't go onto explain. It was interesting to hear it straight from the 17th century. Things like...

Cut down on your work near one end, a groove for your string to run in... the deeper you cut down the groove, the oftner will your work come about every tread" 

and

“By use you must habituate your self to let the edge of your tool bear upon the work when the pole and treddle comes down, and to draw it back just off the work, as the pole and treddle goes up”. He says this “withdrawing” is “a little lightly”.


I'm very appreciative for the positive feedback given. Folks seemed genuinely engaged and asked a number of good questions. I want to again thank Eric Litke for inviting me down. I look forward to another visit in the future, hopefully to present again.


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