It is often said that one of the truly remarkable characteristics of the woodturning community is our willingness to openly share our knowledge – of turning techniques, finishes, equipment, wood, and even where to get the best bargains on supplies. This is repeatedly evident in turning demonstrations and Show and Tell presentations not just within our club but at every meeting of other clubs that I’ve attended and, certainly, at the national level. Of course, there are folks who do amazing things that they can’t quite explain. And there are a few folks who want you to admire their products without willingness to share their tricks. In our community such people are a small minority. As all of us know who have spent or spend the majority of our time in other work settings, this is not true of the world around us.
Having spent weeks at many different craft schools where I’ve struggled to acquire new skills, I feel this generosity of spirit is common to other crafts such as pottery, metalwork,glass, fabric and others. I don’t know if it also permeates the traditional fine arts such as painting. But that is not the topic that I want to pursue. What I want to emphasize is that we are a community of teachers and learners; and that this is most evident both in our daily interactions and in the structure of our monthly meetings. While it is wonderful to have a visiting professional come to share skills in a one day workshop or in a dazzling demonstration, I think that we learn more from each other.
Among us we have remarkably talented turners and artists who have embraced virtually all the varying aspects of contemporary woodturning – natural edged bowls, ultrathin hollow forms, segmented turning, boxes, pens, carving, unique finishes, surface embellishments...and the list goes on. And these fellow club members have frequently raised their skills to the professional level. I think we’ve all seen something in Show and Tell, or something demonstrated by a peer that leads us to want to learn more about that particular technique – to get us going in a different direction, or to improve our own skill set, or to simply help us better understand what someone else is doing. And it is in this spirit that I want to start a program of intra-club mentoring, so that if one of us wants to have some tutoring in a new skill there will be a club member willing to step up and offer instruction and encouragement.
To get started, I’m putting out a call to those in the club who have a special interest and who are willing to give a little of their time to another member who wants to learn about their specialty. There’s no limit to the number who might share a special skill set. If there are ten or twenty pen turners willing to help others get started with pens, then our list of pen mentors may have ten or twenty names. If there are four or five skilled in hollow forms, then that list of potential mentors will be smaller. And, as time passes, I hope that not only the list of willing teachers but the range of special skills that we will share amongst ourselves will grow. Once we have a (growing) list of mentors, members seeking help with a particular type of turning or other technique can contact a willing instructor and make a private arrangement for free instruction. There will be no set requirements -- just an expectation that instruction will be available for as long as the mentor has time or until the learner has satisfied his or her curiosity or feels ready to go it alone.
Whenever there is discussion of teaching new skills, particularly in a home shop setting, there is always some underlying concern about personal liability. Too frequently, when liability anxiety pokes its head up, consideration of one-on-one teaching stops. Quite frankly, I have little patience with this attitude. Possibly the majority of club members have personal liability insurance that will protect them in the event of a mishap. Some, with or without such insurance, are risk averse and won’t consider offering instruction in their own shop. For those who are inherently cautious, we will have a printed waiver of responsibility for participants to sign. But I would emphasize that I’m talking about a voluntary program of instruction offered to fellow club members – colleagues and friends. And instruction that adheres to appropriate standards of safety. I have and will continue to have unskilled woodworkers come into my shop to work on special projects. It’s always been a rewarding experience for both. And I truly believe that a club mentoring program will greatly enhance our experience as turners, as it will foster friendships, and may even unveil some fabulous talent.
I’ll look forward to receiving your feedback about this idea at our forthcoming meetings.