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Why do most new Woodturners Fail?

Updated: Jun 4

I have been Turning Professionally since 2015 although I personally tend to disregard the first few years of that as I was teaching myself the ropes so to speak. Yes, I was earning money direct from my Craft but I feel I was not yet experienced enough to be a true Professional in my opinion. I have argued this point with another Woodturner who disagreed with my assessment but I don't want to cheapen the Craft by saying I was when I felt I wasn't. I hope that makes sense to people.

I started Turning in 1996, never got a lesson and thought I was doing well. I spent very little money on machinery and tools and wondered why I rarely sold anything. It wasn't until I went for proper Tuition that I realised how bad I actually was and why I had never achieved anything. I attended my first lesson with a Professional Woodturner in late 2015 and only then did the real work begin.

Woodturning for more advanced Woodturners
Turning a Decorative Finial

Patterns of Failure - Why Woodturners Fail

I have taught enough Students at this point to see the patterns of failure early on. Although I have touched upon this subject in other Blog Posts I have never dedicated one entirely to the specific reasons why most new Woodturners fail so early on in the process. Hopefully, you the reader will see these things in yourself as you read on and this may help you. I will list a number of fail points below in no particular order of relevance but the first 4 are really important.

Never going for proper Tuition

This has turned out to be my biggest regret over the years. Had I reached out to a Professional early on, I could have shortened my extremely long learning curve, bought the correct tools & machines and saved myself from wasting lots of time & money. I finally went to Glenn Lucas in Co Carlow in late 2015 and my whole world changed from then on. Many worry about the cost of Tuition but the reality is you generally save multiples of that cost over time by fixing your techniques and adding new products to your repertoire. Not to mention following the right advice on Equipment & Tools.

Buying Inferior Tools & Equipment

I bought 2 cheap Lathes at different times in the beginning and didn't realise anything was wrong until a few months afterwards with both of them. An inferior Lathe will have lots of drawbacks and will have a limiting effect on your Turning abilities. You will often find a new Woodturner using a light machine with an inappropriately big piece of wood. This is not smart and could be potentially dangerous. Cheap machines can also have inferior motors, are lightweight with a tendency to bounce around and have parts that break easily. On the other hand and I have to say this, cheaper machines may give you a start that you otherwise won't have, you may have no choice but to go that route. Conflicting statements, I know but I had to say it because sometimes it is a reality. My advice however is to start as you mean to go on and buy a decent machine that will last you many years to come. Remember, a cheap Lathe will stunt your growth as a Woodturner and hinder any progress you could potentially make going forward.

Not Spending Enough Money

This is a big one. Woodturning is probably the most expensive hobby on the planet, IMO. Most new Woodturners (myself included back in the 90s) will buy a Lathe with the money they have in hand at that time. This normally means buying a Lathe that will only suit them for the next 6 to 12 months. If they are still Turning after this point their skill level will have outgrown the machine they are using. My advice to Students currently is to borrow the money from a Credit Union and spend 3 or 4 times their budget to get the machine they should be starting with. If you are spending €1,500 and up on a Lathe you are buying a machine that should grow your abilities. Most people will still balk at the entry level Lathes that are about €1,000 but spending more will nearly always benefit you long term. The problem for most Students I find is they don't know if they like Woodturning enough yet to justify spending €2,500 or more just to get started. It's your decision I'm afraid, only you know the answer.

Not Enough Practise Time

Woodturning is one of those Crafts that requires a lot of time and effort to become proficient. I often ask Students if they spent much time practising between Tuition Sessions and watch them backpedal their responses by saying how busy they were and they only managed an hour or two here and there. I know as soon as you start Turning in front of me whether you practised or not. I can also hear it if I have my back turned by the way. You are not Turning for my benefit, you are Turning for your own. Please remember that! If you have a Lathe, you should be using it. Constant practise develops muscle memory and Turning becomes so much easier over time.

Buying a Bad Sharpening System

A decent Sharpening system should be very high on your list from the beginning but from my experience many skimp on this because they have outlayed so much money on a Lathe and Handtools that they feel they cannot afford what is recommended. They in turn buy a cheap machine with a bad motor, cheap wheels and limited functionality which is next to useless and will not last long term. If you buy a top of the range machine with great grinding wheels and sharpening platforms from the very beginning your Woodturning journey will be so much easier. Sharp Tools make Woodturning safer and infinitely much more fun to do. I show my Students 4 different machines that I have and explain the pros and cons of each. If you spend €800 on what I recommend you will have a great machine which will last you the rest of your life if you continue to Turn or have a very good machine for resale if you choose to give up at any stage.

Using Bad Handtools

Some cheap Lathes come with Tools included, never use these as they are normally rubbish and not fit for purpose. Some second hand Lathes come with Tools that the previous owner used, always take advice from a Professional like me before using these as even if they are quality Tools they probably need to be reshaped and properly sharpened prior to first use. Never buy the Woodturning sets of 6 to 8 Tools as they are probably not the right tools for you going forward. I normally recommend 6 individual Tools for Spindle Turning and another 3 for Bowl Turning. You can buy more and probably will as you go on but 9 is all you really need to get started. Check out this Blog Post on Woodturning Chisel Sets I wrote for greater detail on this subject. I sell a range of Hamlet Woodturning Tools on my Website should you want to buy quality Tools instead of rubbish.

A proper Workshop

This is quite often the last thing people think of. In their mind, they envision a little corner of a shed or garage that will be perfect for their new Lathe but the reality is Woodturning requires a fairly decent sized area to be effective and safe to work in. Too often, sheds are damp which rusts the Lathe and Tools and is not a nice atmosphere to work in. Winter time is an especially unpleasant time to be in a freezing workshop. Don't believe me? I'm writing this Blog in February in my little office instead of being in my Workshop. Even though there is a heater there, it is not an ideal atmosphere at this time of year. Plan a decent sized area with some safe heating device (not explosive or highly flammable if possible) and dust extraction set up away from cars or anything that could get damaged by dust waste & flying debris.

Following Bad Advice

YouTube is not a proper teacher so if you are following videos online be aware that the creator may not know everything about what they are doing or talking about on screen. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of excellent Woodturners out there to follow and I wish that YouTube had been around in the 90s when I started out. Where would I be know if it had been I wonder? I have videos on YouTube myself but I find that I am not great at explaining or demonstrating as soon as the camera is rolling. I forget to explain certain things or over explain others. I realise my shortcomings, would you? If you take a lesson early on you should be able to discern if a video creator is doing the right thing or the wrong thing. I followed bad advice in a video when making my earliest Spinning Tops and made bad pieces as a result.

Waning Interest

Over time, the initial excitement that Woodturning elicited may wane and you find other activities including watching TV a better use of your time. Try and make yourself go to the Lathe, it cost you money so why not use it and be creative for an hour a day. If you get into the habit of avoiding the Lathe, you will soon fail as a Woodturner. Try and remember that you are doing this because it's for you and for you alone and you are not doing it for the benefit of someone else. Woodturning can be very therapeutic for people so enjoy it for what it is.

Lack of Sales

This was very difficult for me in the 90s when I couldn't sell my early design Candle Holders. Hours of work and people didn't appreciate what I had created or so I thought. When I started my business I had similar experiences of sales droughts which are difficult to bear. You can't help but take these things personally especially in your early days Woodturning. Remember, not everyone has the money to buy luxury items (which your pieces will be) and what you make may not appeal to everyone. There is no point in making products that you like when the masses have no interest. Instead, look to current trends and try to come up with your own unusual take on a product. Don't just copy someone else's ideas, make your own. Unfortunately, there are Woodturners out there who steal ideas, I have had some of mine copied by others who should know better and it doesn't feel very nice.

In Conclusion

Go and get a lesson before you do anything. Trust me, it will be the best money you ever spend. If you enjoy your lesson, go ahead and spend money on the recommended gear. If it's just an OK experience, maybe Woodturning isn't for you. Better to find out before splashing out thousands of Euro on equipment that will be idle in a few months. If you didn't like it, you are only out of pocket for €100 or so and a few hours but you had an experience and you can cross off Woodturning from your wish list. Whatever the outcome, just go and do it and you will know where you stand regardless.

Hopefully the paragraphs about will strike a chord with you and you will go forward armed with information that will help you make good decisions. For anyone interested, my listing options can be found on the page Woodturning Tuition

Thanks for Reading and safe Turning! David

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