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David Ellsworth – A Woodworking Seminar Made in Heaven

This past week I had the good fortune to take a wood turning seminar at the home and shop of David Ellsworth. The seminar was a generous gift of my daughter Sarah who has supported my wood turning efforts in so many ways.

David needs no introduction from me. He is the man who literally created the genre of turned objects as art. His work graces many museums and private collections. He also contributed to the advancement of wood turning technology with his development of a uniquely ground profile for his wood turning gouges and his sharpening jig to create that profile as well as many other technological improvements.

I will have to admit that the seminar was beyond my expectations. David is at the top of his field and yet he is completely approachable and lacks the arrogance that comes with success to so many. He is a masterful teacher using approaches which register with all three learning styles; auditory, visual and tactile. He never hovers but is there to give gentle and helpful correction when needed, as often it was in my case. He would always begin by uplifting the student for what he had done right. Who would not want to please a teacher like that?

The seminar was balanced between hands on experience in his well equipped shop and relaxed meals together with the five students (actually there were only three on my weekend due to severe weather).

heavy equipment in the wood shop

Some of the heavier equipment in the shop

student by the lathe

One of my fellow students beside the lathe I used. In the background is the photo lab.

Meals were a joy and David would give us insight on the recent history of wood turning and then bring out object after object from his personal collection that he had purchased or for which he had traded with other leading experts in the field. He would not only show the objects but supply lively details about the artist and his career. He is a wealth of information.

David Ellsworth by a bandsaw

David standing by his retro bandsaw

Time in the shop was divided between small amounts of practical and theoretical didactic material and actual practice with projects at the lathe. Each student had his own lathe and an almost unlimited supply of green wood with which to work. I had to learn new methods of roughing, shaping and finishing wood all with the same gouge which is what is so wonderful about the grind of his special gouges. It was ever so much easier than the crude methods I had used in the past and it went so much faster. It was also much easier on my body. Occasionally David would come by and remind me that it was not necessary to beat myself up so much and would correct my problem by repositioning my tool rest a bit closer to the work.

All of the subjects covered were of great interest to me. Besides the basics of how to form the Ellsworth signature grind on the gouge and the basics of green wood turned edge and natural edge vessels and hollow vessels, there were many other subjects covered. There was a session on chain saw sharpening which was most valuable. I recently had problems with sharpening my saws. Now I have used a chain saw for many decades. Yet my mistake was corrected in an instant. I had forgotten that the chain cuts on the corner of the tooth and I had been focusing on the sharpness of the blade of the tooth. Funny how we can forget what we once knew.

There was a valuable lesson on making and using jam chucks. There was a lesson on how to position your blank to get the grain orientation that will be most pleasing to you, and a lesson on how to use wood movement as it dries to best artistic advantage. Of phenomenal use to me was how to use a face plate and make the design go inside the diameter of the screw holes to be able to utilize the whole depth of the blank while enjoying the increased stability of the wood held fast by multiple screws. David shared his extensive knowledge of photographing the work and showed us his solution to the challenges. There was a helpful demonstration of vacuum chucking. He even showed us how he makes many of his tools Always, David presented low tech and cost saving techniques which were of great value to me.

As I look back I realize that we had covered a phenomenal amount of information yet
it all went in so easily and in such a relaxed manner that there was no straining and the
acquisition seemed effortless. If you did not catch it all, David has created a beautiful new text book called, appropriately enough, Ellsworth on Woodturning; How a Master Creates Bowls, Pots and Vessels. It is beautifully written in an easy to read style and filled with wonderful illustrations. It was a great take home item for me as well as the sharpening jig and boring tools that I actually watched David make right before my very eyes.

So, if you would like to make a quantum leap in your turning skills and understanding, I really recommend a seminar with David Ellsworth. Short of that, his book is immensely helpful. I am just thankful that a master like David so generously shares what he has learned over a life time of turning. He is a great turner, artist, teacher and human being.

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