Wednesday, April 03, 2013

I'm Part Of The World's Oldest Profession

With apologies to prostitutes and politicians, until there was currency to bamboozle people out of, and rounds of drinks to be ordered but not paid for, their job descriptions were very, very, nebulous for a very long time. But I'm a turner. It's the world's oldest profession. The fellow in the video is a drechsler -- which is German for turner. He's shown at his craft in 1926, making Hitler's fruitbowl or something, back when Hitler was still rubbing his eyes. I could immediately and without hesitation recognize and use everything in the video, although I don't turn bowls. He has better gouges than I do, is all.

Well, it might be the oldest profession. Who knows? But the oldest mechanical apparatus more complicated than the jawbone of an ass known to be used regularly by humans is something called a fiddle drill. Old-school farmers recognized the term. A stick with ropes looped from both ends is pushed and pulled back and forth, turning an axle or wheel, and  the resultant spinning made useful for all sorts of things, like broadcasting seeds, for one. It's one of the oldest ways to make a fire, too-- right after waiting to be struck by lightning and throwing yourself on some sticks:

Cavemen didn't have security deposits, but they probably didn't use a fire bow in their living rooms while wearing socks based solely on principle, unlike Joe College here.

Anyway, it was just a matter of turning the apparatus on its side, and then carving the spinning axle with handheld tools to make the jump from fiddle drill to William and Mary turned legs. That, and thirty-four centuries. There's evidence that artisans were turning bowls like you see in the first video, and many other things, in the seventh century BC. We know more about Etruscan bowls than we do about Etruscans.

Many people turn wooden ware, which can also be called treen, nowadays. Sixty Grit, who reads and comments here, is known to do it. I'm sure others do, too. It's considered a gentlemanly way to work with your hands, and it's more practical than the formerly popular pastime of making boats in the basement that don't fit through the bulkhead when they're done. Me, I'm going to go make a fire with a zippo and table leg with my lathe, and try to get my hands on some money. I try not to give any of the money to politicians, so that leaves... (What's that, dear? Oh, nothing.)

Ahem. As I was saying; since I refuse to willingly give my lathe turning money to politicians, that only leaves, er, well, hmm... well, I can always buy more lathe tools with it.


dadofhomeschoolers said...

was it just me or was his grinding wheel going backwards? Or was that just the pictures strung together to make it look like it was going backwards?
He used a crooked tip fine point chisel. I noticed they edited out the part where it stuck on him. What was the purpose of that chisel. Never saw one of those before.

julie said...

My great grandpa did that thing with the boat, once. I kind of wish I could have been a fly on the wall the day he tried to bring it up...

SippicanCottage said...

Hi dadof- It's not a grinding wheel. It's a strop. It's a leather wheel used to polish the edge, and turns away from the user.

I don't turn bowls, so the spoon-shaped thing isn't in my arsenal, but that sort of tool is just called a "hollower", I believe.

Thanks for reading and commenting.

Hi Julie- I'm worse than your great grandpa. I built a boat in the basement almost a decade ago, and never brought it out. It's on its third basement now. If fits through the door, but I've never had a day off to launch it.

One way or another, boats don't fit.

Always love to see your face with the tiny face next to it in the comments.

Leon said...

recognizing every part on that lathe wasn't so hard since the last one i used was only 10 years younger than that one. and better built than anything you could buy new today.

Sam L. said...

I read some years back that the best time for starting a fire with a fire bow was about 26 seconds. IIRC. Given that my memory is not what it never was...

Casey Klahn said...

I can't recall turning anything, sorry. I did make a fire with the bow drill, though. You have to fire harden the board and the spindle just so. Chicken and egg sort of thing.

Also, have a tinder bundle right there! Maybe the sofa was his TB - who knows?

Anonymous said...

Sometimes when I feel sad I go to the Unorganized Hancock youtube channel and all my troubles seem to melt away


Sixty Grit said...

Wow, just wow - how little things have changed in 87 years. That guy is good, and his work is marvelous. A lidded bowl, with a knob on the bowl - who knew such a thing was possible?

My lathe has an electric motor mounted on it, so the belt drive is localized, not coming from a jackshaft driven by a large power source located elsewhere. My lathe is also made out of wood, as a wag said "I think you misunderstood the term 'wood turning'". Smart *ss...

I use a gouge much like the first one we see being honed. That guy uses several different sized gouges, a skew and the hook tool. He is using the hook to clean out the little nubbin that remains when your gouge has gone about as far as it can go. I will usually relocate the tool rest and stick with my gouge, if possible, but if that doesn't work, I might resort to using a scraper for the very center of a bowl. I don't have a hooked tool like his, although they are available and sometimes used by traditional turners.

He really hangs a lot more of the tool over the tool rest than I do, although I have bent gouges by reaching further than I should. You do what you have to do, some times. He is dealing with the issue that bowl turners face - when you get right down to the center of the bowl the tool does strange things - rides, jumps, fights with you - that tool provides an elegant way to deal with that particular problem.

He sanded the interior of the bowl with the tool rest in place - that is a bit concerning. He also moved the tool rest when the lathe was running - I don't do either of those thing. Sure, my fingernails still look like his, but what are you going to do, right? Neither of us want OSHA hanging around, in any case.

Nice band saw - I have one that will saw wood 11-1/2" thick, so I am not complaining, but sometimes one wonders what one might accomplish with a bit more depth of cut.

Using a screw drive on both sides of the bowl is interesting - I could see him measuring the depth of the bowl carefully - maybe he can finish that job without making a one hold colander. I am thankful for 4 jaw chucks - I only use a screw drive on one side of the bowl - the interior of the bowl which gets turned away.

I also don't turn lids - I am thankful that I can make something out of one piece of wood without having to do any joinery or match the diameters of two pieces. Yeah, I know, I really need to step my game up.

Anyway, that video was an amazing document of how things were and pretty much how I still do things. Fascinating. I know I am working in a continuum of wood turners that goes way back, and it is great to see how similar things were in a very different time and place.

Oh yeah, people still burnish their finished piece with the fresh shavings - because we can.

Thanks for posting that, Sippican, you made my evening. May we spend our days getting covered in wood chips for many years to come.

Sixty Grit said...

Knob on the lid, I meant to write.