|Woodturning Beyond Barriers - Symposium Events|
During the annual AAW international symposiums, all attendees are invited to attend the panel discussion about woodturning beyond barriers. The 2013 Tampa symposium featured four turners with disabilities and how they adapted techniques to overcome them. Read about their stories ...
VIDEO: Turning with Challenges, Lighthouse for the Blind Group tour and pen turning session at 2013 Annual AAW International Symposium, Tampa, FL (RT 7:35)
I have an eye disease known as retinitis pigmentosa (RP). The symptoms are night blindness and tunnel vision. As a child growing up in Columbus OH, I did not know I was going blind. I figured that when you turn the lights off, you should not see. When I heard an airplane in the sky, I would look up and not find the plane. I thought it was just me. At the age of 27, I stopped driving.
I began woodturning when my wife and I visited a local woodworking store and I asked her to describe some of the tools. She mentioned that there was a bunch of lathes. I spent some time with the owner, trying out woodturning. I purchased a small General maxi-lathe with some tools and a sharpener. From there, I started turning pens.
After turning pens for a while, I wanted to progress to something else, like a bowl. I could not find anyone who was willing to show me how to turn a bowl. I asked my wife to describe the video instruction tapes I obtained from the local library. This did not work out at all - I do not recommend trying this for anyone who wants to stay married. But with support from the local Central Ohio Woodturners chapter, a friend in upstate New York was willing to show me how to turn a bowl, so I visited my friend and we spent the day turning that bowl. It was beautiful, at least to me.
As I started to turn, I found out quickly that sharpening my tools is difficult. A person who can see will look at the sparks coming over the bevel to know that they're at the edge and are sharpening. For me this is not possible. I could sharpen only scrapers at first. I discovered the Tormek system with its touch-and-turn template and jigs. I ordered my system and spent the afternoon sharpening my tools. I was able to sharpen my tools to a razor edge every time. It’s a great system for me.
Another challenge was getting assistance from other turners. I tried to take lessons, but the local store did not want to accept me into their classes. I made several arrangements with local turners for lessons and they all fell through. Then the local AAW Central Ohio Woodturners chapter suggested I obtain a grant from the AAW to learn how to turn from one of the professionals. With their help, I received a grant and spent two days with Bob Rosand at his shop in Pennsylvania.
Next Steps - Recently I have worked with the AAW on the Accessible Lathe program to assist turners with the adaptations for working with blind turners. I would like to continue promoting and working with turners with challenges. I also would like to continue with my motivational speaking. Between my turning and public presentations, I expect to give back to those who have helped me on my journey.
Growing up on a cash crop farm in upstate New York, I had the winters free to do woodworking. At the age of 15, my father bought a lathe at an auction for $50. I would use pieces of split firewood to make rolling pins, mallets, and other spindle work.
At the age of 44, I had a construction accident when I fell and broke my back. Not being able to work on construction sites anymore, I brought out my old lathe and started turning again, but this time I was not limited to split firewood and started to turn bowls.
In 2006, I purchased Ray Allen’s book about segmented turning, and it opened a whole new realm to my turning. My first segmented bowl was completed from purpleheart, maple, and holly. It looked like a dog dish but, boy, was I proud!
In 2007, I joined the Treasure Coast Woodturning Guild. Since then, I have become a member of the AAW, the Segmented Woodturners chapter, the IWCS, and the Space Coast Woodturning Club.
I have encountered a number of obstacles along the way. Because I do not have full use of my hips, I do not have a "flowing" use of the body. So I have to work in small sections 1" to 2" at a time and then blend the areas. In addition, I am not able to lean over the lathe, so I have to do more reaching than a standing person does. I found that all equipment was too high, so I shortened everything and put wheels on all the woodworking machines so I could move them.
From a sitting position, I am restricted in the size and shape of wood I can pick up to put on the lathe, so I turn smaller pieces or ask others to put the wood on the lathe for me. Another problem is that, if a piece of wood comes off the lathe, I cannot get out of the way as fast as someone standing. So I work more to the side.
Although I have given a few private lessons to beginner woodturners, in the future I hope to do much more teaching. I want to give hope and skill to all who want to learn from me. I also want to work more with mixed media, such as steel and wood in the same project.
Three years after a motorcycle accident that left me paralyzed, my dad brought home a Delta/Rockwell floor lathe that he had purchased at a Polk County School Board auction, and I started turning. I began by playing around and found that I really liked woodturning, although at the time I really did not understand how to turn. From the time the gouge touched the wood, I was hooked!
As a seated turner, I have had to overcome a number of obstacles. For starters, I am at a different height than the average turner. Although most of the basics are the same, the height at a lathe for standing turners is not suitable for a seated turner. Sitting in a chair, I had to bring the spindle down to my height. Also, being a bowl turner, I do a lot of shear scraping on the outside of my bowls. The average 16" handle was too long and hit either my wheelchair or my body while making the cut. So I took a handle and cut it down to 12". That allowed me to swing the handle in front of my body to complete the cuts.
Another problem is getting wood. I can't lift logs, so I depend on friends to help me acquire wood. Sometimes I am able to lug logs into my van that has a lowered floor. Fortunately, woodturners are very helpful bunch, and I am grateful for my many turning friends who obtain wood for me.
My plans for the future include teaching woodturning to both able-bodied turners, which I am starting to do now, and to disabled turners. The basic turning skills are the same. I want to become a demonstrator at state and national symposiums. I have fun demonstrating. It was great to demonstrate at the 2013 AAW international symposium in Tampa FL, for Robust Tools LLC. I demonstrated the new Robust Independence full-size sit-down lathe. I enjoy showing people that, even though I (along with other people) am in a wheelchair, we all love woodturning and we want to get the word out about disabled or sit-down turning.
In 2010, I attended the AAW’s symposium in Hartford CT with Allen Miller, who guided me through the Instant Gallery. But unfortunately all the signs said "do not touch." While Allen was attempting to describe the pieces to me, Malcolm Zander approached me with a piece to touch. It was so smooth and had such delicate curves. I was so inspired that I decided at that point that I wanted to learn to turn.
Personally it was difficult to get started turning. It was an area relatively uncharted by most. I was fortunate to get two instructors who were instrumental in helping me learn to turn - Kurt Hertzog and Barry Gross.I spoke with Kurt and Barry, who had upcoming classes at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, and asked if they would consider teaching a blind girl who had limited use of her hands because of a stroke and lupus that had led to severe arthritis. Both said yes. That was one hurdle down. The next was Arrowmont. After a series of meetings, I was the first blind student accepted into the Arrowmont woodturning program. Thank you to Allen Miller, Kurt Hertzog, Barry Gross, and Arrowmont for taking a chance on me.
On Saturday, June 29, 2013, I was a moderator for Turning with Challenges - the first panel presentation for the disabled at an AAW symposium. I think that this panel, along with the accompanying Lighthouse for the Blind presentation, the demonstrations at the Robust lathe booth in the tradeshow, and the Accessible Lathe Program have all opened a door for the disabled. These were very successful events, and now the Tampa chapter of the Lighthouse for the Blind is developing the first program for woodturning for the visually impaired. We are currently working with private donors and corporate sponsorship to get the program started.
Woodturning has opened a new world for me, and I donate all of my pens to charity. My current goals are to continue turning and help others who are disabled to experience the world of woodturning. I hope to expand the Lighthouse program to other chapters throughout the country. With instructors developed through the Accessible Lathe Program, I hope this will become a reality. I also would like to see a similar program started with various veterans’ organizations.
My goals are big but definitely achievable as long as there are others who would like to see the world of woodturning opened to people with challenges.
The gratification I received from the AAW symposium is priceless. Thank you, AAW, for giving me a purpose greater than myself. Thank you Kurt Hertzog, Malcolm Zander, and the AAW committee for believing there is a need for greater disability awareness.
There are many forms of disability, some more severe than others, but with encouragement and patience, there is nothing that cannot be overcome! A special thank you to Malcolm Zander who presented me with the piece I first handled at the 2010 symposium. It is one of the most special gifts I have ever received. It was my pleasure to work with the other members of the panel, Dennis DeVendra, Tony George, and Adam Hood, because they all inspire me to become the best I can. I have taken away with me a new family, the AAW family. What a lucky girl I am.