As the Wood Turns: Volunteers Teach Leo A Palmiter and Elinor Lincoln Hickey Students the Art of Woodturning
Ten years ago, Ted Young decided he needed a hobby after he retired.
He decided to take a class in woodturning – a type of woodworking where pieces of wood are turned on a piece of equipment called a lathe, and the wood is shaped using various tools into a number of different objects, such as bowls, pens, and vases.
One class turned into more classes, and now Young says woodturning is his major activity. “Before I retired I was an engineer designing medical devices, and so I’ve got those creative juices that I have to continue to let out,” he explains.
Then seven years ago, Young found the Nor-Cal Woodturners, Inc. – a club of currently 128 woodturning enthusiasts in the Sacramento area that meets in the Arden area – and found not only a group of like-minded individuals, but also an opportunity to give back by volunteering to teach local kids a new skill.
About two year ago, Young found himself wanted to do something for the community. With the support of the Sacramento County Board of Education, in July 2011 Young launched a one-month summer program that since has turned into a weekly elective class at both Leo A Palmiter High School and Elinor Lincoln Hickey Junior/Senior High School.
Now in its second year, Young says the two-hour classes are held every Friday. About five to seven students from Hickey come in the morning, and the same amount from Palmiter come in the afternoon. Young adds the classes are so popular with the students, there is normally a waiting list to attend the classes.
Lauren Roth, principal of Leo A. Palmiter High School, says her students are enjoy the woodturning class as they are very interested in working with their hands and producing a product. “On Monday they talk about what they’re going to make on Friday – they’re very enthusiastic about this class,” she adds.
Young says he has about 35 members of Nor-Cal Woodturners that volunteer with him through the program, allowing the students to work on a project one-on-one with a volunteer woodturner coach. “We try and do projects that they can finish in one session because they just love to leave with their finished object that they made that they can take home and show their family and friends,” he adds.
And some objects the students make – such as wooden pens and bowls – are also sold at Palmiter’s Farmers Market, held every Thursday, Roth says. “They’re beautifully done – I have to say our students are getting better and better at it,” she adds.
In addition to volunteers, Young has also received donations from his fellow club members. After starting his program out with four lathes and a small amount of tools, through donations he now has lathes and “all the tools that we need.”
Young also recently received a grant from his group’s national organization, which he is using to purchase safety equipment and kits the students can use to make wooden pens.
Bringing a Passion
Through learning woodturning, Young says it gives students a chance to learn by using their hands, and it teaches them patience. “It is a process that you have to have patience to do it,” he says.
Roth agrees, and says learning process is the most important thing. “I think today our students tend to want to have things right away,” she explains. “They have to learn that there’s a process in learning and advancing in a profession and in a field.”
Additionally, Roth says the woodturning class also gives students the opportunity to apply math concepts, learn how to work as a team, and learn safety on the job. Plus the class has helped motivate students to come to class as they need to have a positive attendance of 85 percent or better to attend the class each week.
Overall, Roth says the Nor-Cal Woodturners are “wonderful” as they bring a passion for woodworking to the students. “I think it’s just a great mentoring program as well as learning the craft, and it’s just excellent,” she says. “I’m just so grateful that they’re able to come to our school every week.”
Bowls & Trees
The Young Training Program is not the only way the Nor-Cal Woodturners give back to the community.
According to President Chris Smith, for the past few years the club’s members have been donating bowls to the Empty Bowls fundraiser for the River City Food Bank. Attendees to the fundraiser can select a handmade bowl made by a local student or artist to take home.
“It’s a way for us to help support the local food bank and their fundraiser and give back to the community,” he says.
Young says Nor-Cal Woodturners donated over 100 bowls to the 2012 Empty Bowls.
According to Eileen Thomas, executive director of River City Food Bank, the wooden bowls donated by the Nor-Cal Woodturners are “beautiful” and “classy,” and bring diversity from the large amount of ceramic bowls normally available at the event.
“We want to make sure that we have something for everybody, so we’re just thrilled that they’re doing that,” she says. “I’m just very grateful for their artistic ability and the fact that they share it with all of the community through this event.”
And Smith says the Nor-Cal Woodturners is active with the Sacramento Tree Foundation’s Urban Wood Rescue Program, where the group works with the foundation to keep some of the trees the city cuts down out of landfills by distributing the logs to club members who turn “firewood into art.”
“This is a hobby that if you had to buy all the wood you get can be very expensive, so for us if we can get free wood, that’s great, and it’s basically a win-win (as) the city gets to keep the stuff out of the landfills,” Smith explains.
Plus Smith says members pay the Sacramento Tree Foundation back for the wood either through monetary donations or by donating a woodturning to the foundation.
Interested in learning more about woodturning?
Smith says come to a meeting and don’t be afraid to ask for help, as the group offers a number of ways to learn from demonstrations at their monthly meetings, to a Mentor Program that members can use to upgrade their skills or learn a brand new technique.
“Our goal is to expand the knowledge of wood turning out there to people who haven’t seen it or haven’t experienced what wood turning is, and then to have an outlet for people who know a little bit about it (to grow their) skill level,” Smith explains. “What we try to do is give people that little bit of information, that little knowledge that will help them to succeed at creating what they want to make when they’re woodturning.”
The Nor-Cal Woodturners meet on the fourth Tuesday of each month (except in November and December) at Leo A. Palmiter Junior/Senior High School in Sacramento, from 7-9 p.m. For more information, visit norcalwoodturners.org.