A day in the shed

When an opportunity come up to have a day receiving free instruction and demonstrations from one of Australia’s master woodturners, you don’t give it a pass. Today was a bit different, in that there was more than just Robbo presenting. (More on that shortly).

The last time I was in Robbo’s Workshop (Robbo’s Play Pen in his terms) was about 5 or 6 years ago, and I still remember much of what I picked up from that session, so as I sit here ready for the day to start, the anticipation can be felt around the room. A bunch of woodworkers (woodturners, primarily from the Australian Woodworking Forums) are here, each camped out on their portable chairs, obligatary morning brews in hand. At the front are a bunch of chucks, some common, some pretty unique, or old and examples of chucks no longer in common use.


Around the room, other than the 20 or so who have made the trip are some other sights you’d not see in the average woodwork shop (and this is a WORKshop, not just a backyard shed). Not one or two lathes, but 7, and two had various lengths of tree trunks mounted. One of those is a lathe with a bed over 12 m in length. No, not a typo. A 12 metre lathe!




And yes, that is a real tree trunk mounted at one end. The lathe can turn entire flagpoles, and is used for many commercial jobs. When Robbo gets going, he sometimes has a couple of blokes with shovels to gather up the shavings while he is turning, just to keep up with the waste he can generate! It is from him that I learned to enjoy high speed turning (roughing down sometimes up to 2000 RPM with a serious roughing gouge – 1 1/2″).

To stop whipping of the longest jobs (even tree trunks can exhibit it when turning between centres over that length), he has a custom-made steady. Normal units need not apply. Even typical wheels need not- by the end of a day turning, more average wheels have pretty much disintegrated. The current wheel of choice are those used in bowling alleys, in the ball return. If I’d thought of it at the time, the wheels used in escalators are also pretty durable.


Yes, the chain block is obligatory.




Before the real presentations started, there was one a single, obligatory word of advice and in Robbo’s immortal words:

“If you want to be hung from the gum tree out the front, put the coffee spoon in the sugar”


So the topic of the day was workholding on the lathe. We heard (briefly) about the history, and the simple fact that for the oldest machining method in woodworking, there is nothing new under the sun. Not until about 1980 when a certain New Zealand company produced the scroll chuck (and even then that was an adaption of an old chuck). Still, that revolutionised workholding.

For a revolutionising company, Teknatool sure suffered a lot of bagging for the rest of the day. It might have been because it is a New Zealand company, and that makes it typically fair game, but more likely because like so many others, when production was shifted offshore to China, quality ha slipped, and others have overtaken (specifically VicMarc). I haven’t had an opportunity to try their products, so can’t speak on that- all my chucks and jaws are Teknatool (Nova). Goes with my shockingly good Nova DVR (yes, still shocking, but I can’t be bothered trying to cart my 200+kg lathe back to Carbatec, nor do I want to take it apart and having it sit around for months waiting for a part that may or may not fix the problem anyway.)

Speaking of Carbatec, you could have been mistaken to think they were a Kiwi company as well if you know what I mean (not during the proceedings, but amongst some of the attendees during the breaks).

Back to the topic at hand




There were chucks, chucks, and more chucks, including eccentric, modified, and huge.


And cup chucks, but not your everyday kind. Remember what I said about treetrunks?! Between $800 and $1000 each. They also make a great gong for getting the room’s attention when hit with a hammer!

The more typical size are used for production between centres work


We were then taken through just how easy it is to make use of vacuum chucks – something I have been interested in knowing about for a while now. And surprisingly easy and cheap.



From that, we moved onto jam chucking, hot glue gun, and electrical tape.

These demos were about precision, and the work that the next turner could produce significantly justified how precise the mounting sometimes needs to be. (Ken Wraight)

From the tiniest work – and I’m talking timy details, tiny mortice and tenon joints 1mm diameter, through to some quite impressive bowls, still a whole 4mm thick ( and often 1mm thick bowls).




Discussions about securing reverse-mounting a natural-edge bowl using a jam chuck with a hot glue reinforcement.


And finally some of his other work, but I’ll leave the photos to tell the story







Inspiring? Certainly once you get past the mindblowing precision and detail of these stunning pieces.

So that was the day. Pretty interesting stuff eh 🙂

3 Responses

  1. Stu it was good day for all.
    A great meet and greet and most did learn a few things on the way.

  2. […] A day in the shed (stusshed.com) Crafts, lathe, wood, wood bowls, Woodturning, woodworking […]

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