I've enjoyed working with wood in one way or another for many decades... probably starting pre-teen-aged when I ruined a very nice mahogany sailboat hull to try to put a small glow-plug engine in it to turn it into a power boat. I used a screwdriver as a chisel and a hammer for power. I never got the propeller shaft angle right, so with the engine running, the bow just plunged underwater and killed the engine.
Later, continuing my fascination with wood, I built model airplanes from kits and even built one of my own design (another marginal failure in terms of flying, this time. But it was pretty.)
Skills got better, models got bigger, as did the engines. I even tried to make a sort of "air boat" one winter to see if it would skim on top of snow. Didn't. No concept of outriggers or directional stability. But I still liked wood.
Wood shop in middle school taught me that wood could actually be made smooth and nice, but somehow it was never smooth enough for the shop teacher. Very discouraging.
Marriage and our first house provided some room for a few woodworking power tools, but mostly for home-repair "carpentry." Good enough for repairs, but not much to look at. Fortunately, most creations were out of sight of visitors. One expert did teach me how to do sweat soldering, though, and I did very well with that. Saved a lot on plumbing bills and never had a leaky solder joint after that.
I managed to set up a small work shop in my second house, in California. A radial arm saw taught me how kickback could make a projectile out of a small scrap of wood. Fortunately, it went sideways, through a particle-board before putting a dent in the sheet-rock wall behind it, and not into me. I almost learned the difference between ripping and crosscutting from that.
My early "wood works," a several decades ago, were straight-line cutting and fair jobs of hand sanding... the early trivets and serving trays I've pictured on another page. I love the fragrance of a wine cork when it's cut in half before being glued down to make a lazy susan or tray, and after some years, I'd collected literally thousands of corks for those projects. When they became gifts for friends and neighbors, they were appreciated and used, both for serving and for kitchen decoration. And bulletin boards, when not on the table.
Finally, another house, this time in North Carolina, and nearly enough space to create and outfit a proper shop. My contractor-friend only moved about 120 wheelbarrows-full of NC clay from the floor of the crawl space under one corner of the house to make room for it. I then embarked on the inherently-expensive and long journey of outfitting it with proper tools.
Like most guys, Home Depot, Lowe's and Sears' tool departments put me in the proverbial "kid in the candy store" frame of mind, so my collection grew over the years.
Some years later I discovered that a few early purchases were hardly ever used ... or never used ... and were mostly just taking up space, so I sold some off. Bless you, Craig's List!
A few years later I bought a midi-lathe: one that would fit on a bench-top. I had plans for it. Potential, but no kinetic. That changed one day a friend asked to use the lathe to turn a part to repair a small stool. We literally opened the box to let some tools and parts see the light of day for the first time, and a bit later I took my first tentative cuts at a spinning piece of wood. Amazingly enough, the results were surprisingly good! Surprising, of course, because the answer to the inevitable question, "How long have you been turning?," had one answer: I looked at my watch...
About a year later I realized that I really should take some kind of course in how to REALLY do this stuff. Woodcraft on Glenwood Avenue nearby had just what I needed. The first class: How to Sharpen Your Tools. (note: plural...) Resharpening turning tools is a necessary part of the process, as even silicon carbide-tipped cutting tools wear down and get dull after a few miles or more of wood go past their cutting edges. I did ok in that class.
The next class was on actual turning (!), where we received blocks of wood and instructions on how to turn the square parts into round and actually turn them into something useful... like a wooden mallet (Larger version here.) When several of the plastic handles on my drill press broke, I turned wooden replacements.
The third class was on "finishing," which creates the difference between a dull, rough piece of wood and a shiny, richly colored or stained piece of wood.
Finishing wood involves about a few thousand or million variables to play with, so I'm not great at that yet, but basic polishing and waxing of turned pieces can create some really beautiful surfaces, and since I bought the Beall System for the lathe, the things I've turned and/or polished have moved from "pretty nice" to the occasional "Oh, wow!" It "turned out" that the creative side of me which had been looking for an outlet like this for many decades finally found it. Like young Dilbert, I actually had a "knack" for this! And enjoyed it, too. Great combination.
Now what? Where and How to "start"? Answer: Practice!
Prunings from some trees cut down in my back yard provided the raw materials for turning small items with which I could gain more experience with the lathe and the tools. Some tools are easy to control; some are more difficult. I've found some favorites and found some that still need a lot more practice before I can lower the number of "catches" when I turn. Catches usually create an ugly gouge in the work piece and unless you can turn more wood out of the gouge, the work piece becomes firewood or, in my case, forest floor covering to return to the earth as a sort of "mulch."
Then, my next-door neighbor announced that he would be dropping a bunch of trees in his back yard in order to enlarge the open space and lawn as a playground for his kids. I asked if he'd mind if I could have some of the downed wood to continue my learning. He agreed and chain-sawing his logs and hauling them over to my house provided many hours of aerobic exercise and long naps over the past year.
Plus some other neighbors' help as they pruned and removed trees and limbs and lined up the cuttings along their curb for the weekly local "yard waste pickups." All I had to do was see some nice-sized wood and load it into the back of my car and bring it home. Just out of curiosity, I brought (stole) a couple of pieces of firewood off the wood piles at Hummingbird Pond and brought them home. Just two or three. Not enough to impact the winter comfort of any guests there, I hope.
Results were very nice, (small image and large image, for example) as the wood appeared to be maple with some light spalting inside and attractive color and grain.
Now, as 2011 rolls to a close, the turning fun has shown up as many really beautiful wine-bottle stoppers and candle holders. Some were made with beautiful or exotic or imported species of wood.
I've reached the stage of my life, having just turned 66 this year, when I have discovered that "things" or toys or even books or clothing are less interesting and useful to me as "gifts." If anyone wants to "gift me" with something, I'd much rather have them look at the Wish Lists linked from my web page and "send wood"...
Maybe I should add this to my Wood bLOG page, too...?