Feature Mondays - In the Workshop with Greg Teter archive

Monday 7 March 2016

We go into the workshop with Greg Teter

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Woodturner Greg Teter, from Pennsylvania, has been turning for almost 20 years now, following in his father’s footsteps, who also did a little woodworking.

How, why and when did you start turning?

I started turning almost 20 years ago, shortly after I saw some beautiful turned pieces. I knew then that I wanted to do that too!

What and who have been the greatest influences in your work?

I know my father did a little woodworking and I have always been pretty handy with tools, so I guess I’m a chip off the old block. The immense variety of trees, coupled with my enjoying climbing them and splitting firewood for mum in the winter, could have been influential as well. All that being said, I like to share my God-given talents with everyone

If you were to offer one sage piece of advice to someone what would it be?

If you are interested in turning get a well-made, variable speed lathe and find an experienced woodturner who is enthusiastic about his craft

What music and which book are you currently into?

When I am not turning I enjoy reading all genres of literature. I recently read Don Quixote, Harvey Green’s book Wood – a fascinating subject – and Guns, Germs, and Steel – any of which I would recommend. Did you know that it took 40-60 acres of trees to build just one British wooden warship? To further tie me to the past, I usually listen to classical music while reading, but if I have to sit at the computer I frequently listen to classic rock circa 1965-75

What has been your greatest challenge?

What I find hardest is waiting for my shop to heat up. Actually, I had a blind student in 2014, who had been turning since 1996 and learned to turn after he became blind! He wanted to learn how to turn a hollow form. I scrutinised some of his work and decided ‘yeah, why not’. After improving his outside skills we drilled a 45mm hole using a Forstner bit to the correct depth. As with his hands-on approach to the outside he wanted to reach inside to guide his hollowing tool. I explained the greater danger telling him I did not ‘look’ in I just had to know where the tool was and he said: “Ok, sometimes I still bend over to look in one of the bowls and remember, that’s right, I’m blind.” We both had a laugh. He was an amazing guy and nearly finished the madrone hollow form in the time allotted

Name one thing on your turning ‘to do’ list

Maybe someday I will do some more complex segmented pieces as I have only done so using 60 or less pieces to this point, but I still have one of the finest yew (Taxus baccata) stump collections – hundreds – and I have another 50 or more different woods at any given time in my shop, so I usually take one that catches my eye and make what I may from it

Tell us about the piece you are currently working on.

I just finished a spalted poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) piece which I inlayed with turquoise and turned a macassar ebony (Diospyros celebica) and turquoise finial for the top. Now, I am cranking out small bud vases for an outdoor art and garden show

What is the one piece of equipment or tool you would not be without and why?

Sharp tools, sharp tools is what I preach to my students and nothing does a better job than my Tormek. The newest version is supposed to be even better. I have it on my wish list

If you could change one thing what would it be and why?

There are a handful of pieces I made that my wife told me I couldn’t sell, I wish I had listened to her. She has them all for a little while and enjoys the hollow forms as much as I do

If you could have one piece of equipment, what would it be and why?

The photo of me in the shop has me holding my favourite tool – a Sorby 13mm spindle gouge. You may also notice my tools in a row on the wall. I just drilled various size holes in the piece of lumber and screwed it to the wall. Keeping the moisture out may also be done by dropping those silica packages you get in various things for that very same purpose

HOMEMADE JIG

One of the ways to enhance small, less figured or interesting turned pieces is to ‘burn in’ lines. I have done this on all kinds of pens and handles as well as bowls and vases. One concern with the use of a wire to do this is the inherent danger of slippage coupled with the possible tangling. To eliminate this I begin with marking lines or stripes with a minute groove made with a skew chisel. I follow this by using a sharpened ‘popsicle’ stick or other small, hard wood similarly sized and shaped with a knife edge putting it in the pre-made groove until it smokes. Resharpen as needed.

LIKES AND DISLIKES

Likes

1. Hard woods are best, because I find them easier to finish and I have turned some of the hardest, including; American osage orange (Maclura pomifera), lignum vitae (Guaiacum officinale), snakewood (Brosimum guianense), camelthorn (Vachellia erioloba), African blackwood (Dalbergia melanoxylon) and cebil (Anadenanthera colubrina) to name a few

2. I like to find woods I have not turned, to add to an extensive list well over 80 different woods

3. I like my woods seasoned, so I can turn finished products

Dislikes

1. I dislike repetition, although I have made several tables and turned the legs. Of all the scores of Christmas ornaments I have made, no two were exactly alike

2. I am not fond of suggestions as to what I could do to make money turning. I like making unique objects

HANDY HINTS

1. I reuse all my sandpaper from a belt sander in small strips to do beads and coves

2. When there are hairline cracks I drip thin CA glue in, followed by rubbing in fine sawdust, recently collected from the piece I am ‘helping’ so the colour match is close

3. If I am turning a fragile piece I often heavily tape completely around it to prevent flyaway, as I had to do with the sassafrass (Sassafras officinale) and turquoise piece. Patience is a good thing when working on delicate pieces

4. Whenever I leave a piece for any length of time I always check for looseness, however it is mounted. You can’t be too safe. I have been fortunate, thank God, that the few that have come apart were small. If I have any doubts about the structural integrity of a piece I try to stand off to the right helping to minimise risk

5. One of the most useful – and cheapest – materials I inlay with is the brass filings I gather from any store that makes keys. I filter the filings using an old stocking to get the fine powder, being extremely careful not to breathe any of the dust and equally careful handling it as the tiny pieces make painful splinters. In many of my turnings, cracks, gaps and other holes in the wood can be enhanced by packing in the powder and dripping thin CA glue on top. The reaction is instantaneous and with a wisp of vapour – don’t breathe that either – hardens to an easily sand-able consistency. A little bit of trial and error on my part getting the right method for each of the different inlay materials.


Woodworkers Institute

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