From Bowls to Birdhouses: Improving Your Skills with Woodturning Classes

Many people are familiar with the idea of woodworking. The word, “woodworking” might conjure up images of 2x4s, saws, hammers, and nails. With such tools, a craftsman can make large, sturdy pieces of furniture, shelves, stairways, and more. But there are many more intricate things that can be made with wood, such as boxes, bowls, toys, ornaments, etc. These more delicate pieces can be made through a variety of methods, but the process of woodturning is one that can be used to create numerous wooden projects. Learning these skills is what woodturning classes are for.

According to the American Association of Woodturners (AAW), “Woodturning is the craft of using the wood lathe with hand-held tools to cut a shape that is symmetrical around an axis of rotation.” This process is similar to the use of a wheel to create pottery. And, says the AAW, the number of things a woodworker can make with woodturning is “limited only by the imagination of the artist or craftsperson.”

So, What Can I Make with Woodturning?

Getting Started

The possibilities are endless! But there are some projects that people often start with.

  • Bowls are one of the first woodturning projects people usually attempt. According to Bob Vila’s Home Advice, this is because “you can make them as simple or complex as you like.” Bowls can be made large or small, and in order to qualify as “bowls,” they only have to adhere to the general idea of being a hollowed-out container. The rest of the design is up to you!
  • Another good project for beginners is a wooden bangle bracelet. Wooden bangles are large enough to help woodturners get their bearings when practicing with the lathe. Often worn as chunky accent pieces, they offer another item on which to practice design. Bonus: they sell well at craft shows!
woodturning bowl tools

Intermediate

Once a craftsperson has some experience under their belt, the world of woodturning opens up.

  • If you like the idea of making practical items for the kitchen, spoons and plates are projects that can help you increase your woodturning skills. Because plates are larger and thinner than bowls, they require more precision, as do spoons. Start with a large stirring spoon and work your way into making soup spoons or even measuring spoons. Other possibilities for practical household items include things like rolling pins, mortar and pestles, vases, and candle holders.
  • There are intermediate options for jewelry as well. Wooden rings use the same concepts as wooden bracelets on a much smaller scale. Wooden beads are also a good place to practice making symmetrical items of different shapes and sizes.
  • Wooden boxes are another fun and practical item to make with woodturning. Wooden boxes can be square or round, can come with lids or without, and can be engraved or inlaid to enhance their natural appearance. Wooden boxes are a favorite for personal gift items if you are looking to impress your friends and family members.

Advanced

The world is truly your oyster when one becomes an advanced woodturner! If you can dream it, it can be made with woodturning. Here are a few unique projects to consider:

  • Wooden Christmas ornaments. There are so many shapes and sizes for Christmas ornaments that you could make dozens without repeating the same pattern. Woodturners could practice making Christmas trees, snowmen, bells, or even pierced or hollowed ornaments. Make them as intricate or simple as you would like.
  • Baby items are another category of objects an enterprising woodturner might consider. Wooden rattles and teethers are perfect for small infants, while wooden tops and toys are sure to be a hit with children toddler-aged and older. Like Christmas ornaments, these items have the possibility of being incredibly intricate or surprisingly simple.
  • Decorative door stops or door handles, spindles for chair or table legs, birdhouses, pens and pencils, drumsticks, and puzzles are all projects for an advanced woodturner. Think outside the box to find projects that are unique to you.

 

The question now is: how does one get from creating beginner bowls to advanced birdhouses?

How to Find Woodturning Classes Near Me

One of the best ways to increase one’s knowledge of a craft is to attend classes, whether online or in person. There are many different opportunities to attend classes here in Minnesota, but even if you are not local, there are many options to consider.

In-person Classes: Local (and National) Options

Minnesota Woodworkers Guild

The first local place to look for woodworking or woodturning classes is the Minnesota Woodworkers Guild. The guild exists to connect woodworkers and promote high standards in the craft of woodworking, but also to “educate ourselves and the public about woodworking.” To this end, the Minnesota Woodworkers Guild hosts many classes and presentations that wood crafters everywhere will want to take advantage of.

For example, the guild hosts monthly meetings or presentations from March through June, as well as a Woodworkers Expo in October. You can find their list of upcoming local presentations in their calendar. They also generously house a list of vendors and individuals associated with the guild who host their own presentations.

These presentations range from beginner classes hosted by national chains like Rocker, which are geared toward first-time wood crafters creating bowls, coasters, cutting boards, and more, to weekend retreats, like the ones hosted by Mark Laub, where participants learn about more advanced techniques like “marquetry and traditional inlay, micro-mosaics, and art glass.”

In addition to local events promoted by the Minnesota Woodworkers Guild and guild members, there are national events listed as well. Some of these presentations are on-site in different cities throughout the United States; for instance, the American School of French Marquetry offers week-long programs in San Diego, California, and the Krenov School offers a 9-month program in cabinet and furniture making, as well as shorter summer workshops, in Fort Bragg, California. The Minnesota Woodworkers Guild can help you find an on-ground class, no matter your skill level, specific interests in woodworking, or ability to travel.

Woodturning classes and tutorials woodworking

Minnesota Woodturners Association—Member of AAW

The Minnesota Woodturners Association (MWA) is another local organization that offers meetings, classes, and other opportunities to improve one’s woodworking craft. As a local chapter of the American Association of Woodworkers, the goal of the MWA is two-fold; first, they want to promote “understanding and appreciation of woodturning as a craft and art form” and second, they endeavor to “educate the general public and MWA members in the art and techniques of woodturning.”

Like the Minnesota Woodworkers Guild, the Minnesota Woodturners Association offers monthly meetings. These demonstration meetings are for members only; however, the Association “welcome[s] interested guests who are considering joining, or members of affiliated groups, to visit our meetings a time or two prior to joining.” This is good news for those who like to see what they are getting before they commit. Attend a meeting or two and see if this is the kind of instruction you are looking for!

In addition to monthly demonstration meetings, the MWA also hosts weekly classes on Saturday mornings. Most of these classes are open to the public, so you do not need to be a member to participate. These classes range in topic from bowl turning to box-making to the use of certain tools.

Hunter Tool Systems’ own Mike Hunter will be providing a workshop on using Carbide Tools on Saturday, April 13, 2024. This class is meant for people of all skill levels to learn more about how to get started on a project, how to configure roughing cuts, and more!

Similar to the Minnesota Woodworkers Guild, the Minnesota Woodturners Association lists several resources on their websites that might be useful for craftspeople. Some of these resources are informational, but others are local vendors, shops, or lumber suppliers. Several of these local vendors also host their own demonstrations or classes, so it would be worthwhile to examine the list to see if any of them appeal to you.

The American Association of Woodworkers

The American Association of Woodworkers (AAW) is a nation-wide organization that is “dedicated to advancing the art and craft of woodturning worldwide through education.” Their organization boasts “more than 16,000 members and over 365 local chapters globally,” which makes it an extremely valuable resource for those who are looking to grow their woodworking or woodturning skills.

One of the major in-person events hosted by the AAW is the International Woodturning Symposium. This symposium is one of the largest annual woodturning events worldwide. It is held in “different region of the country each year,” and this year’s will be held in Portland, Oregon, on May 23-26, 2024. Included in the symposium are more than 80 “live demonstrations, presentations, and panel discussions.” The demonstrations this year feature many master craftsmen and women, and such topics as calabash bowls, identical off-center spoons, and metal filigree inlay.

Central Minnesota Woodworker’s Association

One other local place to look for woodworking and woodturning classes is the Central Minnesota Woodworker’s Association (CMWA). The CMWA meets monthly to discuss woodworking techniques, share information, and provide demonstrations. Meetings are held the 3rd Wednesday of each month at 7:00pm in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

In addition to monthly meetings, the CMWA also hosts Open Shop nights twice a month where wood crafters can come and use the many tools offered in the woodshop, from bandsaws to planers to sanders.

No matter what your interest in woodworking or woodturning is, there are in-person classes meant just for you!

Online/Remote Options

For those who aren’t local, and even for those who are, online classes and videos are great options. Watching from the comfort of your own home or woodshop means that you can work on your own projects as you watch. Viewing videos also means that you can pause or go back to a subject that you might want to explore in more detail.

  • The Minnesota Woodworkers Guild’s class list also includes online options. Places like the Kezurou-Kai school offers online classes via Zoom, and the Northwest Woodworking Studio offers a podcast with Master Craftsman Gary Rogowski. Additionally, the Minnesota Woodworkers Guild website includes a link to past classes and recordings, which can be accessed on their website. And if you are local but enjoy the ability to watch classes from home, the Minnesota Woodworkers Guild offers a sizable library of instructional DVDs, which are available to its members.
  • The Minnesota Woodturner’s Association Blog also holds a list of archived videos that are perfect for those that are looking for remote options to attend woodturning classes. While some of the videos are accessible by members only, there are many more that are available to the public. The MWA’s backlist houses videos on a large range of topics, from engraving baby rattles to creating Danish pastry platters. The archive stretches back ten years, housing a wealth of information for those who are searching for -new ways to improve their woodturning skills.
  • Another organization that offers online or video options for classes is the American Association of Woodworkers. The AAW’s Exchange page offers links to remote demonstrations that are “presented independently by AAW member demonstrators.” Many of these demonstrations are free and open to the public. Some of these demonstrations center around a common topic or project, while others are formatted as question-and-answer sessions. The AAW also hosts virtual events, and they sponsor some specific groups, like the Women in Turning (WIT) group, which hosts its own events, and a Turners Without Borders (TWB) group, which hosts eventos en Espanol.
  • One last option to explore when looking for online or remote options for woodturning instruction is the Hunter Tool System’s YouTube channel! We currently have some helpful guides for safety and several tutorials on creating pixie fairy bowls and hollowing ornaments. Be on the lookout for more content coming soon!

Key Takeaways

  • Woodturning is a versatile craft. Woodturning goes beyond traditional woodworking, offering opportunities to create intricate and delicate pieces using a lathe and hand-held tools.
  • The range of projects you can undertake with woodturning is limited only by your imagination. From bowls and bracelets to Christmas ornaments and baby items, there’s something for every skill level and interest.
  • Attending classes, workshops, and demonstrations, whether in-person or online, is crucial for honing woodturning skills and expanding knowledge. Local organizations like woodworking guilds and associations, as well as national groups like the American Association of Woodworkers, offer valuable resources and opportunities for learning.
  • Woodturning is a craft that rewards lifelong learning and experimentation. Embrace the journey of improvement and discovery, and don’t be afraid to push the boundaries of your skills and creativity.

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