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Colin's Corner

Nov 2014

The “M” Factor in Woodturning

Colin Mackenzie

This article appeared in the 2014 November issue of Chips & Chatter.

Are you suffering from “M” Factor Disease (MFD)? 

You won’t find this disease in a medical textbook. The cure is almost impossible.

I was unaware of this disease until I became a woodturner. After long study I have found that MFD is a common disease among us. My study shows that: if you have any three of the following symptoms you suffer from MFD.

  1. Own more than four chisels in any of the tool categories. 

  2. Own more than 10 how-to-do-it books.

  3. Belong to more than one woodturning club.

  4. Nearly always attend any woodturning demonstration in your area.

  5. Buy the tools the demonstrator has to sell or recommends.

  6. Ask more than two questions at a demonstration.

  7. Find you are running out of space for tools in your shop.

  8. Are a regular at sawdust sessions.

  9. Always keep on hand old AAW editions and never look at them.

  10. Admit to no one how much you spend each year on your hobby.

  11. You feel so embarrassed about number 10 that you have items ordered at Craft Supplies delivered to someone else’s address.

  12. You go to see the same demonstrator more than twice.

  13. You find yourself hiding tools and equipment when you have woodturning visitors.

  14. Your wife thinks all the money you give to charity is going to charity.

  15. There are tools in your shop you have owned for years and never used.

  16. You can’t name all the different cans of finish you own.

Well, that is quite a list but all are symptoms that woodturners have suffered from at one time or another. If you suffer from any six of the symptoms simultaneously you are incurable. 

Don’t worry. Bad as this disease is and even though it is incurable, unlike Ebola, it does NOT cause death or even pain—except to the pocket book.

By now you may be wondering what the “M” in MFD represents. You will be glad to know that it is a factor that isn’t peculiar to woodturners. Just about everyone that aspires to do anything in life suffers from MFD.

The “M” in MFD stands for “MAGIC”. Go into any COSTCO, or Wal-Mart in the Land and you will find shelf after shelf of magic housed in bottles that bring the promise of eternal life. Well, If not eternal life; they seem to promise, at the very least,perfect health until death. Americans may not believe in witch doctors but the evidence indicates they believe in magic.

I think the Richard Raffins of this world are modern-day witch doctors. We have been toiling for years at our hobby but never obtain the skills of the demonstrator. We take copious notes at meetings. We buy the demonstrator’s videos and his tools. We hope his magic signature on the handle will somehow make the tool as sweet in our hands as if Richard himself were lending a hand. Alas, in most hands the magic doesn’t work. We go off to view another demonstrator or adopt another profile for a tool, or another sharpening-system that promises to be the Shangri-La. We are searching everywhere for that Magic Factorwhich, at last will enable us to produce masterpieces with ease. 

There is no cure to MFD.  MFD may be mitigated by the same principles that should guide all aspects of our life. It rests within us. Instead of chasing the will-of-the-wisp we should go back to basics. Learn to walk before we can run. Success in learning a musical instrument is in practicing scales over and over again. It’s no different in woodturning. Master your tools before trying to make the masterpiece demonstrators produce so effortlessly. 

They achieve their masterpieces not because of magic but by dint of learning and overlearning the basics of their tools. This solution to MFD is not new. It is laid out in just about every instruction book for beginners in every discipline from the learning of French to the mastering of mathematics-—overlearn the basics.

After every demonstration I resolve to get back to basics, but nevertheless while I have money I will acquire more tools I don’t need, because despite what I have written I have MFD. My irrational self still believes there IS magic in woodturning and that one day after acquiring a new gismo the woodturning God will smile upon me. 

If you have MFD really, really badly you are now trying to figure out ways to convince the wife you need a new lathe with all its bells and whistles. In even more severe cases: treatment is a new workshop. IDEA! If you throw in a new house you might be lucky.


Colin Mackenzie
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