Colin's Corner

Mar 2013

When Is It Time to Stop Turning?

Colin Mackenzie

This article appeared in the 2013 March issue of Chips & Chatter.

Safety is a recurring topic in American Woodturner, as well as at many local chapter meetings. However, rarely is there a discussion about a point at which a woodturner should gracefully give up his or her gouges. Retiring from woodturning has no set age—some are fortunately able to turn safely into their 90s.


The recent survey of AAW members revealed—to no one’s surprise—that woodturning is largely a hobby of the older population. As it is with driving a vehicle, there comes a time when you should stop woodturning, before an accident happens. When is that time?


Common sense can extend the time before we need put aside our chisels for the last time. Reducing the size of projects may overcome loss of strength. Undertaking less complicated work may compensate for flexibility. The weight and size of tools and chuckscan be reduced. (The size of the lathe is not usually an issue.) The weakening of the senses brings to bear a different set of problems. Decreased vision may be helped by a dedicated set of glasses and brighter light. When deafness sneaks up on a person late in life, a woodturner might not be aware of the absence of warning sounds. Hearing aids are valuable in this situation—wear them.


Many turners take drugs to control chronic health conditions. Frequently these medicines have side effects that may affect alertness and cause unsafe blood pressure. Standing at a lathe may induce periods of low blood pressure, causing falls from fainting—sitting at your lathe may help. Some have suggested having an attendant close by, but in my experience, while this is helpful for a deaf person, the attendant is usually never near enough or strong enough to prevent a fall.


Taking blood thinners can be problematic: Be fully aware of how you should attend to an injury that causes bleeding. Remember, not all bleeding is external. A blow to the body sometimes causes significant bleeding, especially in the abdomen. Internal bleeding is not always evident at first. It is a good rule for any turner taking blood thinners to have someone close by. If this is not possible, consider not turning. The same precautions are recommended for those who suffer from unstable diabetes. A good rule for all woodturners is to let someone know when you are turning alone.


Some people who have had strokes may successfully return to the workshop, but if a stroke has left you unable to legally drive, it may be time to call it quits in the workshop. If your strength, flexibility, and impaired senses don’t allow you to safely enjoy woodturning like you once did, maybe the time has come to consider a safer hobby. Why not pull down some of those extra bowls from the shelf and discover a new passion for surface embellishment? By all means, consider passing on your knowledge and skills to a next generation of woodturners by continuing to attend your local chapter meetings.




— Colin A. Mackenzie, M.D. Mackenzie is a member of Silicon Valley Woodturners in San Jose, California. He took up woodturning after he retired and is still turning at 81, not having yet met his personal STOP sign.


Previously printed in the AAW Newsletter, Vol 3 no. 7

Colin Mackenzie
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