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Colin's Corner

Oct 2011

To Mat or Not to Mat: That is the Question?

Colin Mackenzie

This article appeared in the 2011 October issue of Chips & Chatter.

"To be, or not to be, that is the question:Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer"*

The consequences of the mat or not!

I have noticed in the short time that I have been around woodturners that the conversation often turns to the sort of material that different members use to stand on during their hours of attendance at their lathes. In my experience Woodturners are conservative and opinionated. As long as your doing it my way you’re doing it correctly seems to be a recurrent theme. I realize that I may be treading on some senior feet if I question whether a mat underfoot is needed at all and it fact it may be deleterious to healthy feet. In fact an anti-fatigue mat may in some circum-stances be a fatigue mat.

Myth, like witch doctors in Africa, is just as much part of our every-day-life here and can be just as useless and sometimes even harmful. There are many things that become quickly part of everyday life without good reason I am sure that you have all seen many workers in our hardware stores and other places wearing a special belt with a diagonal strap passing over the shoulder. The belts have no reason in fact or science that they will help or prevent a bad back. The myth seems to have come about by their widespread use by weight lifters. These belts are very different and used for a different reason. It is difficult to know how they came about but it is likely that some manufacturer obtained the ear of a politician who succeeded it getting the government to tell OSHA to embrace the device.

It‘s true that there doesn‘t appear to be any legislation telling us to adopt mats but I suspect some clever witch doctorcame up with the term anti-fatigue and the mats started selling like hot cakes.

Primarily the mat is supposed to help the foot. The foot is made up of 26 bones or 28 if you include the sesamoidbones.Every time the foot moves each of these bones moves in respect of the other bones in the foot. The more the foot moves the more the muscles and the ligaments move. The harder the floor the less the bones, muscles and ligaments of the foot move around. Think of the last time that you went to a sandy beach and spent some time walking or even running on it. Was it harder or easier to walk or run on such a soft surface? If you are honest you will agree that it was a relief to return to the concrete sidewalk. The best control of the body is obtained when there is a solid footingas every action of the foot and body is supported. Try to imagine trying to turn an item on the lathe standing in a box of sand. This, of course, an exaggeration, but I think you get my point. The more solid the footing the safer and less fatiguing will be the result. If you must have a mat make it as solid as you can. Remember also‘ mats are a darn nuisance as they get mixed up in shavings. 

If I am right you may ask should you in fact  ̳turn in bare feet? I am glad you asked that question. The answer is no. A good strong shoe that is molded to the underside of the sole of the foot with a steel toe is the ideal. The sole of the shoe should be made of solid rubber. Spongy rubber should be avoided for the same reasons that soft mats should be avoided.

So if the reader is having foot or leg trouble after a  ̳turning session try  ̳turning without a mat you may be surprised at the result. As I have often heard John Whittier exclaim:  Less is often more.

*To be, or not to be" is the opening line of a soliloquyfrom William Shake-speare's play Hamlet(written about 1600), Act III, Scene 1. It is the best-known quotation from this particular play and one of the most famous in world literature.

Colin Mackenzie
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