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2nd March – John Aitken

10 March, 2015

It was surely a record attendance with numbers swollen by a party of scouts from Shedfield. They had been invited following their interest in including woodturning in their woodcraft studies. Once a programme has been devised we will be looking for volunteers from our members to help them achieve this goal.


We’d all turned out to see John Aitken who had a new gimmick – he was not wearing his trade mark bowler hat! He was also not wearing goggles, though he did wear specs. He explained that he had never had a problem with the sort of items he would be demonstrating. Hmmm!

We didn’t have the sound system operating either (sorry) but John is experienced enough to have managed very well without it.

 John Aitken

The scouts were broken in gently with John’s straightforward first job of making a honey dibber. John mounted a piece of maple between centres and used a roughing gouge and a spindle gouge to shape the dibber, then a thin parting tool to make the grooves for retaining the honey. One of the visitors thought it was like magic to see the shape emerge from the wood on the lathe. Perhaps we get a bit blasé about these things.

John Aitken's honey dipper

The next demo was also simple – a spinning top – which involved use of the chuck to hold the top to allow the end to be finished to a point. John stressed the importance of using the gouge the right way up otherwise it would put wood back on. We wiser turners smiled at this little joke knowing that you have to use an entirely different tool to put the shavings back on. Now that is magic.

John Aitken's top

John said that a real test of turning speed is to set the top spinning and turn another before it stops. Having tested his top, though, he didn’t attempt it.


The next item was rather more complicated. It was a tapered square section box. John pre-drills the box with a Forstner bit to save time hollowing the inside of the box. In fact to help the drilling he first drills a pilot hole the same diameter as the width or the centre spike of the Forstner bit.

The outside of the box is only then marked up and the taper cut using a saw and sander though he didn’t include this in the demo. The box was mounted on a long cylindrical jam chuck made to fit the Forstner hole. A good tip is to relieve the middle of the cylinder to reduce the tendency to become stuck. If the jam chuck is a bit loose a piece of tissue can be wrapped round it.

The bottom of the box was shaped with a curved under-cut with it still on the jam chuck. It was supported by a hollow tailstock to avoid the point making a hole.

John Aitken's box

The top part of the box was turned to a long spigot onto which rings and sleeves were added using a contrasting wood and of course the lid. John uses a beading tool for the rings which saves a lot of time. In fact he had made his own before such things were commonly available.


John hones his skew chisels to put a really keen edge on them. He has fitted a cotton polishing wheel and a sisal wheel to a grinder and uses a linishing paste. Of course a grinder goes the wrong way for honing. John confessed to spending a lot of time trying to work out how to alter the wiring to reverse it before realising that it could be taken apart re-assembled with the housing on the other side.

Chris Davey offered some alternative experience regarding sharpening a skew for turning bobbins. He has found that the less perfect edge from a grinder is better at picking up the cut on some woods since it has a burr edge.


There was an excellent display on the gallery table and John kindly made a quick pass through with a critique. Thanks to all members who put their work on the table. All the pictures are on the website.

Dave Gibbard

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