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Woodturning News: General News

THE MERCURY: TURNING HEADS-Local woodturner finds relaxation in the hobby (07/31/2017)

Tuesday, August 1, 2017   (0 Comments)
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As the lathe hums, Tom Shields focuses on the next cut of the chisel. He removes the piece of wood and spins the small top he just created.

Shields, a retired surgeon in Manhattan, taught himself woodturning and uses the hobby as a way to keep his time occupied, but also to spend time with other woodturners. Shields, who has been turning for more than 15 years, said it makes the time disappear.

“I go to the shop and start puttering and the time just vanishes,” Shields said.

Shields was exposed to woodturning as a kid in his dad’s woodshop, but he didn’t start actively turning himself until around 2000.

“I got the itch to get back into it,” he said.

Now he has a shop in his basement that houses his lathe, chisels and other equipment. He makes bowls, platters, tops and boxes. He also creates a Christmas ornament for each of his three daughters every year and donates pieces to Manhattan Arts Center for its annual Wrap It Up sale.

When Shields gets into his shop, he often ends up “ankle deep in chips and shavings,” he said. He can create a small top in about 15 minutes, but some larger projects can take 3 to 4 hours of turning. He often works with woods more common to the area like black walnut, but sometimes splurges on more exotic wood like cocobolo.

Shields said he considers woodturning a safe hobby, but it does require some safety equipment. He wears a face shield and dust mask when he turns and makes sure he doesn’t have any loose clothing that could get caught in the lathe.

Sheilds learned his lesson in safety early, when a large chip from a cracked piece of wood went flying and broke a fluorescent light in his shop.

“I leave that as a reminder to be careful,” he said.

One of the things Shields enjoys most about woodturning is the sense of concentration and focus he gets while working with the wood.

“When I’m doing that, I’m not thinking about anything else,” he said. “And it lets me indulge whatever artistic sense I have. But I don’t have a lot.”

The process moves from rough turning to more precise work, making it the same thickness and refining the shape. Shields said sanding is the most tedious part.

“You try to do the smoothest work with chisels to minimize the sanding,” he said.

Most of the hobby is solitary, but Shields has a community of woodturners in Manhattan to discuss the craft with. He is one of the founding members of the Flint Hills Woodturners, which meets once a month to show recent work and see demonstrations of new skills.

The club has a booth at events like Pumpkin Patch and the Makers Faire in Aggieville, showing off their skills to their public. They usually create tops to give away and do other work on small lathes at the booth.

Ned Gatewood, another member of the club, said community outreach like this is important to members so they can hopefully help others find their own passion as well.

“It’s something that is always rewarding,” Gatewood said. “You can approach it with a small late. It can be a great expense but it doesn’t have to be. It can be small bowls and the reward is just as great.”

The hobby can be solitary at times, a person alone with a lathe, but Gatewood said that doesn’t lessen the satisfaction.

“I can stand in front of a lathe for seemingly hours,” he said. “But I’m creating.”

Shields, who retired as a surgeon around 2 1/2 years ago after 34 years in the field, including 28 years in Manhattan, said spending more time in his shop has been a nice change of pace from his stressful career.

“As a surgeon, when things don’t go well, you’ve got to find a way out of it,” he said. “You can’t quit. If I’m making a bowl and make a mistake, I can throw it away. There’s not a lot of pressure.”

Woodturning has become amore relaxing way for him to work with his hands in a careful, accurate way.

“One of the appeals of surgery is doing something very precisely very well,” Shields said. “And I try to be precise with this.”

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