The Changing World of UK Woodturning – Personal Thoughts and Feelings

There can be no doubt in my mind that the lockdown of people during the Covid-19 pandemic will have world changing consequences. In this article, I think about the changes, both good and perhaps bad, the situation will have on woodturning in the UK.


I forget the date in March this year when I took the decision to postpone demonstrations and lessons indefinitely as our Government considered locking the country down to restrict the spread of the terrible Covid-19 virus. I dare say woodturners, clubs and event organisers all over the country began to feel sick to the stomach as they saw their meetings, events and income evaporating into the air.

Although many of these events have been rescheduled, the income from attending them may eventually arrive. But as many turners are self employed, demonstrations are a major source of income for them and to have it indefinitely delayed, or even completely cancelled is incredibly worrying. I am fearful that some woodturning businesses may not make it through this.

Thinking Outside the Box, and Inside the Internet

The internet has become the lifeline for people in lockdown. They have turned to the internet for everything from communicating with their friends and family through online comms companies (Amazon hasn’t had a decent webcam available since March), online ordering (at the start, I saw people screen-grabbing their position in on-line ordering queues being in the thousands) to entertainment. It has been bonkers, to say the least.

Many business owners that have taken a step back, had a good look at what they do and thought outside their comfortable business box have managed to come up with ingenious ways of keeping going – keeping themselves in touch with their customers, attracting new ones and keeping themselves largely afloat. Let’s look at a couple of examples I’ve seen in the media.

Aerobics Instructor: One lady is saw an interview with has moved her aerobics sessions to online meeting companies, enabling her customers to continue having their weekly lessons. She was also doing free lessons on her Facebook page.
Kids Entertainer: A nursery worker in Hampshire has a free online service for parents at home with kids to keep them occupied for an hour or so a day via her Facebook page (I seem to remember).

What does this have to do with woodturning? Well, nothing as far as the content goes, but look at what this could be doing for their businesses. It is putting them in front of loads of people every time they do something ‘Live’ – the content will be shared and seen by new many new people, that’s for sure. And anyone in their locality when this is all over is arguably more likely to book that aerobic instructor or try to send their kids to that lady’s establishment. There are undoubtedly countless business all over the world that have come up with ideas to keep themselves engaged with their existing customers and attract new ones with their ideas.

On the woodturning front, proactive turners have been creating more content for their friends, followers and audiences to engage with them whilst they are unable to go out. There is now a huge amount of content for people to choose from both on Facebook and YouTube as more of us step up our engagement online. There are listings available of turners presenting live demonstrations on YouTube with the Blind Woodturner Chris Fisher and his wife Nicola publishing a list of scheduled Live demonstrations in the country – check it out here: https://christopherfisher.co.uk/calendar/. The AWGB are also compiling a list of woodturners making live demonstrations available HERE. The AWGB are also hosting meetings on Tuesday evenings via Zoom as a way they can engage with their membership. See their website for details.
(Please note I am not responsible for the content on sites I link to)

Although I was planning on doing some live demonstrations myself, I was nowhere near being able to offer them until after my first live YouTube demo on 17th March. Since then, I have learned a vast amount about streaming, the equipment needed and presenting a live show for potentially hundreds of people. The investment in the stuff required has been considerable, and the amount of time spent, has been extensive. But! The viewers of these live shows have seen the difference a few short weeks in lockdown and a fanatical focus on production value has had on the standard of the demonstration with each successive show.

Changes in Club Meetings

Many club committees took the decision to cancel their meetings even before the lockdown was announced which was a wise and sensible precaution. Several of the club representatives I spoke to, as demonstration after demonstration started falling away, said they were looking at ways to ‘keep going’ in the form of online meetings. I should think that many heads were being scratched as committees everywhere looked for answers and experimented with various options. Some of them, I know have adopted the use of ‘Zoom’, one of the worlds leading online meeting service providers.

Berkshire Woodturning Club had booked American finial specialist Cindy Drozda some time ago for a ‘remote demonstration’ this week. They invited Kennet Valley and Surrey Association Woodturners to join them and I was very pleased to be invited along too, to join the three clubs for her presentation. I must say that the coming together of three clubs for one demonstration in an online environment was a brilliant and unique experience. Cindy’s presentation was superb (she has been doing remote demonstrations for a few years now in the US) and well polished (as was her finial at the end of the demo).

And that got me thinking – Remote Demonstrations are a powerful way forward for clubs and demonstrators. Not just for now, when travel is impossible, but afterwards . . . Clubs can book a turner for a remote demonstration that would otherwise be too expensive to bring to their club in person. Not just British ones, but overseas ones, too. Wow! The possibilities are huge.

Pros and Cons of Remote Meetings

Personally, I spend a lot of time thinking about stuff, and no matter which way I look at the terrible situation, I find many more Pros to the use of the internet for club meetings than I do Cons.

Given that club members are largely ‘people of a certain’ age, and perhaps not as technically savvy as younger woodturners might be, the thought of the kit required for a remote demonstration may well be fairly daunting. But from a club perspective, there is not that much more kit they need for a remote demonstration than if they were setting up for an ‘in-person’ one. (I have some put some information together HERE that may be of use to clubs interested in remote demonstrations, for example).

Some committees may struggle with setting their club up for online meetings. Don’t give up though. By arranging online meetings, it is still possible to engage with your membership and you will learn plenty of useful and interesting things in the process – every day’s a school day, as they say.

Meetings will of course be different, but with a little bit of thought, a fun and successful meeting can be had by all. Perhaps a club could engage with a club from the other end of the country for a joint Show-and-Tell evening; share a remote demonstration like I described above. Think a bit outside the box, and your club members could benefit in ways it couldn’t before ‘the virus’.

Club members may also struggle with getting themselves set-up. If they have a laptop, setting up can be as simple as clicking on a link in an email to install the free software for the meeting and following on-screen instructions. There will be no need to sort out a camera or microphone, as the laptop will probably have one already. And joining a meeting is as simple as clicking a link in another email. If they have a PC, a separate webcam is preferable, but they can still join a meeting and use the chat facility in meeting programs if they don’t have one, or want one.

Ultimately, if the committee arrange remote meetings, it will be the members who will need to proactively set themselves up in order to join in as house-visits are currently impossible if one to one help is required. I see this very much as both a Pro and a Con. It’s good that the member can use the setting-up as a learning experience, but also not good if some of the techy side is just too much for them to figure out without some help. But! If a member can install some simple software and click a link in an email, then it really can be as easy as that.

Bring on Remote Demonstrations

I feel UK woodturning is mostly a long way behind the United States with the implementation of the use if the internet and in particular remote demonstrations in club environments. They’ve been at it for years with plenty of their pro turners offering remote services in their product arsenal. They do, afterall have an entire continent of woodturners to demonstrate to. Until the last week or so, I knew of only a few UK clubs that had employed a remote demonstrator to present for them at their meetings.

I can think of maybe two or three professional turners here in the UK who had ‘remote capability’ before ‘the virus’. There are many others who regularly do live demonstrations on YouTube, but do not offer it as a paid-for service. Now, I can think of a few more – not enough perhaps, but a few more none-the-less.

For UK clubs, and turners, remote demonstrations offer plenty of possibilities. Here are a few things that have sprung to mind.

For Clubs:

  • A remote demonstration offers a more affordable option if long distant travel expenses are high;
  • Overseas demonstrators become a very viable option;
  • Joint meetings with other clubs in the country, or even overseas.
  • Joint demonstrations with other clubs – share the cost;
  • Interaction with a professional turner in their ‘native habitat’
  • An insight into where they work – a workshop tour should be a regular feature of a remote demo, in my opinion
  • Members can ‘Watch from home’ for a demonstration on a night other than the normal meeting night;

For Demonstrators:

  • You can reach many more clubs without having to spend hours and hours travelling;
  • Demonstrate overseas without leaving your workshop;
  • On-screen graphic capabilities with remote demonstrations can also be incorporated into ‘in-person’ demonstrations;
  • Less set-up/take down time;
  • See and interact with clubs and members in places you’ve not been before.

Woodturning on Social Media

There’s no doubt in my mind at all that social media is the life-blood of communication between millions of people around the world. Like it or loath it, it is here to stay. So what better time to embrace it if you haven’t done so already? The main Facebook group I belong to has seen an influx of new members since lockdown began, and I think more and more people are turning to social media to communicate with their friends and like-minded people.

Personally, I am somewhat surprised that more professional woodturners do not appear to have much of a social media presence. I remember reading somewhere that woodturning is in the top 5 hobbies in the UK (or something like that, anyway) so it seems amazing to me that more professional woodturners have not joined in the vibrant buzz around woodturning here in the UK. I’m sure many hobby turners ‘out there’ would consider booking a lesson if more professional turners in their vicinity were easier to find and engage with on social media.

Here, I will say ‘the world of woodturning on social media‘ as it really is a world – there are so many ideas and so much inspiration in groups with global membership that joining one is, in my opinion, a must for any turner stepping into social media for the first time. I dare say that a lot of ‘my’ group’s new members are fairly new to social media.

One must consider embracing social media as a source of ideas, inspiration, friendship, and business. It is a rich and vibrant place with a host of different characters. Through social media, I have ‘virutally’ met thousands of different people from all over the world and developed tremendous friendships with some of them and business relationships with some others. I shall vehemently defend social as precisely what it is – a place with a wealth of knowledge, experience, excitement, opportunities and new friends.

Like most things, the more positive you are when you put into it, the more positive you will get out of it.

Of course, there is a lot more to it than how I have rather simply put it above, but that is perhaps for you to find out if you are not yet engaging.

When This is All Over

Although the end of ‘it’ in the UK may only be (another) three weeks away, I have seen many things in our woodturning world changing. I have seen clubs embracing new technologies to keep their meetings going, I have seen turners pushing themselves to engage with those who are stuck inside through online communication, and I have seen some turners investing in diversifying their business to include some sort of online capability. There have been suppliers juggling with working from home and keeping up with an increase in online orders despite supply issues, and there have been other examples of changes in behaviour in reaction to the wider, global events.

So much is changing so quickly that it can be quite a daunting to keep up with or even keep an eye on everything going on. With my ever optimisic and open mind, I am sure the woodturning world we emerge into when we are allowed out will be a better, more engaging and interactive place.

Let me know what your thoughts are by leaving a comment below.

7 thoughts on “The Changing World of UK Woodturning – Personal Thoughts and Feelings

  1. Been turning for three years, 90% self taught, have the bruises to verify that. Having watched three live demonstrations and a couple of older ones on line I have gained so much knowledge and improved my techniques it’s incredible. Simple things like when to change angle of bowl gouge, the triangle is to allow proper sharpening of skews. I think these are very beneficial for everyone. I saw that Emma, “Tiny Turner” was logged on and am certain that there other professionals as well that are taking the opportunity to watch when they would normally been out and about. Many thanks David

  2. Perhaps the biggest problem for us is selling. Most of our sales are at high end shows and the things we make are tactile and that doesn’t translate to the net. If I had £1 for every complement I would be happy but how to translate to sales?

    1. Agreed to a point, Pete. Whilst it’s not always possible for a customer to ‘feel’ a piece before purchasing it, I believe you would do well to focus some attention on the large proportion of people who are happy to buy by seeing a piece of work. Every audience you could dream is available online. The trick is finding them, engaging with them and ultimately selling to them. To focus very heavily on one ‘touchy-feely’ audience for your work narrows your potential marketplace hugely.

  3. Martin, the article is great and all very true. Having worked in web development for a while and trying to talk people into social media to advertise themselves I know exactly what you mean.
    I cant see all woodturning clubs, or other clubs for that matter, returning to normal duties for quite a while, probably months in my opinion, because as you say some of us are a certain age and with that, at risk. So, your comments on using tech and social media for carrying on life is the way forward for some time to come for a lot of clubs or people from clubs and, adding the fact that they can encompass other clubs from all over the country and around the world is an excellent suggestion and in my opinion will encourage a lot more people into woodturning.
    I personally cant wait till this is all over as one of port of calls is to arrange training with yourself. I am a new woodturner, started in late January and have by watching your live shows already gained a certificate for finishing and, I am now using gouges in ways that I am no longer afraid of picking them up. I can now confidently use a bowl gouge in ways that I could not before due to catches every time, all from on-line live learning. I sell goods on my website, in progress, so the on-line training you give is an excellent help. I have yet to join a club because of the on-going problem but I will when it is all over and, as an ex web developer I always offer my services free to deserving causes and I am sure there are many others out there that are willing to help on the tech side of things, everyone has a son or relation that can do something, they need involving and it may bring more new blood into woodturning.
    Thank you Martin for all you have and are doing for the woodturning community.

  4. Martin, an excellent essay and a timely conversation, thought provoking and while a beginner to turning I am not to the world of digital👍. I’m amazed to read that you really only began working with online demos in the last couple months your natural style and interaction is an example to all online skill providers in my opinion not just turners. Especially as you fly the studio production and demonstration single handedly! (This makes it a.very personal experience). I would suggest serious consideration when looking at monetisation subscription model is I would say not always the best one and will result in reduced reach in my opinion. IBM who I work for and other leading company have taken advantage of various mixed media for Comms and Collaboration to great effect as.it has become available video conferencing, streaming, collaboration tools for teams and groups like slack, Trello etc before the virus helping to shrink the world and remove physical barriers of work location of clients and team to reach widely dispersed skills. When we are back to being able to move freely 121 physical tuition and ability to be hands on will not be replaced the online world will just be a major enhancement ! Thanks for your aork, hoping to visit and book a lesson after the lock down if you have time lol, Regards, Adam

  5. Wow – so much that is so obvious. I firmly believe you are right. I spend many hours each year trying to balance the following years demonstrations, both from a budgetary standpoint, and also from an interest and varied point of view – and trying to get to demonstrators before they are booked by someone else.
    It is easy to stagnate and fall back on the same demonstrator “library” each year – and often this is because of the prohibitive costs of bring turners in from much further away. The demonstrators are also liable to be of an age where they do not want long journeys in the winter when it is dark so early.
    While “the change” is both inevitable and important – it offers a whole new world of different characters for the members to see as well as a chance to make new friends by collaborating with other clubs.
    Bring it on I say.

  6. Very interesting Martin a lot to think about Shared to Twitter and FB

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