Woodturning on YouTube: The Inspiration and the Influence

Before I start, let me just state that this post/essay is not a moan, more a discussion of Woodturning on YouTube as a method of learning and a method of reaching people with your own turning – the Inspiration and the Influence. You can listen to this article too…

YTscreenCaution: This essay contains a small number of fairly inoffensive expletives. Read/Listen at your own risk.

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I’ve been making YouTube videos for the best part of two years now and I have produced a lot of content. I’ve watched a lot of content too. Indeed, it was Mike Waldt, Carl Jacobson, Capt. Eddie et al that ‘taught’ me how to turn in the first place. Their videos were (and still are) a source of inspiration and knowledge that thousands of people tune in to whenever a new video is posted which is nothing but a good thing.

Reaching People
More and more people turn to the internet for learning resources and YouTube is at the very top of the pile of tutorials and demonstrations of countless arts and crafts. Content creators have the potential to reach thousands of people with every video, and when those people hit the subscribe button, they want to see more from that creator. Woodturning video viewers are people engaged in one way or another, in woodturning. Be them weekenders, full timers or somewhere in the middle, they all have the one thing in common – they love woodturning and use YouTube as a way of finding new turners and new techniques to try out or just enjoy watching others ‘do their thing’.[membership level=”0″]

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A Global Community of ‘Ordinary’ Guys and Girls Turning in Sheds
The turning community on YouTube truly is global. It is simply brilliant to see these folks turning some amazing stuff in all sorts of workshops and sheds from all over the world. It is interesting to see the differences in techniques and creative influences from different countries in one place at the click of the mouse. Plus, being able to communicate with them via the comments is an added bonus. I’ve spoken personally to several of other YouTubers which would otherwise have been impossible and have the pleasure of calling them my friends. Most of them are weekend turners with ‘normal’ jobs and ‘normal’ lives which makes their expression of creativity via the internet so much more interesting.

The fact that these creators are passionate enough about what they do that they want to share it with the world is awe-inspiring. The effort is not just in the turning process itself, but also in the editing of the videos which more often than not takes longer than the turning of the actual piece in the film. Then there’s the uploading and replying to comments on both YouTube and associated social media. It takes time – which they all do for free. At least, initially for free.

There is an array of personalities and styles available to watch on a growing number of channels and each one has their own merits and pitfalls. Some videos are very short and at times barely cover a project process in the time they’ve been given, whilst others are far too long without much thought going into the editing and the viewer’s attention span. It is a balance to get the coverage right in as short a video as possible without losing your own style nor the viewer’s attention. I’ve played with many different lengths and styles and have now (hopefully) settled on one that both myself and my viewers are happy with.

viewsInspiring Viewers
After a short while, the creators, whether they know it or not start to inspire their audience through the techniques they use or their style of finishing, or whatever. Some viewers may copy or emulate that creator because they like what they see and fancy having a go at it. No problem with that, is there? Well, no…it should be encouraged, to a point I think. The inspiration of a creator in many cases has encouraged us all at some point to go and try something that we may not have done before, with successful or not-so-successful results.

To what cost though? Perhaps the video you saw didn’t show the use of a bowl gouge properly, for example, or not well enough for you to copy what he was doing and you got a catch as a result. Perhaps you had forgotten how he presented the tool between watching the video and going to the workshop…So you go back, watch again…then back out to the shed and try again. Or, maybe the creator in the video you watch was actually using the tool incorrectly in the first place. It is a learning curve, certainly. I turned round that curve. I’m still on it, and I know many people reading this will have gone through the trial and error of learning through YouTube too. Even professionals will admit to still being on the learning curve, although for them it is nowhere near as steep.

But this learning curve isn’t just about using YouTube to learn to turn from, no. Sadly this is a learning curve about finding good channels to watch where the creator demonstrates what is considered to be ‘Good Practice’. I watched some videos when I started and learned the painful way that their content and techniques were not demonstrating good practice and have subsequently unsubscribed from their channels. The shocking thing is, that there are people watching this poor content and being inspired and influenced by it. I wonder how many people have hurt themselves, like I did because a video I chose to ‘copy’ jumped off the lathe and bit me?

And now I find myself in the position of a YouTube Creator.

videosWhat Does That Mean to Me?
Having just topped five thousand subscribers and with nearly 60 project videos under my belt plus close on forty editions of ‘Turner’s Journey, I think I am in a good enough position to discuss this here.

To be honest, it means the world to me to be connecting with so many people in so many countries on so many different levels. My channel has beginners and experienced turners alike tuning in up to three times a week to see what I get up to in my workshop. I am not at all blind to the fact that what I do inspires and influences my viewers into trying things out – my viewers tell me! It is a pleasure to read comments and receive photos about items turned because of a video I produced demonstrating how I do something. Note here how I say ‘Demonstrating’.

Responsible Production Values
Inspiration and influence are very, very similar indeed. On the one hand viewers are inspired to try new things, and by the same token, can be influenced to take on habits, both good and bad. This might be having the tool rest too far from the piece or not wearing breathing protection when sanding, or worse still, using the wrong tool for the wrong job, potentially causing a viewer to have an accident.

So, to inspire people to try new things out when on the lathe is a great thing as it can help to push people forward with their own creativity. Inspiration can help viewers prove to themselves that they can do something they didn’t think they could do, or perhaps hadn’t even thought of before…and that, I think is something all creators can be proud of.

BUT, where the responsibility lies, is in demonstrating and influencing viewers with good practice. I believe this should include following good health and safety practices first and foremost. I constantly remind myself that viewers are influenced by what I do, and how I do it. I don’t want to be setting a bad example – I want my viewers to be as safe as possible when turning their wood, whether employing my demonstrated techniques or not. So, I do my utmost in my videos to be as safe as possible. It annoys me to see videos out there where the turner is not even following the absolute basic health and safety guidelines as written in their lathe’s handbook.

IF a method is employed that does not demonstrate good practice or is potentially more dangerous than woodturning inherantly is, and the creator knows this, then, in my opinion, it should be clearly stated in the video. There is no harm whatsoever in stating that ‘this technique is not good practice, copy it at your own risk.’. We all take calculated risks as turners to get the result we want. As viewers, we are all interested in seeing other people’s methods and we should then judge for ourselves if a technique is within our skill-range. Plus, as a viewer, the anticipation of ‘what happens next’  when watching a ‘different’ technique is a draw too…but that is no excuse for doing something dangerous for the sake of getting more views on the video.

warningNo-one is perfect though. Indeed, due to a bad habit in a video recently (and not thinking fully about the process before filming), I showed an ‘off lathe’ method that was not at all considered to be good practice which was pointed out to me in the comments more than once. I had even overlooked the mistake in the editing process. As a result, I made all reasonable efforts to point out that ‘in this part’ of the video, the method shown is bad practice and ‘should not be done like this’. The methods I employed included putting an annotation on the video on YouTube over the top of the offending footage explaining the error. It is also in the description of the video too….and, I also made a public apology in that week’s edition of my my weekly series, Turner’s Journey.

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