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…
Caution: This essay contains a small number of fairly inoffensive expletives. Read at your own risk.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
What 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.
No-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.
Demonstration over Lesson
In none of my videos have I said that “Today’s lesson is” or “today, I’m going to teach you x”. The reason for this is simple: To ‘Teach’ implies a responsibility for a student and an interaction with them. But that is simply not possible in this case. It is impossible to answer questions or correct a student on their tool control whilst they are watching a video. Neither is it possible to stop a student if they are heading towards an accident.
A Demonstration is absolutely the right word to use as that is as far as you can take things on the internet. You can only demonstrate a technique or process. It can be explained in great detail with diagrams, captions and slow motion, but there is still distance between the creator and viewer. It must then be up to the viewer to determine if they wish to copy that technique to teach it to themselves using the video as reference. And that, as content creators is all we do – demonstrate and inspire others.
Thankfully, I cannot recall any video I’ve watched on YouTube claiming to be a lesson. They are all demonstrations, although this may not be obviously communicated, and the responsibility of the turner, in my opinion, is to demonstrate the technique in the video as safely as possible because they may influence their viewers as much as they may inspire them.
My advice to anyone watching turning videos on YouTube would be to develop what a professional turner described to me recently as a ‘Bullshit Filter‘ – Simply put, this is a filter that recognises that there are poor quality videos out there and the newbie to turning should be aware that not all the videos on YouTube express good technique nor good practice. In my opinion, it is a good filter develop and grow. My own grew with time, a couple of accidents and eventually, knowledge.
Surely It’s the End Result That Matters
Well, yes, the end result of a project is important. We all love to see a beautiful bowl or whatever being created in a video long enough to cover the subject but short enough to keep the attention span. But, and there is always a but…Your developing Bullshit Filter will be able to sift through the (potentially) poor technique and health and safety issues demonstrated in some videos and concentrate on the end result. You will then be able to see the finished item and employ your own techniques and health and safety procedures to achieve your own version of their project.
You’ve created a beautiful bowl. You’ve chewed it out with a dull gouge and sanded the life out of it to clear the tear-out and now it’s finished. Excellent, well done. But whose methods did you use? Your own methods ‘learned’ from a poor quality creator or those inspired by a creator who goes out of their way to demonstrate as good a technique as they can in every video they produce? Just because a channel has thousands of subscribers does not necessarily mean they demonstrate good techniques…and good technique is another discussion altogether.
What about My Own Channel?
As far as possible, I follow good health and safety practices and I have a disclaimer on my channel stating clearly that the video is a demonstration only and is not intended to replace a lesson with an experienced woodturner. The fact that I offer lessons in the workshop is neither here not there because a lot of my viewers are outside of the UK. I may not always wear a respirator when sanding as a lot of the time, I am talking to the camera whilst doing so. This is a trade off between saving time recording a voice-over in the editing suite and the couple of minutes I am recording a sanding sequence. I rarely film sanding because it’s the turning equivalent of watching paint dry. Off camera though, I’ll be wearing a respirator, but the viewers don’t see that.
I turn with ‘my own’ technique. It’s not too bad. I’m not the perfect turner – I don’t, and will never claim to be. I also point this out in my disclaimer – ‘These are my techniques, other turners may do it differently’. Is this a cop-out? No – because it’s true.
In a nut shell, I want my channel to primarily set a good example of safe and exciting woodturning. Secondly, I want to inspire turners to try new things, get passionate about their wood and to have a great time turning in as safe a way as possible. Thirdly, and by no means least, I want to inspire newcomers to the craft – I want to inspire them on to release their imaginations onto their wood and help them create some beautiful pieces to be proud of.
More than One Way to Skin a Cat
No matter which content provider you watch on YouTube, always remember that there is more than one way to skin a cat. The method of getting from blank to beautiful will vary from one turner to another. The quality and methods of their techniques will vary also. It is up to you, the viewer to decide if any technique you wish to emulate and turn into your own. The end result will be the same at the end of the day – an item you are proud of. How you get there doesn’t really matter too much.
But, what really does matter is that you get to your end result as safely as possible. It is your responsibility to do that.
And as content creators, it is our responsibility to demonstrate how to get there as safely as possible in the first place.
Thanks for reading and watching,