The letter below was published in Woodturning magazine issue 345
I’m pleased by Pete Moncrieff-Jury’s continued writing on issues. It makes a welcome change from articles on techniques and displays of recent works. I shall belatedly comment on his October 2019 article ‘Can rules be broken’.
It is my opinion that not only should there be writing on issues, but that issues should be discussed. In woodturning repression of discussion is not unknown. Yet open discussion is surely vital if conflicting views are to be reconciled, or at least understood.
A couple of quotes from Pete’s article: ‘When I get someone for tuition who has never turned before I always start by telling them that my way is not the only way and they should experiment to find what suits them best.’ And: ‘It seems that many past masters adapted such things as bevel angles, shapes of gouges, etc. to suit themselves and the work they were creating. The bottom line is there are no right or wrong ways of doing things, but there are safe or dangerous ways.’
I have been teaching woodturning for about 35 years. I cannot recall anyone seeking tuition from me asking to be taught the techniques I was using at the time. Invariably they just wanted to learn to turn. What did they mean? I assume they wanted to learn the optimal techniques known at the time—would they have signed up if I had only offered to teach them sub-optimal techniques? I suggest not. So while I agree that ‘right or wrong’ is too crude a classification, I am confident that techniques can be classified as optimal or suboptimal. Further, unless a turner has particular disabilities or lacks certain equipment, shouldn’t the same techniques be optimal for all? If so, shouldn’t all teachers be teaching the techniques which are established as optimal at the time?
The second quote confirms that in-lathe testing is sometimes not a reliable way of judging [the relative merits of] techniques, and I suggest that Pete’s students, even after receiving his tuition, would not be capable of reliably finding ‘what suits them best’. But there are other and more certain ways of determining whether a technique is optimal or not: simple science and objective argument.
Plato and Galileo are only two of many who wrote dialogues in which protagonists debated conflicting views. This means has, alas, fallen into disuse. But if a turner has promoted a technique in a book or an article, he or she has intended that it should influence readers. If so, isn’t it reasonable that that promotion should be open to scrutiny? If that scrutiny was well founded and concluded the technique is optimal, should that scrutiny be repressed? I hope not. What if the scrutiny concluded that the technique was suboptimal? Again I believe that the scrutiny should not be repressed.
Many years ago I wrote a detailed response proving that a new piece of equipment recommended in an article (not in this magazine) was a waste of money. The article was rejected not because it was inaccurate, but because its publication would harm the reputation of the writer who had recommended the equipment. Presumably that potentially thousands of readers might go out and waste their hard-earned cash was of lesser importance. The equipment ceased to be sold within a few weeks.
This brings me to the final issue I wish to raise. Should a person who has promoted a technique be able to be named in a later article which discusses that technique? I believe yes. Over the years techniques I have promoted have changed as I have learned. I therefore plead guilty to promoting suboptimal techniques. I could still be doing so now.