I have written many letters to woodworking and woodturning magazines. I encourage others to do the same. If you disagree or are dissatisfied or desire change, writing an appropriate letter makes you views known, and might also have a positive result. Also, if your letter is published it adds interest to the magazine. After all, the readers letters are usually the most interesting section in newspapers.

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.

The letter below was published in the September 1993 American Woodturner. In those pre-colour days there was a genuine exploration of issues in that publication.

Dear Editor

The June 1993 ‘Presidentorial’ was both excellent and relevant. I hope that I can add some thoughts of value.

1. I take seriously the manufacturer who offered to write his own review. As one who has sat on both sides of the fence (and currently has a video being reviewed), I have sympathy with the manufacturer who has probably seen far too many reviews written by those who are ignorant, unduly nit picky, use their review chiefly to promote themselves or their prejudices, or who just cannot write well. I suggest that someone who reviews their own product will generally take great care to be seen to be objective and should have the necessary technical knowledge to be properly informative.

2. The threat of legal action is real. I have been threatened twice by companies who are internationally known and ‘respected.’

3. One way to overcome the legal problem might be for a standard form to be sent to the supplier of any product sent in for a review, or any product for which a review is received. The form should state that:

a. The review will not be available to the supplier until the signed form has been returned.

b. In signing the form the supplier agrees not to bring any legal action, whatever the wording of the review.

c. If the form is not signed a review will not appear in American Woodturner, but a statement will appear in AW noting that a review will not appear because of the refusal to sign.

d. The supplier will be given a reasonable right of reply and this should appear with the review.

4. An important aspect of a review is the timing. One magazine seems to take an unnecessarily long time to publish reviews of publications which complete with its own.

5. A review has, I suggest, two aims: to inform and to entertain. A totally objective review by a committee is likely to be dull and late. Far better one with a few warts which, along with the supplier’s response, will stimulate readers to make up their own minds.

6. If woodturners’ associations are to truly safeguard the interests of their members then the associations have to be prepared to be active ‘against’ as well as ‘for’; they have to be prepared to use their considerable potential market clout.-Mike Darlow, Alexandria, Australia