(Note: You can read about the beginning of the spinning wheel here.)
If you have read Nancy Hiller’s book Making Things Work, then you know that woodworking comes down to problem solving. I honestly believe that I can make anything given enough time. But I haven’t made everything. There is a gap between what I think I can do and what I’ve actually done. Everything interesting happens in that gap. It’s the place where I learn the most, am stretched the farthest, and have the most potential for growth. For me, the gap is the most satisfying place to be.
The goal was to replicate the original as close as possible. But I’d never made a spinning wheel before. I have made round windows, arched entryways, and curved moldings, so some techniques could overlap. My first task was to gather information to find out. I made a full-size drawing of the wheel and noted critical dimensions. I also pondered how it was put together and made some construction notes. There was something else about this wheel that I wanted to understand too; why it came apart? I didn’t want to recreate the fault in the wheel, so I had to consider what made the lamination come apart in the first place. Was it the glue? Was it wood movement? Was it something else?
After I had gleaned all the information I could from observation the next step was researching how other wheels were made. A few years ago, I invested in all the issues of Fine Woodworking on disc. It has a searchable database that makes leafing through the library easy. Thankfully, they had included a couple of articles on spinning wheels. I had also found a couple of books online, but they were self-published and expensive.
Since I had limited information on how to go about making a spinning wheel, I wanted to make a prototype. In my first job as a woodworker we were required to make prototypes (we called them “samples”) of everything. Since our customers were contractors, designers, etc. we had to be able to give them something they could show their clients. Making prototypes was a great way to dial in the details, but it was also necessary for determining our machining process. And it saved money in the long run.
I like to use standard MDF to make a prototype because it is cheap and machines easily. And I planned to screw up. The irony is that it doesn’t feel like screwing up when you are approaching a prototype from an educational view point. Each mishap is a learning experience where you are working out the kinks in the plan to formulate a better strategy.
I know many woodworkers who don’t draw plans or make mock ups before they start building. I admire the people who can keep all that information in their heads, but I’m not one of them. And if woodworking is problem solving then a prototype is the tangible solution.
And when you’re done you can burn it, so no one will know.
What’s your thoughts on prototypes?