Tips for Demonstrations

Your club doing public demonstrations?

Club Demonstrations Tips

Here some things to keep in mind


In this article you'll find some tips for demonstrators of woodturning "out in the field" so to speak.  I don't mean demonstrating at club meetings to other woodturners.  I mean public demonstrations at malls, craft shows, fairs, businesses, out in the street and galleries.  Mainly, this is a place where I, personally, can come to in order to remind myself of what are best practices and what I've learned either by my own experience or by listening (yes, actually listening kids!) to the great woodturning demonstrators that have come before me.

  • Be Prepared - Bring everything you need and more.  If you're planning to do two demonstrations, bring enough for four of them.  If you're planning to make spheres, bring the equipment and materials to make goblets too because your sphere jam chuck may break or something else may go wrong where you can't make spheres.  Always have a backup project and materials.
  • Don't bring too much stuff - This often happens when you're new to demonstrating.  You keep bringing more and more things "just in case" (see #1 above) and end up having 3 boxes full of wood and all of the chucks, centers, and tools you own.  By the time you get everything to your demonstration space, you're too tired to do anything!  Not to mention that it all just gets in the way.
  • Practice what you are going to do - Practice your "routine" down to the last detail.  Spontaneity in woodturning is a basic right and privilege that not many woodworking related hobbies/professions have.  But, this is a demonstration.  They're not going to understand why you're sitting there staring at that piece of mesquite because there was a "design change (opportunity)" when you accidentally rolled that skew the wrong way and you have a huge chunk missing out of that weedpot neck now.  Or maybe you accidentally got your only spindle gouge caught in the spur drive and tore it up beyond fixing at the demonstration.  You better know how to go on with your demonstration project with another tool.  Don't get caught doing something new at a demonstration. You're not there to learn .... THEY are.  Know what you're doing and do it that way.
  • Slow Down - This is something else that new demonstrators and, especially, younger turners do.  Unless your audience is just a bunch of woodturners that you are wanting to impress, slow down everything.  That means the lathe speed, your actions, and how you prepare or mount the wood.  People want to see the process as much as they want to see the final product.  That's why you're there.  Otherwise, you might as well just have a display of your woodturnings on display.  Slow down, talk to the people and explain the process.  You'll find that it's more enjoyable to turn this way as well.  It also forces you to think about what you're doing and presenting it to the viewers in the best way possible.
  • Where are your viewers? - We often get into the habit of sanding, especially, in all sorts of positions (or maybe it's just me?).  On some projects, mainly smaller ones, I like to sand on the opposite side of the lathe from me.  But, this is where the viewers are going to be.  They can't see much going on with your hands in the way.  Now, I'm not saying that sanding is the most interesting part of woodturning but the thought is still the same.  Know where your viewers are and play to them.  Don't get in their way of seeing what you are doing.   If you're going to be mounting a piece of wood on a scroll chuck or on a faceplate, do it in front of them and not back behind the lathe where nobody can see.  Again, they want to see the process.  If you turn away from them too much, they'll loose interest and walk away sooner.  Don't give them the opportunity.  Engage them with everything you do.
  • School is NOT in session - I've split this into two sections and is a big pet peeve of mine....
    • Viewers - This often happens with other artists or demonstrators at a crafts fair, for example, but it also happens with just ordinary passersby too.  They are so interested (or just bored) in what you are doing that they will constantly bug you about what you are doing and how you are doing it.  You just know that they are wanting to step behind there with you and have you give them lessons in woodturning!  There's a fine line between demonstrating, educating, explaining what you are doing and it turning into a turning class.  Many times, I am just as much to blame because of my desire and passion about turning.  But resist the temptation and their attempts to turn it into that class.  It does a disservice to the other viewers and to that person as well.  You can't effectively do both at the same time.  Be ready to offer your turning education services to that person or direct them to a local woodturning club or other place where classes are offered.  They'll appreciate it and you can get back to demonstrating.
    • Other Turners - I've seen this happen when a woodturning club does a public demonstration before.  What will happen is that either a club member will be taking a break from turning or just be there "for support".  He'll not retire to the background though. Oh, no!  He's wanting to show you, the person turning now,  and the viewers (which is more likely his intent) that he can teach it to a slob like you now.  It's the ones that don't want to actually help out and turn for awhile themselves that really bug me.  But, oohhhhh, they can certainly stand there and teach you how it's done! Don't be one of these guys.  It's great to have support from the other turners either morally or by helping you sharpen your tools or getting things ready for you but don't give a lesson to the guy turning during a demonstration.  It's not the time or the place for it.  If you're going to turn ... turn.  If not, then get out of the way.
  • This isn't your club meeting - This goes very much along the same lines as above.  Moral support from other turners, especially your club members, is great.  But don't just hang around to be hanging around at a demonstration event.  This isn't your club meeting.  This is for the public at large to showcase what woodturning is all about and to advertise your club.  Having  half of your club standing in front of the lathe(s) blocking the public view of it isn't good at all.  Get out of the way!  If there's nobody viewing the demonstration, THEN maybe have a person or two stand out there in order to get people to stop and watch (the rubbernecking syndrome I guess). At that point, the club members should fade back and get out of the way.  If you're scheduled to be demonstrating, show up a little early just in case you're needed  earlier than scheduled and to get things ready but don't hang around all day long.
  • 8)  DON'T show me the money! This one depends very heavily on where you are and the reason you are there demonstrating.  For club demonstrations at local businesses such as malls, home centers, trade shows, symposia and many other events such as some fairs, you and your club is there as a non-profit organization most of the time.  Don't try selling things.  Sure, it can be tempting when you have a person drooling over your latest woodturning but don't give in to that urge.  You'll only risk hurting the feelings of your fellow turners or making your host (the fair, mall, business, etc.) mad!  This isn't to say you can't offer to meet those potential buyers after the event or give them your contact information so that they can buy on your own time.  Remember, this is a time to "sell" the CLUB or organization and not yourself or your woodturnings.  Of course, with some club events, selling is perfectly acceptable and encouraged.  If in doubt, check with the organizer from your club AND the contact person of where you are demonstrating.
  • Freebies make the world go around - You're sure to draw a crowd ... and a happy one at that ... if you give stuff away.  I'm not talking, necessarily, about a raffle or give-away item that people sign up for and you draw for it later (although those are good ideas if you can legally do that).  I'm talking about making things before the spectators' very eyes that you can then give to them.  Kids love it and so do the big kids (ie "Adults")!  You'll get people lined up watching you and they'll go away with a little gift that was handmade and done right before them.  It amazes people!  So, what to make?  Something quick and easy is usually best.  Things like spinning tops (with various colors are favorites), whistles, snowmen, spurtles, garden dibbles, Bic pen-insert pens, and basic boxes.  There's all kinds of things you can make within 15 minutes or less that people will really like.  As with #1 above .... bring plenty of wood with you for these projects.  You'll run out much quicker than you think!
  • Make the Most of Your Host - Assuming that you want to be invited back to the event where you are demonstrating (fair, store, etc.), don't make the host of it mad.  Follow their rules.  Ask and keep asking them (without being a pest) if everything is alright and if there is anything that you or your woodturning group can do to make things better.  Your host wants to make your demonstration as much of a success as you do. They have a stake in how it goes too.  Give them feedback on what you liked or disliked in the space, parking, people traffic or anything else that you can think of.  Be sure that they'll do the same. 11)  Clean Up After Yourself If you're not the only demonstrator at an event, you should clean up when you're done.  This means any shavings on or around the bed, tailstock, toolrest and other places where it accumulates.  Many times you can simply knock it off to the floor.  You may have to sweep it over to the side or under the lathe so it's not a hazard though.  We're not talking about having it spotless either.  It's just common courtesy to give the next demonstrator a clean place so they can move things around and start "fresh".  But dust and shavings aren't the only things you should put in order either.  Put the speed down to the lowest level (belt/pulley or knob for variable speed) so the next person doesn't get a surprise (and maybe an accident!) with too high of speed to start.  Take any chucks, centers or steadyrests away if you aren't absolutely sure that the next demonstrator is going to use it after you.  Don't take any of their time away from them by making them deconstruct what you've done to the lathe.
  • Make Some Noise - We're not talking about yelling or throwing your lathe and tools to the ground. Nor are we talking about having a party of rowdy turners gathered around a burl ebony tree either.  If you want attention ... to draw a crowd from the surrounding area, start roughing out a square spindle of some solid hardwood.  We all know that sound, right?  Sounds sort of like a machine gun going off in the foxhole next to you? BBBzzzzzz   BBBzzzzzzzzz  BBBzzzzzzzzzzzzz   as you knock off those corners.  It may be music to our own turners' ears but it's also a fantastic signal to anyone in a 10 booth circle around you that something really interesting ... or at least mildly dangerous and in need of immediate attention ... is going on in your booth.  You'll draw a crowd very quickly as people wonder what all of that noise is about.  So, periodically, mount a piece of hard square stock in the lathe and make a little noise.  It's a great way to announce your groups presence without having to resort to things like yelling "Hey!  Want to sample some free cheese / perfume / moisturizer / honey sticks / shavings ?"
  • Variety Is Key - Make a variety of things.  Have a variety of turners demonstrating (young, old, women, men, professionals, beginners, large scale and miniature turnings, segmenting, spindles, hollowforms).  There are so many different aspects to woodturning and so many different people that use the lathe, it should be represented as much as possible.  A person passing by that might not be too interested in someone making a pen could be a new member for your club if he sees someone making something he's interested in, instead.
  • Know Your Audience - If you are demonstrating at a gallery, your audience will likely appreciate being shown more artistic woodturning (small hollowforms, fancy lidded boxes, finials, etc.) rather than architectural or craft-show types of turning.  The same goes for demonstrating at the local hardware or home improvement store.  Those folks might like more turning focused on tool handles, balusters, or furniture turnings.  This isn't to say that different types of woodturning shouldn't be shown anywhere you demonstrate.  You should!  But, just keep in mind who your audience is likely to be and gear the demonstrations and demonstrators to them.
  • The 15 Minute Rule - If it can't be made in 15 minutes, don't do it.  Or at least start a new project every 15 minutes, at least.  Sometimes, you'll get someone really interested that'll watch for more than 15 minutes at a time but, normally, you'll get passersby that will stop for 5 minutes or less.  Yes, it's fantastic to have someone that'll demonstrate making their large hollowforms in public.  But, limit them to about 15 minutes of demonstrating at a time.  The same goes for making pens or spinning tops all day long.  Just because it's a new pen every 5 minutes doesn't mean that viewers are going to appreciate that for long.
  • A Good Front-man/woman - This tip is especially helpful for larger public demonstrations but also works for just one lathe working at a time.  Not many woodturners can work at the lathe and talk (or especially actively engage) with the audience at the same time.  That's why good demonstrators for clubs, associations or events are so hard to find.  For your public demonstration, use one knowledgeable club member (who won't step on the lathe users' toes ... see above) to stand out front or at least be available to answer viewers' questions or just to narrate what the lathe user is doing.  The title of this section starts with "Good" for a reason.  The lathe user and the front-man/woman must work in unison.  If the lathe user really can take care of the lathe and the audience at the same time, then let them do it and the front-man/woman should gracefully stand aside.
  • Promote Your Organization - That is what you're doing there, right?  Don't let it overwhelm your audience or the place you're demonstrating in but do promote.  Hang signs (as allowed and is tasteful), have a sign-up paper, over discounts for memberships or classes.  Let people know that you'll be demonstrating by posting it on public message boards.  Your location host will appreciate it and you'll get more people coming out to see you.