Turning Time and Making Meaning at Cabrillo Middle School Woodshop

As many of you know, back in 2004 Al Geller spearheaded Channel Islands Woodturners’ mentor rich, well equipped, positive learning shop environment for seventh and eighth grade turners at Cabrillo Middle School. Now 18 years later under the masterful direction of David Frank, and with the backup of Jim Word, CIW mentors provide students with quality lathes, tooling, supplies, wood and outstanding personalized instruction.

At a recent Volunteer Recognition Luncheon, Principal Lorelle Dawes told me the woodshop is one of the best project based learning (PBL) opportunities offered by the school. “The woodshop has always been great for cognitive development, and it still is. And it is one of the most popular and valuable electives Cabrillo offers its students,” she remarked.

PBL is learning by doing. In the shop, it is hands-on tool use and machine operation to complete various projects. To learn spindle skills, seventh graders make candle sticks. Returning 8th graders turn bowls, mallets, screwdrivers, etc. By completing their projects, students learn many complex skills such as:

  • Paying close attention, and carefully following mentors directions
  • Understanding the nature of project materials such as wood, sandpaper, and finishes. *Appropriate tool presentation
  • Methods and sequences of operation
  • Managing the reductive process of turning to make desired shapes.
  • Dealing with mistakes.

On Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, two CIW mentors support up to five students during the class periods from 10:45 to 3:00PM. So each school year CIW’s volunteers provide about 600 (precovid) hours of instruction at the wood shop. To put this contribution into financial perspective, our club provides about .42 of a full time teacher, or nearly $41,000 worth of 2017/18 instruction time. (https://lao.ca.gov/Education/teachers/State)  CIW also provides free wood, supplies and equipment to all turning students. As we all know, turning is very expensive so this is a substantial added value to students.

There are more important ways CIW’s mentors give to students. Many are searching for validation as they discover their potential. Most don’t know what they are good at until they hear it from someone they believe is knowledgeable. And then there is learning to deal with mistakes with grace, humor and humility. Our mentors often tell students mistakes are design and learning opportunities, never personal failings. Above all, we provide students with positive, encouraging learning environments that build their confidence, sense of value and self worth. We teach how to enjoy learning, even if turning wood is not a student’s strong suit, because that is the essence of PBL. In short, learning is discovery and we aim to make it fun and rewarding for every student.

Mentors also receive remarkable rewards. The shop teacher, Scott Lehman, is one of the best teachers I have ever encountered and he is a very accomplished woodworker. He usually has five other mentors working in the shop, who are not turners, but are highly experienced woodworkers. We enjoy excellent esprit decor, inspire and enjoy each other.

Thus, volunteering at Cabrillo Middle School is one of my most happy spaces. I teach skills I love, help students learn life-long skills, knowledge and attitudes, and make a substantial contribution to their educational expenses. Because students choose shop as an elective, they are motivated to learn which virtually eliminates discipline issues and makes volunteering a memorable pleasure.

Also, mentoring students is a wonderful opportunity for club newcomers to learn the art of turning. There are always at least two mentors for students and, to ensure everyone’s success, we pair beginner mentors with highly experienced veterans. Helpfully for new mentors, there is a lot of time between periods to prepare skills for the next class. Beginners, do not doubt yourself, you have important skills and experiences to offer. Years ago as a beginner, I started “just in time learning” in the shop with Al Geller as my mentor. And you know, project based learning works just as well for retired folks as it does for Middle School students!

Wow, I treasure that wonderful memory!

New mentors are needed and I urge novices and experts alike to make room in your busy schedules to teach outstanding students, in a well organized, beautifully equipped wood shop with other mentors who are passionate about working with wood and contributing to their communities. As you teach students, I guarantee you will find many rich rewards well worth your while. Seize this opportunity by contacting David Frank.


Posted April 10, 2022 by Darrel Wilson

Finding Your Creative Center

What is the challenge that will keep you happy, growing and involved?

Over a year ago, Danny, a neighbor, asked for wood turning lessons. He had returned to Ojai  after losing his Manhattan N.Y. job in the COVID shutdown. In his heart of hearts, he was an artist who managed commercial real estate for his livelihood. With extensive experience in ceramics, he chose wood as his next media while he collected unemployment to wait out the pandemic.

Danny’s first bowl was cut from an unknown softwood that I had in stock. He rapidly mastered tool presentation, shape visualization, sharpening and the proper cutting and sanding speed. His learning was consistent and rapid. By comparison, it took me months to do what he was doing by the end of his second session.

I found a nearly new Jet 1221 on Craigslist for $550 and he bought it the next day. I gave him wood, loaned the tooling and he returned a few days later with a lovely thin walled gobblet and a matching bowl!

Danny never made anything else because turning was not the creative challenge he sought. So his new lathe is covered with dust as he looks for other satisfying challenges.

I learned two things. One is that some people have fantastic transfer of training from ceramics to wood turning. While it is mostly impossible to add wood back like you can add clay to a spinning pot, there are many similarities in the use of hands, shaping objects with tooling, choosing the proper speed, etc.

The other is that we need a certain nature and level of challenge to keep involved and growing in our craft and art. Danny quickly moved on, woodturning was too easy.

I keep plodding along, still fascinated and very involved. I like to work with wood that has many issues, such as hardness, cracks, voids, and punky sections. Each represents a problem in search of a solution and sometimes those solutions present even more problems. At this point in my life, when my wife and I are both dealing with medical issues, I am very grateful for these challenges; they help keep me both centered creatively and positively focused. And I love the beautiful rewards of solving these challenges.

Perhaps, this is a grand metaphor for this chapter of life. Who knows?

What I can say for certain is that I love my tools even more as they make creativity one of the main purposes of my days. I revere my hand and power tools because each of them are solutions to very specific challenges I encounter. My tools represent mastery, achievement and satisfaction.

And a wonderful bonus is the advice, and feedback I receive from CIW members, in person and at meetings. Woodturning is the point at which each of us intersect, where we connect with expertise, encouragement, and vision. What a wonderful nexus we share!

One question to close. What is the challenge that will keep you happy, growing and involved? Is it decoration, use of color, hallowing, segmentation, resin, a new shape or……? With too much challenge we give up. With too little, our tools collect dust. We live precious balances that require our mindful tending and care. And most importantly, we share a club that has all the expertise and encouragement we need to succeed and thrive with finding our creative center.


Posted March 7, 2022 by Darrel Wilson

What is good design? What is beautiful?

In 1970 I took a Free University class called “Philosophy of Design.” The first day, the instructor strode into the room wearing a bright flowing, crimson robe over his partly exposed hairy chest and dirty underpants! Four barely clad long haired girls followed closely and hung on his every word and movement. I admit they were distracting, but even so, the instructor made little, if any, sense. The second lecture was the same wandering word salad, so after the students left, I pushed my way through the girls to ask “What is good design?” He squirmed, paused for a while and said, “It’s hard to say for sure, but you know it when you see it.” He looked away, and had nothing to add.

In 2015 I began wood turning and discovered there is much to learn about design and beauty in the circularity of our craft. Turning is magical in the ever changing nature of shaping spinning objects. It is a reductive process with its own challenging logic which leads to discovering more about design and beauty.

For example, I showed Al Geller a beautiful bowl about 10”s in diameter and 11”s high. It was my first spalted maple project, a salad bow I made for my son.  Al carefully rotated it in his hands and remarked about its spectacular color, and glossy finish. Then he cleared his throat, and said “I am going to tell you something important someone told me a long time ago. The question is not how large a bowl you can make from a beautiful piece of wood.” The better question is “what is the most beautiful bowl this wood can become?”

That was an epiphany, the bowl would have been more beautiful had it been shorter to better reveal its remarkable interior character. His words were important. Woodturners learn to orchestrate a dance of form and function to create useful and beautiful objects.

Moreover, surrounding ourselves with beauty that we make or buy, elevates our spirits, graces our days and adds value to our lives. Thousands of years ago, the First People living in our area used reeds, spindly branches, grasses, etc. to bring balance and beauty to carrying water, storing acorns and preparing food. Even then, they perfected their shapes and carefully adorned them with eye-catching colors and patterns. Our love and need for beauty goes back to our earliest days.

Also, turning wood reveals its complex uniqueness and beauty, connecting us to the powerful life-giving forces of our natural environment. Our creations literally ground us to our earth that is the source of our wood and all of life. Our creative processes generate deep respect for the nature that made wood possible. Trees and the objects we fashion from them, have a sense of permanence and longevity that contrast sharply with our quick consumption culture, using and discarding things moment by moment.

So now on this long arc of time we carry forth, learning as we turn wood and answering the questions, “What is good design?” and “What is beautiful?” While good design and beauty are not the same, they are like fraternal twins. They have much in common but they are different. Through their common creative origins, the outcomes of beauty and good design warm our eyes and hearts. Even more for some people, the creative process is a source of healing and personal mastery from complicated pasts. We turn wood for many reasons and enjoy a multitude of wonderful outcomes.

As I turn an object, I am focused on its emerging form and captured by the challenges it presents. I wake up in the morning and plan my next steps with delight. My heart is captured and my hands are eager to work.

These are the essences of the members of Channel Islands Woodturners Club. We share our journeys of design and beauty, adding great value to our lives and the lives of others.

In the coming year, when we show and tell our work at our meetings, let’s discuss good design and beauty. While we won’t always agree, we will learn from each other. Let’s discuss the golden mean, use complementary colors, decoration and much more. The point is to explore and celebrate our different understandings of design and beauty.

And to close. My son and family use their salad bowl several times a week. Even though I think it could be better, they love its design. They use tongs so its tall profile makes it very easy to pinch a hefty load of greens, and the tongs never fall over into the salad. Moreover, they think it is beautiful!


Posted February 11, 2022 by Darrel Wilson


Happy 2022!

The CIW Board has met and planned our 2022 year’s activities.

It appears there will be surges of new COVID variants every year, or even every few months. If we wear high quality masks, are vaccinated and meet in outside places with good separation, we should be reasonably safe. Put another way, as long as vaccines continue to protect against severe illness and the risk to most individuals remains low, CIW can continue to meet in person, in outside locations. Some members are more vulnerable so we will continue to offer streaming on Zoom, whenever possible. Given the rapidly changing nature of the pandemic landscape, the Board will review this plan each quarter.

To begin 2022, we hoped to meet in front of David Franks’ shop for his demonstration of pyrography, but that did not work out. Fortunately San Diego Woodturners has an outstanding streaming demonstration January 15th at 9:30AM. Mark Ridgley has sent the Zoom link to you already.

For the year, our goal is to meet safely in person, every other month, and have streamed presenters on the offsetting months. Because we don’t have use of the school this year, we are looking for other shop venues with strong wifi connections and lathes for demos. If you can sponsor a meeting, please let Mark know.

Also, we hope to have an Outdoor Summer Picnic in July and will let you know if, where and when that will be. On August 3-14 the County Fair is open and we need people to turn tops in our booth and tell the public about our support of Cabrillo Middle School students. We hope to have some sort of Holiday Celebration.

Thank you members, your responses to the program survey was excellent, very informative and Mark Ridgley will use it to secure our presenters. In some cases, we will team with San Diego Woodturners.

More than 45 members have paid their dues and we expect about 15 or 20 more persons to respond. If you haven’t renewed, please send your $35 checks to Tucker Grant.

Secretary Terry Koplan is reviewing our website, making corrections and changes. Send your suggestions to Terry.

David Frank needs mentors for Cabrillo School students. Please contact him. If you can fit this into your schedule, you will enjoy helping great students learn life-long woodturning skills.

To close, we look forward to continuing our mission: To promote education and awareness of the art and craft of woodturning among the membership and the general public; and to provide opportunities for youth and adults to safely learn woodturning techniques, acquire artistic values, and increase experience and skill.

[Contact information for all of the people mentioned is available in the members only section of the website, or you can use the contact us form on the website.]

Posted January 2022 by Darrel Wilson


As the school year finishes I would like to take this opportunity to thank our community outreach chair David Frank and all of the members who volunteer their time for the club’s woodturning mentoring program at Cabrillo Middle School. The club has two members at the school three days a week, five hours a day during the school year.  This amounts to about 600 volunteer hours per school year, not including summer session or time volunteered sourcing and preparing wood and supplies. 

I recently attended Cabrillo Middle School’s showcase that allowed students to display their art and woodworking projects. Going around and speaking to students about their work, I could see how proud they were of what they had accomplished and that they had the confidence to explain their work. It gave me a glimpse of what our mentoring program means to the students that our club members work with. When I talk to members that help at the school, I also see that they get a great deal of joy in helping the students as well.  

So again I want to thank all of the club members that volunteer their time to make this program so successful. I hope more members are able to join the team that volunteer at the school, I know that I look forward to being able to volunteer when I retire. 


Posted June 22, 2018 by Chrystal Craver


Mike Mahoney demonstrated for the Channel Islands Woodturners on April 29, 2018

Our April meeting was an all-day demonstration with professional turner Mike Mahoney. Mike turned several projects during his demo. He started by creating four bowl blanks by coring from one block of wood using the McNaughton Center Saver system. He then moved on to turn a platter and hollow form urn with a threaded lid. Mike finished by turning a calabash bowl.  Throughout the demo he discussed how the projects were turned, design, layout and tools. See the photos from the day here.

The meeting also included an instant gallery for members to show their work and a wood raffle. We had a great turn out at this meeting with 41 members, 1 student and 7 guests. I hope all of you had a wonderful time and hope to see all of you in the future.

I wanted to thank everyone who was involved with making this day go so smoothly, including the set up crew (that came in on Friday to set up the video system and arrange the room so more people would fit comfortably) and the crew the day of the demo (that made sure all went smoothly, video, instant gallery, lunch, wood raffle and clean up).  We would not have successful meetings without you.  

If you are interested in woodturning in the Ventura County area and are visiting our website for the first time, please come join us at a meeting.


Posted May 10, 2018 by Chrystal Craver