View Full Version : Turner Interview: Don Orr

Mark Cothren
05-14-2006, 10:12 PM
Name: Donald J. Orr, Jr (Don usually)

DOB: January, 1959

Physical description (G-rated, please)
5'9", 175 lbs. Dark red hair and beard.

Location (for how long, previous locations, etc)
Schenectady, NY for the past 10 yrs, East Greenbush, NY (across the Hudson River from Albany) 3 yrs, born and raised in a small town in central NY state. Spent 4 yrs in the mountains of Colorado, 1986-90.

Family information (brag on your spouse, kids, grandkids, dog, etc)
Married to an incredible woman named Barbara since 1999, who is the best thing that ever happened to me. She is very supportive and encouraging and even gave me my 1st lathe. She is an outstanding potter and quilter. Unfortunately we do not have any children or pets.

Vocation (what do you do for a living, and what have you done
Currently I am a Medical Imaging Technologist, which means I do X-rays, CAT scans, and MRI's. I currently work at an outpatient office where everybody (mostly) walks in and out on their own power. I spent 10 yrs working in a large teaching hospital and trauma center after getting out of Radiography school in 1993. While in Colorado, I worked at a lumber yard/hardware store where I ran the hardware part and did all the counter sales. Before that, I worked in a powdered metal production facility which was a division of Pratt-Whitney Aircraft for about 4 yrs. Started on the furnace and worked up to QA. Spent 4 yrs in college,( SUNY Albany, BS Biology), and worked all kinds of jobs. Worked in our church cemetery all through high school. Grew up on a small farm and worked a lot there too.

Equipment Overview (lathe, tools, etc)
Basic woodworking shop with table saw, band saw, jointer, planer, drill press, drum sander, scroll saw, 8" grinder, hand-held power tools and lots of hand tools. I also collect Stanley planes and tools, so I have a wide variety of those. I'm still working on building my workbench, got it started but it sits there incomplete. I also have a small dust collector which I currently move between machines but hope to upgrade that soon.

How many lathes have (or do) you own? Tell us about 'em.
Currently I have 5 wood lathes, and will be bringing a metal lathe home soon. My first lathe is a Jet Mini that my wife gave me for Christmas 2000 which included a complete pen-turning starter kit. I then bought a 12x36 Craftsman tube-rail lathe (like Stu's). When I bought it, it was 14 yrs old but had never been used. Came mounted on a Craftsman bench with all kinds of accessories and 10 tools still in their original packaging, and some have carbide tips! It also included a Copy-Crafter which I have never tried. I have a "spare" Jet mini I got cheap with a bed extension, all still in their boxes. My "baby" is my Jet 1642 EVS which I just love. I even paid for most of it by selling some turnings. Very nice machine. I just brought home my Father-in-Law's 70 year old Craftsman lathe which he got when he was 14 in about 1936. Still works great, and he even mounted a compound rest to it. (He was a machinist by trade and shop teacher later). He passed away last December and wanted me to have his lathes (the metal lathe too). I also have most of his other tools including his hand planes which he gave me before he died.

How many turning tools do you have?
This is where I get into trouble-WAAAAAAAYYYY too many. I started with the little spindle gouge and skew from the starter kit that came with my 1st lathe. Got a set of cheapo junk tools from one of those traveling hardware sales. Junk except the set had a bowl gouge which allowed me to learn how to sharpen well and turn bowls. Bought a cheap set of Buck Bros. Tools at Home Depot, not great. All the Craftsman tools that came with my 2nd lathe. A set of 6 nice Record HSS tools from an estate sale-barely used. As I learned more about turning and good tools I started to acquire better tools individually. I love my Hamlet and Crown bowl gouges-I have several. I adore my Crown Pro-PM spindle gouges-favorite tools! Various scrapers, skews, parting tools. I have the 8 pc Harbor Freight HSS set that almost everybody has. Good for grinding the daylights out of when learning to sharpen. I have 3 Sorby tools as well. Several home-made tools including a pair of Ellsworth-style hollowers (work great), Rosand-style small hollowers and some shear scrapers. I have a set of Kelton hollowers and mini-hollowers, a One-Way bowl gouge and handle, a Bihn Pho bowl scraper, and a Kelton Center saver. I also have about 6 chucks with various spindle threads and jaws mounted. It probably sound like I spend money like I have a ton of it. Really, I have not paid full price for any of these tools. I get them on sale or from eBay or wherever I can find them at a good deal. I actually have 4 gouges still in their packaging because I got them on close-out and they are consumable.

Tell us about your shop
I call it my "Thanks Dad" shop. Dad passed away in January of 2003 and left me a few bucks. Not enough to quit my job and travel the world for the rest of my life, but enough to change my life here and now. I had a 20' x 28' workshop built with a walk-up attic which is attached to our garage. Well insulated with 2x6 walls, a 6' French type door in front and single door out back. Concrete pads front and back. Lots of windows. 50 amp subpanel with a 220 circuit. I put up " BC plywood on the walls inside. I can hang anything anywhere. I put in a small propane wall heater this year and it does pretty well. I just have to close of the stairs so the heat stays in the shop instead of the attic. I'm still working on arranging things and getting shelves up and hanging tools but I can work in there. The turning area is very functional.

How long turning?
Started in November 2000.

What got you into turning?
I joined the Northeastern Woodworkers Association and took a class on turning pens one Saturday. From the first instant I touched gouge to wood, I was hooked. Haven't looked back since, just wish I had more time to turn. I have been hacking wood into various forms of submission most of my life but turning is the first thing I have been reasonably successful with.

What do you enjoy most about turning?
Everything ! Really the variety of things you can make, the immediacy of it, the people I've met, the creativity, and on and on.

What was your first completed turned project?
A pen.

What is your favorite form that you turn?
Hard to say. I like doing bowls but I work a lot between centers as well. I really enjoy making something I can use like mallets, handles and such. I also make tons of finger tops.

What is your favorite form someone else turns/has turned?
This is a very difficult one. I have a wide variety of interests when it come to turning. I like a well done hollow form, a nice functional bowl, carved and textured pieces, piercing, coloring, you name it. Some of my favorite pieces are those posted by beginners, simply for the courage it takes to put something up and say "well, what do you think?"

What is your favorite wood to work with and why?
Another tough one. I like most woods and am lucky that I don't have bad reactions to any of them yet. I like Cocobolo very much for its density and color. I enjoy turning Juniper (cedar, arbor vitae) for the color and smell. Hard to beat maple and cherry.

Have you met or hung out with any turnin' Creekers?
Tell us about it. Not yet, hope to though. Real nice bunch here.

What is your favorite individual piece that you have turned, and why?
I think I will say one of my first real hollow forms I did out of figured maple that someone else had discarded. I gave it to my wife for our 5th anniversary (5 yr traditional gift is wood).

What if your favorite piece someone else has turned, and why?
Way too hard to answer. I admire so many turners. I did get a big kick out of all the bonkers from the contest!

What do you not turn now that you want to - or plan to - in the future?
Again a tough question. There are so many things I want to try but have not had the time yet. I want to do more and bigger hollow forms. I want to explore multi-axis turning more. I want to learn how to chase threads by hand (oh yeah, I have a set of those too!). And so on and so on.

What brought you to SMC?
Mostly surfing, but I really got interested when some other sites got blocked at work. I can follow SMC from work with no problem and now I like it here very much. Just wish I had more time to spend here.

Got any nicknames? How'd you get it?
Nope (my Dad used to call me Red though).

Now let's get a little deep... If you were a tree, what tree would you
be and why?
I've thought about this one a bit. I think I'll go with Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) for its strength and beauty. Wonderful wood, shade in the summer, glorious color in the fall, and a sweet surprise in the spring. I'm nothing like that but I admire those qualities

Mark Cothren
05-14-2006, 10:19 PM
Sorry... forgot these two pics...



Keith Burns
05-14-2006, 10:39 PM
Nice to get to know more about you Don. Very nice interview:)

Don Baer
05-14-2006, 10:42 PM
Cool interview Don and I like your name. Nice to know more about you.

Jim Becker
05-14-2006, 10:48 PM
Very nice interview. Great looking shop and work, too!

And...a free avatar out of the deal, no less...

Jim Dunn
05-14-2006, 10:49 PM
Very nice interview Don. Real nice to meet ya.

Paul Douglass
05-14-2006, 11:08 PM
Don, nice to meet you. Enjoyed the interview.

Ken Fitzgerald
05-14-2006, 11:34 PM
Excellent interview Don! It's nice knowing more about you!

Stu Ablett in Tokyo Japan
05-15-2006, 12:02 AM
Great interview Don, nice to know you a little better.
With all them lathes at your house, things must go round and round :D


John Hart
05-15-2006, 7:03 AM
Don....you are "Lathe Saturated"...Holy Cow!!
That was a nice tribute to your dad. You must miss him a lot. Nice interview.:)

Hey....what's the spindly-looking thing with the red thread?

Andy Hoyt
05-15-2006, 8:46 PM
Five latherizers! Cool!

I now have this mental image that started with Ginger Baker wailing away on all of his drums and it morphed into Don Orr wailing away on all of his lathes.

And as a result, Don - all of your shirts and jackets will need to be replaced to accomodate the eight new arms you grew.

Looking forward to shaking one or more of your hands one day.:D

Travis Stinson
05-15-2006, 8:51 PM
Great interview. Nice to know more about you Don.:cool:
Very nice setup!

Mike Ramsey
05-16-2006, 9:19 AM
Nice to meet you Don! Great interview & a beautiful shop!
I think you should box some of those unused tools up and I'll
provide you with shipping instructions :) .

Don Orr
05-16-2006, 10:58 AM
Thanks for all the nice comments everybody. Sure is nice to be here.
Jim B.- how do I copy the avatar to use in my posts ? Not much of a puter guy.

Andy-looking forward to meeting you as well some day, maybe over a nice bowl of ice cream!;)

John H.- that spindly thing with the thread is a spinning top. I made it for my newest great-nephew. The round top of the handle has a brass rod in it and comes out when you pull the string to start the top spinning. Works great and kids ( and grown-ups) love them.

Stu-between me turning in the horizontal plane and my wife turning in the vertical plane (pottery wheel) we do a lot of spinning:D

Wish I got to spend more time here at the Creek with all you good folks. I sure enjoy it when I do.

Happy and Safe Turning, Don

Ed Scolforo
05-16-2006, 11:12 AM
Hi, Don. Nice to get to know you better. Actually, I didn't realize that there was someone from The Creek living this close to me. I'm really envious of your shop! Thanks for the interview.

Bernie Weishapl
05-16-2006, 1:41 PM
Don very pleased to meet you and to get to know you better.

Ernie Nyvall
05-16-2006, 4:46 PM
Nice to meet you Don. You do nice work.


Don Orr
05-16-2006, 7:18 PM
Ernie, thanks for the nice compliment. I try hard to get thingd to come out nicely, but I'm not always successful.

Ed, do you belong to any turning groups in the area? Think about coming to Totally Turning 2006 Symposium in the fall in Albany.

And thanks Bernie as well.


Jim Becker
05-16-2006, 7:50 PM
how do I copy the avatar to use in my posts ? Not much of a puter guy.

Right click on the picture and save to your computer. Then, go to the User CP (profile) area of SMC and upload the new avatar to your profile.

Bruce Shiverdecker
05-16-2006, 7:51 PM
Great interview, Don. Looks like you have had an interesting life so far. Aren't wives named Barbara wonderful to have? Mine has stuck around for 39 years this November.


Curt Fuller
05-16-2006, 9:49 PM
Great to get to know you. That shop is a beauty. If I had something like that I'd probably call it 'home".

My wife has a sister that recently moved to Kingston NY. Is that anywhere near where you're at?

Glenn Hodges
05-18-2006, 6:34 AM
Nice to meet you Don.

Bob Noles
05-18-2006, 8:43 AM

A very nice interview and really refreshing to get to know a creeker/turner a little better.

In a way, I wish I hadn't read the part about your "favorite lathe" as it only stoked the fire of my upgrade fever :eek:

Look forward to learning more from your posts and sharing experiences.

Don Orr
05-18-2006, 10:29 AM
Thanks for the warm responses everyone! Really makes me feel at home here.
Bruce, yes Barbaras are great! And not just mine:D . My wife has done so much to change mt life for the better I can only hope I have done a small fraction of the same for her.

Curt, Kingston is about 1.5 hrs south of me. It was the original capital of NY state.

Jim B., thanks, I'll give it a try.

Bob, thanks for the encouragement. The 1642 Jet is a very nice machine. It's kind of the little brother to the PM 3520. Similar controls and features, just scaled down.

Barry Stratton
05-22-2006, 3:38 AM
Great interview, terrific work, and AWESOME shop! Thanks for sharing.

John Miliunas
05-26-2006, 11:57 AM
Yikes!!! Seems you have enough spinny things there to start your own classroom!!! :D Looks to me like you have the talent to teach someone the "right way" of doing things! :) Great interview and nice to "meet" you, Don! :) :cool: