View Full Version : Turner Interview: Vaughn McMillan

Mark Cothren
08-02-2006, 12:05 PM
SMC Turning Forum Interview

Let me preface this interview by thanking Mark Cothren asking me to participate, and thanking all the turners here on SMC for getting me interested in this round stuff and sharing your knowledge and experience.

Also, let me apologize in advance for the length of this interview. Mark should have known better than to ask a writer to fill out an interview form. You might as well go get a cup of coffee now...you’re gonna be here a bit.

Name: Vaughn McMillan

DOB: 1957

Physical description
I'm about 6' 1" and 180 pounds, with a look only a mother could love. I apparently hit a fair number of branches falling out of the Ugly Tree.

Tujunga CA (LA area) for about 15 years (but I don't consider myself a Californian), Albuquerque NM for about 20 years prior to that, and various points north of there many years ago.

Family information
Recently married my sweetheart of 10 years (and also got her mom as part of a package deal), so it's the three of us together with the two fuzzy children, Sasha and Dakota. LOML (a.k.a. Kian, rhymes with "neon") is definitely my better half. She had the two qualities I was looking for in a woman -- bad eyesight and desperation. Seriously, she's a wonderful friend and a sweet person with a wry sense of humor. My new MIL needs a bit of help getting around and isn't in great health, but she's still full of pith and vinegar, so we get along well. We own a nice home in the hills on the northern edge of Los Angeles in a funky little semi-rural town populated by everyone from bikers to JPL scientists to entertainment execs and tradespeople. We are less than a half mile from the Angeles National Forest boundary (at about 1,500 feet above sea level) and at times we forget that there are eight million of our closest friends living just down the hill from us. I'm looking forward to not living in LA some day.

I'm on my third career so far. Still trying to decide what I want to be when I grow up, I guess. After high school, I seriously (and relatively successfully) pursued the music business for six or seven years. Taught guitar to about 40 kids a week, and played in a popular Albuquerque bar band six nights a week for much of that time. Eventually the band did a self-produced album and toured the Rocky Mountain states to promote it, but never really got things off the ground. It was still a great experience, and I wouldn't do it differently, but eventually I needed to make more money. After the band broke up, I fell back on experience I'd gotten working high school summers in my dad's materials testing lab, and got into the civil construction inspection/administration business. I worked on a number of projects in New Mexico and Arizona in a number of capacities, ranging from materials testing technician to project inspector/administrator/field engineer to earthwork estimator. I eventually got tired of working myself out of a job with nearly every project, and I had an opportunity to take a completely different type of job as a technical writer in California, so I did.

Now I'm a tech writer for a software company. I write the help files and manuals that nobody reads. I also supply pretty much any text displayed on-screen by our products...if that part's done right, the help and manual shouldn't be needed. I've been with the same company since I moved to California, and held a variety of positions, but all of them also included the tech writing aspects. In years past I've done a lot of traveling for the company to give presentations and work at trade shows, but after breaking my back in a 30 foot fall on 9/9/2001, my speaking duties were taken over by others, and I've not done any business travel since then. My back's pretty much back together now, but the company has kept me in town.

http://workingwoods.com (my woodworking site)
http://tg3k.com (my "let's waste some time" site)

Equipment Overview
I've got the average but decent starter hobbyist kit...Ridgid TS 3650 with an Incra TS-III fence set-up and Hitachi M12V router in the RT extension, Grizzly G1182HW 6" jointer, Shop Fox W1706 14" bandsaw (with riser kit) and W1671 benchtop mortiser, Delta DP200 drill press, and a Delta TP305 Snipemaster planer. Add in a pile of hand-held power tools and a couple or three inheritances of other odd and/or old tools, and that's my basic equipment list.

How many lathes have (or do) you own? Tell us about 'em.
Be easy on me folks...I'm just starting into the Abyss. So far all I have is a little Wilton VS mini-lathe, a set of Harbor Freight HSS chisels, the Woodcraft low-speed grinder, and the PSI knock-off of the Wolverine sharpening jig. I intend to someday have a bigger lathe, because I can tell already that I'm going to outgrow the mini pretty quickly.

How many turning tools do you have?
Including the box they came in? Nine. No wait, I've also got an old Millers Falls skew and gouge that were my granddad’s, so make the eleven. (Ten if you don't count the box.) I've also got the basics for pen turning, and a Nova G3 chuck is on the way (or already here, depending on when you read this).

Tell us about your shop
My shop is most of the carpeted two-car garage that's attached to our house. I still need to move some more junk into our rented storage locker so I can gain more shop space (for things like dust collection and bigger tools).

How long turning?
Even though I did a bit of turning in high school shop, I'm among the newest of the newbies on SMC when it comes to turning. I've had my little lathe for a little over a month.

What got you into turning?
I've only been back into the woodworking groove for a bit more than a year. (I did some relatively primitive woodworking during and after high school, but was away from anything more than home fix-it stuff for many years.) The SMC crowd renewed my interest in turning. My high school turning experience was limited to a set of walnut and maple nunchucks and a cherry and walnut mortar and pestle. My sister still has the mortar and pestle, and she even took a picture of it for the SMC crowd (below). I enjoyed everything about high school shop, including turning.

What do you enjoy most about turning?
Like any woodworking, part of the magic of turning is seeing what's hiding inside the wood. I see turning as a versatile and fun way to shape wood. The ability to start and finish a project in a single session is also very appealing. Instant gratification. I realize there's also a lot of patience (and potential frustration) involved is turning, especially when it comes to drying a piece, or hoping you don't blow something up when you're 98% done turning it.

What was your first completed turned project?
The first thing I ever turned was a 2” diameter walnut dowel for use on an end table I made in high school. More recently, the first thing off my little lathe was the obligatory SMC bonker.

What is your favorite form that you turn?
So far, anything that survives the ride is my favorite.

What is your favorite form someone else turns/has turned?
I’d have to say the hollow forms I’ve seen here on SMC have been a lot of my inspiration. I’d like to get to the point where I can turn them, but I can see how it can become a pretty consuming obsession. I also don't anticipate doing anything real serious about learning to turn HFs until I have a bigger lathe.

What is your favorite wood to work with and why?
I’m new enough at this for me to keep finding new favorites at nearly every turn (pun intended). For woodworking in general, I like cherry and maple a lot. Anything with good figure gets my attention.

Have you met or hung out with any turnin' Creekers? Tell us about it.
I’ve not met any of the SMC turners yet, but hope to when the opportunity comes up.

What is your favorite individual piece that you have turned, and why?
At this point I’d have to say it was a little weed pot I did out of some yard trimmings (pictured below). The form and wood grain just seemed to work. I’ve got lots of room for new favorite pieces as my experience grows.

What is your favorite piece someone else has turned, and why?
There are many, many pieces that have been shown here on SMC that impress and inspire me. The hollow forms mystify me the most. The miniatures also intrigue me (and would fit on my lathe). I don't think I could single any out.

What do you not turn now that you want to - or plan to - in the future?
Hollow forms are my long-term goal, but I need to work my way up to them skill-wise and tool-wise.

What brought you to SMC?
I stumbled upon SMC while Internet searching around the time I was getting started again with woodworking last year. I immediately liked the tone and spirit of the place, so I pretty much just parked here. The camaraderie on the Turning Forum is great.

Got any nicknames? How'd you get it?
What? Do you think I’m crazy? We’ll just keep any nicknames between me and the sweaty biker chicks.

Now let's get a little deep... If you were a tree, what tree would you be and why?
I’d want to be a Shlamaca tree, the vaguest and most importantest tree of them all (to paraphrase Nino the Mindboggler from Firesign Theatre).

Ken Fitzgerald
08-02-2006, 12:12 PM
Nice to know more about you Vaughn!

Karl Laustrup
08-02-2006, 12:36 PM
Vaughn, that is a great interview. Glad to know you.

I am a little concerned about your little white lie about how long you've been turning though. You expect me to believe that the pictures you've shown are from someone with only a months experience. :confused: :confused: ;) :)

Please Vaughn, I didn't just fall off the turnip truck, nor did I stay at a Holiday Inn Express, although I did just arrive on the noon balloon from Saskatoon. :eek: :D :D


Michael Stafford
08-02-2006, 12:41 PM
Schlamaca, schlamiel, you would want to be an endangered species. It seems only appropriate you would want to be a one of a kind wood, you, after all are a one of a kind guy. Loved the interview and enjoy seeing your turning progress. You can turn fairly large objects on the mini. Most of the HF's are within the swing range of that lathe.

Keith Burns
08-02-2006, 1:23 PM
Vaughn, nice to know more about you. Great interview. I've admired your cutting boards for some time and admire the "workmanship" and the quality product you produce. I'm sure the same things have and will continue to show up with your turnings.:) :)

john whittaker
08-02-2006, 3:04 PM
Vaughn...To quote you from a recent post...."never been accused of being brief"........The ONLY thing "brief" about you is your tighty whitey's. :D

Nice to know a bit more about you and as always...enjoy your humor.

Bernie Weishapl
08-02-2006, 6:06 PM
Vaughn it is nice to meet you and to get to know you better. Pictures look great for someone just turning a month.

Dick Parr
08-02-2006, 6:47 PM
Really nice to get to know you better Vaughn. That was a very interesting interview with a lot of information.

I really love your web site (woodworking), you do a fantastic job on those cutting boards. They are just beautiful.;)

Ernie Nyvall
08-02-2006, 7:32 PM
Great interview Vaughn. You're a funny guy. Nice to meet you.


Andy Hoyt
08-02-2006, 7:50 PM
Hey Vaughn! I'm glad that this thing has finally been posted because lately I've been worried that you really haven't been more the same now than you were before you used to be the same. I'm guessing that Gypsy, Tom, Cambot, and Croooooooooooow have something to do with that. Nonetheless, I'm glad you're here and I'm there.

Curt Fuller
08-02-2006, 8:35 PM
Excellent interview Vaughn! And those are both great websites. You do some beautiful work, and some goofy stuff too.

Dennis Peacock
08-02-2006, 8:39 PM
Wow Vaughn...you've been a busy feller. Nice to meet you and know more about you. :cool:

Travis Stinson
08-02-2006, 9:00 PM
Great interview Vaughn. Glad to have you over on "our" side!;) I'm looking forward to seeing more of your work and your UPGRADE! (It's coming soon........;) )

Tom Sherman
08-02-2006, 9:22 PM
Great interview Vaughn, nice to learn more about you.

Bruce Shiverdecker
08-02-2006, 9:29 PM
Vaughn...........................I'll bet thay pay you by the word!:D

You also got yourself a very good editor. No typo's or big Grammer booboos.

On top of that, it was an interesting interview.



Barry Stratton
08-02-2006, 11:19 PM
Great interview Vaughn and thanks for sharing! I've admired your attention to detail on your flatwork and it has obviously followed you into the abyss. I look forward to more photo's of your work.

And I thought you had a nickname, something like "WiLd ThInG".....

Tom Sherman
08-02-2006, 11:48 PM
Good one Barry, I had forgotten all about that(I'm sure Vaughn would prefer we all did) VAROOM VAROOM Wildthing

Cecil Arnold
08-03-2006, 12:33 AM
Hi Vaughn, nice to know more about our resident hippie haired Californian--almost.;) ;) Your work is far beyond anything one would expect for the time you have been turning. Keep up the excellent work.

John Miliunas
08-03-2006, 7:41 AM
Vaughn, I always enjoy your posts both, on and off the Turner's Forum and now, I can read them with a bit more insight about the guy behind the keyboard. Your cutting boards are already world famous and, at the rate you're going, your turnings will soon be, as well! :) :cool:

Ed Scolforo
08-03-2006, 8:58 AM
Vaughn, Good to know you better. I've been admiring your cutting boards for awhile now. Great work! Welcome to the spinny side.

Corey Hallagan
08-03-2006, 9:09 PM
Glad to meet you Vaughn. You do wonderful flat work and you look like a natural at the spinny thing as well. I look forward to seeing more of your work!


Vaughn McMillan
08-04-2006, 12:47 AM
Thanks for the kind comments, all. Just to update the interview a bit with info most of you already know, I do have a lathe that's bigger than the Wilton mini now. I've also got a couple bowls drying now, so unless I blow something up, I'll hopefully have pics to show in the new few weeks. With my recent load of new wood and the Wild Thing,I'm getting geared up to do some more round stuff. My current projects have been flatwork -- like an over-designed bandsaw sled and outfeed table for cutting some of my new wood up, and a bunch of Viking stuff for my BIL -- but in the meantime I've continued to make several pens a week. I see a bunch of bowls in my future.

Yes, the Abyss has sucked me in completely, but it's soft and warm feelng. :D

Thanks again -

- Vaughn

Vaughn McMillan
08-04-2006, 12:52 AM
Vaughn...........................I'll bet thay pay you by the word!:D
In my day job, I have to be as brief and concise as possible. When I'm yakkin' with my pals on SMC, I get to let my shirt tail out, undo my ponytail, and be a bit sloppier. :p

- Vaughn

Seth Poorman
08-05-2006, 12:37 AM
Good interview Vaughn..And I wish us both good luck on finding our bigger

Jim Ketron
08-06-2006, 8:22 AM
Nice Interview Vaughn!
we will have you doing HF's in no time:D

Jim Becker
08-06-2006, 10:28 AM
A most excellent interview, Vaughn!!

Ed Breen
08-06-2006, 5:36 PM
Hello Vaughn,
Pleased to make your aquaintance. I enjoyed the bio, and want to thank you for the assistance in picture posting. I finally did it!!
Only problem is I don't have "great Image" on my home machine.

Don Orr
08-08-2006, 9:11 AM
Real nice interview. Nice to get to know you better. Looking forward to seeing the bowls that are in the works.
Have fun!

P.S.-don't tell any one else how warm and wonderful this abyss can be-it will just get overcrowded;) .

Robert McGowen
08-25-2006, 3:53 PM
You make some mean cutting boards also!

John Hart
09-05-2006, 12:44 PM
Nice interview Vaughn! :)
I think you'd make a fine Shlamaca Tree.;)