View Full Version : SMC Turner Interview - Robert McGowen

Andy Hoyt
07-28-2007, 7:35 PM
Name: Robert McGowen

How young are you? 3 years shy of a half century. Dang, that sounds old.

Physical description:
6 feet even, bald as you can get, and between 185 and 225 pounds depending on what sort of diet I am trying, currently 205.

Where’s home?
I live in Texas and have been here almost my entire life. I was born in Tennessee if that gives me any sort of bonus points though.

Not a chance, bub.

Family information:
I have been happily married for 25 years now to the same person that I took to my high school prom. We have 4 wonderful kids: Our oldest son who is 23 years old, a 19 year old daughter, and twin boys that are 16 years old. The oldest two are in college (one courtesy of the United States Air Force!) and the twins have been home-schooled their entire lives. I am proud to say that we are all Christians and are active in our church. As for pets, we had over a hundred parrots at one time, but now just have one parrot, 5 dogs, some chickens, and a 7000-gallon pond full of koi and goldfish. Oh yeah, if it swims the 3 boys and I will fish for it.

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Do you have a website?
I actually have a business (http://www.birdsetc.com) that I run on the side but the only things on it made out of wood are parrot boxes I made using plywood. Even though it helps with the bills, I now have an intense dislike for plywood!

Sheesh! A page break already!

Andy Hoyt
07-28-2007, 7:35 PM
I am a sergeant in a large city police department in Texas and have been there almost 26 years. It seems like I was just a young child when I started there, and I haven’t done anything else. I have worked narcotics the last 7 years, and about 80% of what I do can be rather boring, like sitting in a car for 8 hours at a time doing surveillance. The other 20% I would PAY THEM to get to do, but please don’t tell anyone that! Plus, there is something to be said about a job where you wear shorts, sandals, and a Harley T-shirt for work clothes. I included a couple of professionally altered photographs so you could see me in action. I’m the guy on the left if you can’t tell.

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Your resemblance to Keith Burns is uncanny. You guys related?

Shop Overview:
I built a 16’ x 36’ building to house the 100+ parrots. I eventually concreted it in a section at a time and now it is THE SHOP. It is right behind the house, and is capable of being enlarged, and is looking rather cramped right now. I started woodworking as a necessity building breeding boxes for the parrots. One thing led to another, as it often does, and the parrots are now gone due to the breeding box business taking up my time. I currently have a Jet 10” cabinet saw, Jet dust collector, Jet 6” jointer, Rigid 12” planer (I have no idea why?), Jet 14” bandsaw, Rigid floor drill, Delta table top drill, Jet 12” disc sander, Jet 10-20 drum sander, Makita 12” compound sliding miter saw, more clamps than you can imagine, and a wide assortment of hand tools. I will never be a Neander. If the electricity goes out, my shop is useless. I like making cutting boards also, but with the turning sickness, I cut the corners off of the last board and turned it round!

How many lathes do you own?
I have a Jet mini (of course) and recently purchased a Jet 1220. My wife told me that I could buy a Powermatic 3520b with any accessories that I wanted the day I retire. I am planning to retire at the end of this year, but I think she is trying to make sure of it.

Why Wait? For retirement, that is. Oops, you said, m*st*rd – take your time.

How many turning tools do you have?
I counted 15 turning tools including one homemade one. I could not bring myself to pay $35 for a tool specifically to make captive rings. I sharpened the tip of a long, thin screwdriver and bent it over about 60 degrees. It looks like a very thin and bent parting tool. It worked great and I thought I was the smartest guy in the world. It can also open paint cans, be used as a knockout bar, or used to mix epoxy. It’s an all-around workhorse, but I end up using a round-nose scraper for about 80% of my lathe work though. I couldn’t turn without it.

How long have you been turning, and what got you started in the first place?
I am in the “woodworking” business, so I get to write off tools on my taxes and I needed some parrot perches. A lathe? Sure, why not. I did the standard “take a pen making class at Woodcraft”, got hooked, and that was that. If you are reading this, then you know what I mean! It has been about 4 years now, but the desire is stronger than ever.

What's your favorite flavor of ice cream?
No contest – Blue Bell Great Divide. It’s half homemade vanilla and half dutch chocolate, all in the same carton. The best of both worlds.

Sounds good – I’ll swap ya for some Moxie.

What do you enjoy most about turning?
I am really into segmented turning now. It is great when people look at a piece and the first thing they say is, “How did you do that?” But the actual turning part? When you have the perfect speed, the perfect tool, the perfect wood, and you look over your shoulder and see a stream of paper-thin wood flying several feet past your shoulder, you know life is good.

What do you enjoy the least about turning?
Cleaning up that stream of paper-thin shavings that you just saw when you looked over your shoulder! I still have not figured out how you can get so much mess from a small piece of wood.

What was your first completed turned project? You get bonus points for a picture of it.
The first project was the pen at Woodcraft. It was entirely messed up. I did not quite understand the concept and ended up with a pen with a giant depression in the middle of each piece. It was made of Rosewood and was awful. I loved it anyway. Bonus points: zero. Why would I want to show a picture of it? I have enough pain in my life.

Andy Hoyt
07-28-2007, 7:35 PM
Oh, and what's up with that now AWOL :D antique avatar photo of yours?
The photo is not really that old. It was always kind of funny to hear my kids explain to their friends why Dad has earrings and an 8” goatee. And the look on the Moms’ faces when they grabbed their little kids’ hands in the grocery store when I walked by always made me smile. If they only knew that I am a really nice guy and the first person they would want around in an emergency. Oh well………….


What’s your favorite individual piece that you have turned, and why?
It would have to be the inside-out turning that I made my wife for Christmas. It is a lamp (http://www.sawmillcreek.org/showthread.php?t=48441) that has a cross design in it. It isn’t the hardest thing I have turned, but I knew that it would mean a lot to her. All the effort was rewarded by the smile on her face and the sparkle in her eyes when she saw it.

What’s your favorite form that you turn?
I like doing segmented pieces. It was always a challenge to take a raw piece of wood and make it do want I wanted it to do, but most of the time, the wood would end up doing what IT wanted to do! With segmented work, I at least have some sort of control over what I am trying to accomplish. My wife says I am all about control!

What do you not turn now that you want to - or plan to - in the future?
I want to do something artistic. A small hollow form with a long thin base and really nice finial comes to mind.

How do you take your Moxie? (Straight up? beer chaser? neat? with corn flakes?)
Straight from the can, but being from Texas, I have never even seen any! (Yes, I actually know what it is.)

Like I said, we can fix that.

What’s your favorite form someone else turns?
This really isn’t a form, but I like the artistic pieces. Most turners can produce some really nice stuff, but only a few people can make you say “Wow!” when you see their pieces. I still aspire to do this (http://www.sawmillcreek.org/showthread.php?t=40881).

What’s your favorite individual piece someone else has turned, and why?
It is this one (http://www.sawmillcreek.org/showthread.php?t=55554):

That Stinson guy must have a 12 HP buffer the way his stuff shines.

What’s your favorite wood to work with and why? It would have to be mesquite.
I like the way you can go straight from a tree to a finished piece all in the same day.

What brought you to SMC?
I was trying to improve my skills. I joined the day I found the website and have never found an equal to it.

What was your seventh post about? Or don’t you remember?
Probably some pithy witticism intended to showcase my intellect and astute powers of observation as well as my ability to change horses in midstream (http://www.sawmillcreek.org/showthread.php?p=270328#post270328).

Do you recall the first thread you started?
Without cheating? No clue, but I am sure it was super intelligent

Intelligence must be a lonely thing (http://www.sawmillcreek.org/showthread.php?t=28458).

What’s your favorite old thread on SMC?
Anything involving DNA and green wood. My personal feeling is that DNA really……... oh never mind.

Link deleted in advance. :D

Have you met or hung out with any fellow Creekers?
Tell us about it. Just recently, I got a chance to meet some Creekers in Houston at a bar-b-que. (http://www.sawmillcreek.org/showthread.php?t=60419) I must have really wanted to go because it was a three-and-a-half hour drive each way. I learned a couple of things and made some new friends. I would do it again for sure. (Thanks again for the great time Creeker guys!)

Got any nicknames? How'd you get them?
I answer to Sarge or Dad, depending on where I am. Easy to guess where they came from.

Now let's get a little deep... If you were a turning tool, what tool would you be and why?
I would say a skew. Everyone is a little scared when they first meet you, but after a while, they realize you are okay.

If you won the Tri-State Megabucks what part of your life would change?
I would give 10% to the church, buy my wife the string of completely unnecessary pearls that I have always wanted her to have, trade in whatever lathe I have for some mayo, and try to stay the same. I really have it pretty good!

Here’s some more of Daddysarge’s stuff.

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Thanks for doing this Robert. Been a pleasure, and I’m happy to know the streets of Moxieville, Texas are safe tonight.

Patrick Taylor
07-28-2007, 8:11 PM
great interview!

Bernie Weishapl
07-28-2007, 8:31 PM
Robert great interview. It is a pleasure to know you better.

Tom Hamilton
07-28-2007, 9:40 PM
Hi Robert:

Great interview! I enjoyed reading it nearly as much a visiting with you at the Houston BBQ last month.

By the way, did you see the 3520 on CL in your neighboorhood? It's an A but priced right.

Best regards, Tom

Nancy Laird
07-28-2007, 9:47 PM
Where’s home?
I live in Texas and have been here almost my entire life. I was born in Tennessee if that gives me any sort of bonus points though.

Robert, the bonus points you earned by being born in Tennessee were totally negated times two when you moved to Texas!!!:D

Nice interview. I enjoy seeing your work.


Gary Herrmann
07-28-2007, 9:53 PM
Great interview, Robert.

Quick question though. I assume it must be a really small town.

Why do all those Texas cops look alike?

Jeff Moffett
07-28-2007, 10:15 PM
Facinating interview, Robert. I guess you really are nicer than you look. ;)

Jim Becker
07-28-2007, 10:19 PM
Robert....good to know you better!! And I'm also a fan of "business casual" for work... :D :D :D

Curt Fuller
07-28-2007, 11:38 PM
Great interview Robert! I'm probably one of those people that had you pictured as a pretty scary dude. Nice to know you're such a nice guy.

Randy Dear
07-29-2007, 1:14 PM
You make me proud!! sarge and sometimes much needed dad :D

Ed Scolforo
07-29-2007, 1:49 PM
Good to know you better, Robert.

Barry Stratton
07-29-2007, 3:06 PM
Great interview Robert! Good luck on the upcoming retirement and new monster lathe!

Keith Burns
07-29-2007, 10:38 PM
Robert, great interview ! You really are nicer than you look. You are not at all as I had you pictured in my mind (thank goodness).

Now, as for Andy's remark, we'll just consider the source !

07-30-2007, 9:13 AM
Nice interview Robert. I'm glad to know some more things about you. I'm like you I needed the extra bonus points, but failed to get them either!!

One thing, thanks for making the streets a safer place to live. That goes to all service people!!! No matter what other people say, there are many of us out there grateful to you all of what you do!!!!! THANKS!

Tony De Masi
07-30-2007, 9:36 AM
Great interview Robert/Sarge/Dad. And thanks for what you do.


Mark Pruitt
07-30-2007, 9:51 AM
Great interview, Robert! I like what you're doing with segged pieces.

Ken Fitzgerald
07-30-2007, 10:26 AM
Fantastic interview Robert! Only thing better was meeting you in person! Thanks again for driving 3 1/2 hours to our BBQ! Thanks for everything you do out there every day!

Steve Schlumpf
07-30-2007, 2:28 PM
Robert, thanks for taking the time and doing the interview! Always good to get to know someone a little better! Be safe in your job - looking forward to seeing pics of your new mustard!!

Mark Cothren
07-30-2007, 2:49 PM
Great interview - enjoyed reading it!

Tom Sherman
07-30-2007, 5:10 PM
Thanks for all you do Robert great interview and nice to know more about you.

Don Orr
07-31-2007, 9:10 AM
Very nice interview Robert, nice to get to know you. I like your work very much, and let me add another thanks for keeping an eye on the community and getting that junk off the streets.

Pete Jordan
08-02-2007, 11:06 PM
Nice to know you better! Your pieces are very interesting and a joy to view.

Travis Stinson
08-02-2007, 11:32 PM
Great interview Robert! Thanks for the laughs. Just for that, I just might let you in on the secret of the Alumiburl bowl finish. ;)

Neal Addy
08-03-2007, 11:43 AM
Great interview, Robert. Nice to meet you!

Belinda Barfield
08-07-2007, 8:34 AM
Truly entertaining interview Robert! As the others have posted, thanks for all you do to make things safer out there. I now know your stand on ice cream, and Moxie, but I'm still a little confused about your position on grits. ;)

Robert McGowen
08-08-2007, 9:10 PM

I just wanted to thank everyone for the kind words and the support. I got knocked out of the loop this week with unexpected elbow surgery. Of course, my last night at work before elbow surgery, I got in a fight with a fleeing felon type person and ended up tearing my MCL. (ligament in knee) I am sure that the Lord is trying to get my attention about something. I just hope I figure it out before I don't have any limbs left! Retirement sure is looking good right now!
Once again, thanks for the support and encouragement in my woodworking endeavors. Anyone is welcome to drop me a note if I can ever do anything for them.