You’re never too old unless you’re dead.

About a week ago I took a woodworking class.  I had no real interest in taking a woodworking class or working on a lathe.  I mean, I was interested in it the same way I’m interested in pretty much everything, but I never had the deep-seated desire to turn wood, hold it up and declare to the world I MADE THIS HUNK OF WOOD OUT OF A HUNK OF WOOD!

But, my mother and one of my sisters ran into a guy who gave woodworking classes at some craft show a while ago and that was it.  They were taking a woodworking class in an old Cotton Factory in town that now houses a bunch of artisans and business owners who understand nothing makes you more legit than working in a century old warehouse in the bad part of town.  Seriously.  An old building that the wind can whistle through and mangled wood floors smack dab in the middle of the hood.  It’s like a sticky trap for cool people.

NOT hipsters.  Cool people. There’s a difference.  Hip is now, cool is forever.

How could I let my 83 year old mother be cooler than I was (yet again)?  I signed up for the class immediately.

At 11:00-ish a.m. sharp we made our way through the maze of Cotton factory corridors and buildings until we came upon Y Knot Woodturning.  Our classroom for the day. Instead of books there were chisels, instead of desks there were lathes and instead of apples on the teacher’s desk there were bandaids. Other than that, same same.


We were told we could make almost whatever we wanted.  Most of us wanted to make a pepper mill but Betty had to be different, and asked to make a salt box out of Ebony.  When she was told Ebony would cost an extra $60 she gave a little snort and declared walnut her wood of choice.

Hugh, our instructor.  I don’t think he gave us the good tools to work with. He’s smart like that.

In total I think we dropped our tools or rammed them on the lathe approximately 894 times.

Yet this is how happy he was to have us there.


In fact everyone was happy. We were all smiling like simpletons who had just been given new cardboard boxes to play with.




Betty refused to wear an apron, a dust mask or accept a seat during our 5 hours there.  I on the other hand crouched on the floor due to exhaustion several times, wore safety glasses and a face mask and made sure I knew where the emergency exit was on the off chance someone’s arm was taken off and I needed to make a quick escape to avoid vomiting in Hugh’s workshop.

If you’ve never worked on a lathe before or have any idea how wood is turned, it’s pretty archaic.  You literally just clamp a square hunk of wood into a wildly spinning machine and hold a very sharp implement to it and hope the square hunk turns round before the wood or the chisel flip in the air and make their way to one of your important arteries.

Please accept that lesson from me to you, free of charge.  You’re welcome.

Now let’s walk you through the process of making my pepper mill from start to finish.

This is what my pepper mill started out as. A long, square piece of wormy maple.  Hugh cut it to length for me and then I was on my own.  He told us how to use the lathe and safety precautions to take and that was really it. You were the official lathe operator from then on.



The first step to making most things is turning the square hunk into a round hunk.  To do that all you do is hold a chisel against the fence of the lathe until you have wood shavings in your underwear.  Once you have that, your hunk of wood is probably round.


We always had a lathe in our home because my father was a machinist.  But he was making metal bits of stuff and it never interested me.  NOW I wish I’d paid attention or shown some sort of interest.  But mainly he liked to be alone in his workshop and drink while using dangerous power tools, so it’s probably better I was uninterested.


Once you have your round shape, you do a bunch of stuff I don’t remember because it all happened so fast.  You have to drill holes so the mill is hollow on the inside, plus a couple of holes in the bottom for the mill gear to fit.  You have to cut off the top and do a bunch of other things that, like I said, I don’t remember.  Every once in a while Hugh would wander over, grab something out of your hand, fix something that was about to go horribly wrong, and then he’d whistle over to the next person and do the same thing.

One of the last steps is shaping your pepper mill.  You can do anything.  Make it all bumpy like a typical, traditional pepper mill, or make it completely straight up and down, WHATEVER YOU WANT. It was so overwhelming I had some kind of breakdown.  Everyone else knew they wanted a bumpy pepper mill and my mother was making a salt box so she didn’t have to decide on anything.  I wanted to make a bumpy pepper mill because it seemed more fun to do … but … I also wanted something a bit sleeker.  Against my better judgement I went with a sleek design.

There’s no template, no pattern, no guide at all.  You just grab your chisel, freehand the pepper mill and hope for the best. Once your shape is done you sand it until it’s like glass and then you grab a big pile of wood shavings from the floor (or your underpants) and sand the pepper mill once more with those.  Then it’s like wet glass.

Now all you have to do is put the hardware in the pepper mill, sign it and decide what you’re having for dinner.

Ta. Da.  My Scandinavian pepper mill, right down to its finish of Danish Tung Oil.  I kept telling everyone I just needed to lick it, but no one got the joke.  I’m Danish you see.

If you look at the spot on the pepper mill that’s directly in line with the middle of my palm you’ll see two holes that look like snake bites. Those are the worm holes.  And corresponding to those holds are dark stripes down the wood.  Those dark stripes are created by an enzyme released by the worms. It discolours the wood.

5 hours it took to make that baby.  Hugh says I could sell it for $85.  The course cost me just over $100 and took 5 hours of my time so I’m not sure it’s the best way for me to make some side cash.


With our completed projects.

At home in the kitchen.

Which brings us full circle to my first point.  Betty is 83 and still taking courses and learning new things.  Just a few months ago she told me she learned a LOT by watching the show Orange is the New Black for instance.

So the next time you think to yourself I’m too old to (insert ANYTHING here), tell yourself to shut the hell up. If 83 year old Betty can learn how lesbians have sex without a penis then you can learn how to skydive.  Or play the drums or the piano or poker.

You’re never too old.  Unless you’re dead.

Have a good weekend!




  1. Yabut says:

    I somehow missed this one. This is so true. I was just explaining this to someone this morning. This person, in his mid 20’s was wondering if he was too old to learn to draw. Well, hey, I have never been able to draw but took a course just last year, and do a lot better now. I’m almost 50 years older than that guy! If you want to do something, don’t let some stupid number stop you.

  2. That’s awesome! My grandfather was a master woodworker, and had all the tools and chisels and stuff. Sadly, I didn’t pay one ounce of attention. Regrets.

  3. Julie says:

    Please let Betty know that I think her shoes are cool. Along with herself. Cool.

  4. Dan says:

    As I recall, lathe work creates an incredible amount of chips. If you do it again consider wearing a shop apron.

    Keep up the good work. You are the only blogger I follow.

    Check out my trivet Instructable.

    If you are a bird feeder, other than chickens, I have a couple of DIY for bird cakes and seed wreaths.

  5. Melissa says:

    I don’t know what’s better – the post, or all the great comments underneath. You and your readers brighten my day and inspire me to do better.

    I wish there were a holiday party where all the AODS readers showed up. I bet we’d all have a good time ^_^

    Merry Christmas, Karen <3

  6. Alena says:

    Your salt or pepper mill is beautiful. I absolutely LOVE wormy maple (my butcher block countertop is made of wormy maple). The more of the wormy ‘trails’ the better.
    Your sisters are very cute. Betty defies everything. At the of 58 I am not nearly as chic and put together as Betty is at 83. Please tell her I admire her.

  7. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    I want to be just like Betty when I grow up!….I seriously do admire her a lot!

  8. Benjamin says:

    Happy Holidays to Betty, Pink Tool Belt, Fish Pedicure and Yourself. I love your art of doing stuff that makes the rest of us want to do stuff too. I wonder if you can dispense glitter out of a pepper mill? Uh-oh that’s another project for a future visit to Hugh’s place. Stay cool, Karen. Best wishes for a season full of happiness.

  9. Jody says:

    Now I know what I want for Christmas and where to do it. Back in the day, when I was in middle school my brother had to take Shop and I had to take Home Ec. There was no option then I loved the cool stuff he made and I got to make aprons and learn the order of washing dishes. I still love to sew but I have always been fascinated with wood turning. Thank you to Betty for the idea of a saltbox.

  10. Lynn says:

    Wow that’s so cool . Beautiful jobs all around. Lathes have always fascinated me, just have never gotten chance to be around one. I have learned how to ride a motorcycle, do needlepoint , sew, use of most power tools, IOS as know one close had any knowledge of them.
    As long as you are learning you are keeping your brain active which keeps you young. 😊
    You inspire us all with your willingness to learn new things. Betty is your inspiration to keep learning . So I will say thank Thank you Betty .
    ☃️🔔🎄Wishing you and all your Family Best Wishes for a Great Christmas 🎄🔔☃️

  11. Sonja says:

    Wow! You did an absolutely beautiful job! I’m envious…might just have to have my wonderful husband help me make a pepper mill, as he has a lathe in his shop! Enjoy yours!

  12. Mary W says:

    Did you take your Mum’s salt box for good or just for the picture? They are both lovely! My grandfather turned a small heart shaped box for my mother when she was around 10-12 and she carved some flowers and her mother’s initials into the lid as a gift. I still have it and wouldn’t take anything for it. You guys are sure creating memories and artifacts. Merry Christmas sweet Karen.

  13. Miriam Mc Nally says:

    Your account of Betty….now I know where you get your ‘get up and go’ from!
    Betty is amazing!

    And you’re right; you are never too old unless you’re dead. Forget the number that age is, just go and do what it is that you want to do- it’s not a rehearsal!

  14. kathy says:

    Whew, that’s great. Just a split second after I wondered what Betty learned from Orange is the new Black, you told me. One of those truly good laughs where I go hee he he haw for several minutes. I went to some jewelry making thing, and because I could make whatever I wanted, I didn’t know what I wanted. I can be more creative with some restriction, like money or dimension, so I ended up with a blah bracelet. But all 4 projects look great and a priceless picture. Love Betty in a WHITE sweater.

  15. Beth W. says:

    I’m not old enough to say it’s any sort of miraculous endeavour. . . . but at age 34 I took up tap dancing. . . . and at age 35 I started playing the upright bass. Because why the hell not? I don’t have kids to live vicariously through, so it’s nice to keep learning just because I want to

    • kathy says:

      Well, I think it’s great, especially the instrument. I did pick up shuffle ball change to be able to help my 5 yr old daughter practice at home. Gene Kelly dancing in the rain is so fun.

    • Karen says:

      That’s still pretty impressive! A lot of people just stop taking any courses as soon as they’re done “official” schooling. And tap dancing!! ~ karen

  16. amanda says:

    Just gorgeous!! (And the pepper mills are nice, too… ; )

  17. That’s an awesome lesson learned. I started taking karate lessons at 46!

    Beautiful peppermill!

  18. Ellen says:

    I started turning last year. It was the one tool my boyfriend didn’t have, ha. (He has a metal lathe, but not a wood one.) It’s been great fun and you are SMART to wear the facemask. Just had a chunk of wood come flying at me the other day! And definitely great to keep on learning. Yay for your mom! When my then new boyfriend asked me if I wanted to learn to weld I jumped at the chance. He asked what I wanted to make and I said a life-size fiddler. Many months later, working a few hours on weekends, we are DONE! She’s now out in my front yard with Christmas lights on her and I smile every time I walk by her. Of course, now I want to make another because I have more ideas. I’ll bet you’re back at the lathe soon!

  19. Kathy Hartzell says:

    Oh! My grandfather Nicky, would work on his lathe in the garage for hours, and after school, I’d go sit and watch, I have two lamps he made from Myrtle wood. I always thought I would become a woodworker, and took a year of classes back in the 80’s but only made little Christmas decorations, elves, Santa’s, angels on the band and jig saws. I planed my wood to the thickness Inwanted for the little pieces, tho! Never set up a home shop as my “other”life got in the way.

    I took a year of cloisonné to learn how it’s done…’s really complex! And a year of silver smithing. A year of watercolor.

    I want to get on a lathe!!!!! I don’t have to get really good, just know HOW it’s all done.

    I can teach sewing….that, I’m very good at.

  20. Nancy Taylor says:

    I love all of the components of your post. Betty’s attitude, your enthusiasm to go along, the pepper mill, and the great photos of the process. I too, love to hang out with people who are active, inquisitive and full of life. I should look in to lessons like this in the Dallas/Ft Worth area, how fun it looks! Merry Christmas!!

  21. Yvonne M says:

    Would it be wrong to say that I want to run my hands up and down your pepper mill? To just sit and fondle it? Absolutely stunning, Karen. I’ve been feeling my age lately, thanks for the kick in the rear to make me realise that you are only old if you want to be. Betty is an inspiration.
    Merry Christmas and Happy New year to you and all your family.

  22. Judy says:

    I have never before “met” anyone who grew up with a lathe in the house because their dad was a machinist! That was my childhood exactly (except for the alcohol part.) No one else can possibly understand why, no matter how many times you sweep the floor (actually, watch mom sweep the floor) you WILL step on a metal curlique and have it embedded in your foot if you insist on constantly being barefoot despite the risks. My dad ALWAYS had metal chips in his (few) hairs, and often scabs on his head where a metal chip flew up and burned him. My dad thought everything had to be made out of steel. Once I asked him to make a cupholder for my daughter’s stroller (in the really old days before cupholders were in everything) and naturally he made it out of steel. When the baby was lifted out of the stroller, the stroller flipped over backwards from the weight of the cupholder. Not the most user-friendly cupholder, but it would survive a nuclear meltdown or any natural disaster or Act of God just like everything else he made, aesthetics be dammed. Just had to share.

    • Karen says:

      Oh yea, lol. My dad made everything too. Usually things he didn’t need to make and could easily buy from the store, lol. ~ karen!

  23. linda in illinois says:

    I literally laughed out loud reading this. you made my day

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