Tempus Fugit - Time Flies
Up until 20 years ago, Norman Kaye, (born November 1934 in Barnsley, Yorkshire), worked in the Engineering and Design department of the Michelin Tyre Company as a Senior Draftsman and later as a departmental Manager. When Norman was 14 years old, he was streamed into grammar school until he was 16 years old. He fell ill during this time at grammar school for 12 months but came away with a School Certificate in six subjects. He is unable to remember what the six subjects were. For the next five years, Norman spent his time as an apprentice draftsman at the National Coal Board (NCB).
When he reached 21 years of age, his employers asked him to change from general engineering to mining engineering, but he refused. Normally, Coal Board employees were exempt from National Service, but because Norman refused to change, he lost his job and “got his papers” and was sent to serve in the Army. This gave him chance to study electronics – more specifically, radar.
He said, “The things we dealt with weren’t small boxes that can fit into the nosecone of a plane, they filled this room!” (Referring to his living room which is about 21ft by 9ft).
He chose to serve with the REME (Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers) and completed a 20 week electronics course in Reading before being posted to ’57 Heavy Ack Ack’. ‘57 Heavy Ack Ack’ was a heavy artillery detachment, and the REME looked after the radar and other equipment. The detachment knew how to use the equipment but did not know how to maintain it. He served with them for 2 years and 9 months.
After getting a job with Michelin and working for them until about 20 years ago, At 55 years of age Norman took early retirement and so took up wood turning as a pastime. He had no formal training in using a lathe or turning wood other than his engineering background and so he bought and borrowed books from the local library and followed the demonstrations to build up his skill. His wife made the following comment:
“As soon as he got his lathe, he was never out of his shed!”
Various wooden cups and vases and one of Norman’s turned balls.
Why did Norman take to wood turning? “It was something to do. When you finish working after so many years, you try to find things to do to fill the day – to kill the boredom”. He does other things such as baking and gardening but he is now a full-time carer for his wife who is on oxygen support and has diabetes. So Norman no longer has as much free time as he used to. However, he is still producing pieces of worked wood, but at a slower rate.
His first pieces were two simple bowls. The next piece he showed me was a round ball with intricate designs carved into it but there was a special element to this ball. Inside the ball is a hollow cylinder containing £4 worth of 20 pence pieces. From a personal view point, this ball is better than a safe! Who would expect a wooden ball to contain money? And it took a while to open…
Norman eventually got bored of making basic and round designs and searched for something more challenging. He went along the lines of engineering and mechanical devices. Norman started producing pieces like a marble dispenser, a steam engine and the Geneva Mechanism – He even produced two hollowed out balls with wooden objects inside them; one contained a cube and the other a spiked ball. The sight was impressive enough but the fact that these objects inside have never come out of the balls just makes the pieces even more remarkable.
The Geneva Mechanism and the marble dispenser
I asked him about the Geneva Mechanism example he built, “it’s a six-station mechanism, but can be more. It can used if something is required to move but required to have a delay, such as on an assembly line”. It is a timing device that was originally developed to prevent the over-winding of watches and is now extensively used in automatic machinery. The piece that I found second most impressive was the steam engine example. Although the model was a little stiff, it demonstrated the job perfectly, but the most impressive pieces he has made are three clocks that are made 100 per cent out of wood and require no batteries to operate them. With clever engineering, the clocks operate using two lead weights encased in wood and run for 28 hours before they need to be wound back up. However, they are prone to changes in humidity as the wood swells and the cogs therefore jam up.
The final question I put to Norman was what sort of wood does he use? And the response was all sorts. He has used exotic woods such as woods from Southern America and Africa, and different types of native woods like spoltered (basically unprocessed and abandoned) beech and yew. Norman has turned mahogany and cocobolo (Mexican wood) but had to stop manufacturing from both these types because the dust made him ill.
So at the age of 76, although Norman still makes wooden pieces, production is slow and infrequent as he is now a full-time carer for his wife.
Norman with his model steam engine.