Some of you who regularly check for updates on this site have been reminding me that I haven’t added anything new in a few months. The reason: all my free time is dedicated to woodworking. You see, while I punch these keys to form the words you are now reading, I am also letting a coat of finish dry on a recently turned pen as well as the glue for another. If that isn’t enough to convince you of my dedication to woodworking, let me go on.
Since my last writing, when I wrote of acquiring a section of Douglas Fir trunk, I have acquired three more. During the summer (when daylight lasted past 7:30 pm), I spent many hours working in and outside of the shop. On some days, I would get home early, at around 5:30 pm. I would eat a quick dinner before heading down to the shop.
Most such days, the weather was dry, the air fresh, and light abundant. So I would start by rolling out a section of Douglas Fir and buck off a section which by the end of the night would be a bowl. I would then haul my 110lb lathe out of the shop and plunk it in the middle of the backyard with an extension cord snaking out after it. With the freshly cut (also known as “green”) bowl blank secured onto a shop made faceplate on the lathe, the turning would begin at around 7:00 pm.
There is only one tool I use for turning bowls – a 3/8″ bowl gouge. I would start on the outside with the tailstock engaged for additional support. It takes anywhere from 10 to 25 minutes to shape the outside, depending on the shape and size of bowl. With the outside shape established and perfectly round, I would then remove the tailstock (after boring a hole to establish the required depth) and turn my focus to hollowing out the inside.
At this point, the sun is going down and it is probably 8:45 pm. I shut the lathe off for a minute and go retrieve a lamp from the shop to aid my vision. Regardless of how much light there is, green wood is much different than dry wood to work with, and thus requires different techniques. Green wood is very flexible, and thus it must be turned to the final wall thickness at the rim before working further towards the base. Also, what I find especially interesting about green wood turning is how the wood moves – even as it is being turned.
By the time I have finished hollowing out the bowl, it is past 9:30 pm and well into the twilight zone. Because I often turn my bowls to a wall thickness of 3/16″ or less, the moisture in the wood is released quickly. And as the moisture of the wood dissipates, the wood changes shape and the bowl morphs from being round to oblong. One of my bowls measures 10″ across the rim in one direction and 7″ in the other.
As the 10:00 pm is closing fast, I know that I should be packing it in soon. Fortunately, the mosquitos have not been too bad in this area this year. While it never occurred to me while I was working, when I look back now, I realize that it must have been quite a scene: a lone figure standing over a lathe in the middle of the yard working at night under the light of one lamp clamped to the lathe stand.
Now, anyone would say that I could have (and should have) packed it in when the sun started to go down. But there’s no way that I could do that. First of all, when the sun is going down, I’m in the middle of turning a bowl. Why wouldn’t I finish it then? Secondly, it is impractical. If I were to leave it for another day, the wood would have moved so much that it would be virtually impossible to turn a bowl with an even wall thickness. Last of all, what else would I do at 9:00 at night? Certainly nothing practical. Certainly nothing productive.
While turning a bowl into the night certainly proves dedication, in my mind, it also borders insanity. However, I believe that what I did today shows even more dedication (and less insanity). Today is Sunday, my “day off”. I may get days off from my day job at Lee Valley, but I never really have a day when I don’t work. (Can you image what it will be like when I start my own business!)
On my days off I get to sleep in. Sometimes until 8:00 am, others until 10:00. If I feel particularly inspired, I may wake up at 7:00 am, or if I was up late the previous night (usually designing a project using a CAD program and working out a cutting list) I may sleep in as late as noon.
Today I woke up at 9:45 am. I got dressed, walked into the kitchen to say “good morning” to my mother and her brother who had stopped by to visit, and turned towards the shop. I worked until around 1:00 pm when I took a 15-minute break for lunch (time really flies when you are busy and when there is no clock to remind you what time it is). After that, it was back down to the shop.
At 7:10 pm, I surfaced for dinner. After dinner, I had other things to do, meaning that there was to be no more shop time that night. I volunteered to do the laundry after dinner, and snuck out to the shop for half and hour while the clothes washer was doing its thing. After the load was done, I tossed the clothes into the dryer and spent another few minutes in the shop. Soon after, I made my way back upstairs before anyone noticed my absence.
Even when I’m nowhere near my shop, by no means am I away from woodworking. I often bring a small piece with me with a third of a sheet of sandpaper. The longer I am away for, the smoother my workpiece is when I get back home.
Those who know me know that I am never without a pen (usually one of my handcrafted beauties). Whenever I get an inspiration, I jot it down. And I get my inspirations from absolutely anything. Most people look at an object and take it for what it is. When I see something, I look at it and dissect it. I analyse its proportions and shape. Is it pleasing to the eye? Does it look top heavy? Too tall? I look at its function and why it is able to do what it does. Then I think about what something with the same shape could be made into. If it has any moving parts, could that same principle somehow be incorportated into a workpiece? The mind of this die-hard woodworker never stops.
By the way, the bowl above was a retirement gift for a friend, Klaus. I built a small box for it out of Western Red Cedar with box joints and used cedar shavings for packing material. I named the bowl “Out of the Woods” and used a wood-burning tool to mark the bottom. I think that it’s an appropriate pun. He was thrilled.