My Tripot: Final Cleanup

Fascinated with the form of the tripot, and interested to see what was involved in making one, I started my own. I couldn’t think of a better way to understand and appreciate it than to make one myself.

In my first two articles about making my tripot, I showed how I shaped most of the interior and exterior. For the remainder of the shaping, there were no shortcuts – what was required was manual carving and sanding.

I removed the tripot from the lathe, then I used carving tools to remove as much extraneous material as I could between the bases of the three pots. I used only my fingertips as a guide to tell me where material still needs to be removed, since they were not only the most convenient measuring tools, but of the exact accuracy required.

My smallest veining gouge, a #11/1 (severity of sweep and width, in millimeters) was useful in helping define the separation between the two pots, and the joint was further refined with skew chisels which were better able to create a precise corner.

Because the center point where the three pots meet is recessed when viewed from the bottom, this means that to carve into this area is in fact against the grain. Of course, this makes it difficult to make clean and controlled cuts. My solution to this problem was to use micro scorps to shape this area. The scorps can cut on the draw stroke, so I was able to do much of the carving in the recess with the grain.

To blend the surfaces, I continued the shaping process with abrasives, starting at 80-grit and progressing through 180. Although hand sanding may be tedious it is a vital part of the process in creating a fine product and I actually find it relaxing and meditative.

At this stage, when it seemed like I was ready for finishing, I stopped and examined the tripot from all angles under my task light. I checked all surfaces again with my fingertips for any flat spots, high points, or defects.

I went back and fixed the deficiencies that I found. I tested a finish on a scrap of the same material, then applied it to the tripot using a foam brush, and rags to wipe off the excess.

My Tripot: Turning the Base

Fascinated with the form of the tripot, and interested to see what was involved in making one, I have started my own. I couldn’t think of a better way to understand and appreciate it than to make one myself.

In my first article about making my tripot, I showed how I shaped most of the exterior using a router and lathe together. Since then, I hollowed out each vessel starting with a drill bit to establish the depth of each pot, then using turning tools to reduce the wall thickness and shape the interior. For each pot, I had to mount the pot being worked on centred on the lathe axis, then mount counterbalances to allow the lathe to run without excessive vibration.

To accomplish this, I attached a disc of 1/2″ plywood between the face plate and tripot to which I strategically screwed scrap wood opposite to the bulk of the off-axis tripot mass. Pieces of the first tripot attempt worked perfectly.

After drilling out the centre with a drill bit mounted in the tailstock, I used a bowl gouge to hollow the vessel. A purpose-built hollowing tool would have allowed me more freedom in design (for example, creating more of a vase shape and less of a bowl shape) and provided greater control and safety, but since I don’t own such a tool and wasn’t prepared to purchase one, I made do. My confidence with the bowl gouge improved substantially with these intimidating cuts – many of which were well beyond the tool rest in tight quarters.

After hollowing each pot, I sanded the inside to completion, working through grits from 80 to 220. I found that Mirka Abranet cut more quickly than any of the abrasive papers I tried. Sanding the inside of small pots is not fun, and I wanted to finish and move on as quickly as possible. To assist in sanding, I improvised a tool to sand the inside bottoms by applying adhesive-backed hook strips to a 1/2″ steel drill rod.

To this tool, I attached the loop-backed strips of Abranet and chucked it in a heavy-duty drill for power sanding and ran the drill clockwise while the lathe turned the pot counter-clockwise.

While it might be safe and acceptable to hold sandpaper in your hand to sand the inside of a larger bowl, the small scale of this vessel, coupled with the fact that there are several other larger pots whirling around it, meant that I didn’t want my hands anywhere near the workpiece. So I chucked up a sleeveless sanding drum in my drill and fitted it with a piece of Abranet. I intentionally left it proud of the drum’s end to help sand the transition from side wall to bottom.

Again, I ran the lathe and drill in opposite directions This made for an efficient and satisfying sanding experience.

After all three pots were hollowed and sanded, I took the tripot off the lathe and cut off the waste at the base using the bandsaw.

I turned a tenon on a piece of clear pine to exactly fit the opening of the largest vessel and used this jam chuck to mount the tripot on the lathe facing the opposite direction to shape the base.

I tried using a pointed live centre before switching to a cup centre which allowed me to adjust the positioning of the bottom of the pot to ensure the pot was running fairly true.

I used a bowl gouge to turn the bottom round as far as I could without removing too much material from the other two pots.

This video (7:47) shows how the base was turned.

Then I created another jam chuck for the next tripot vessel and repeated the process, before sanding and carving to refine the shape. That’ll be the focus of the next segment on making my tripot.

My Tripot: Shaping the Exterior

Fascinated with the form of the tripot, and interested to see what was involved in making one, I have started my own. I couldn’t think of a better way to understand and appreciate it than to make one myself.

Loosely following an article in Woodwork by Hugh McKay on his process of making a pentapot (five vessels in one), I began work on my own.

First, I played around with a sheet of paper and a compass to lay out the overall sizes of the three vessels for my tripot. I wanted their diameters to be significantly different for interest. Since most of the shaping is done on the lathe, I knew that I needed the other two pots to clear the lathe bed when any one was mounted on centres. That limited the overall size of the piece I could make. I figured that it was also important that the three pots meet in the middle, and for the walls to not overlap so much that, when hollowing them out, the cavities would meet.

Once I had a layout that met my criteria, I transferred it to a piece of 1/4” MDF which became my template. I’m not sure this was really necessary, but it was one of the steps McKay used in the creation of his pots (the template did help me when I needed to start again… more on that later).

I chose a chunk of black locust about 8” thick. At the bandsaw, I squared up the blank, ensuring both ends were parallel to each other. I carefully positioned my template on the end grain, avoiding any checks, bark, or knots that could have compromised the strength of the tripot.  With a short screw in the centre of each circle representing a pot, I fastened the template to the black locust. Carefully, I cut to the lines using my bandsaw.

Next, I determined how tall to make each pot. I had to remember to accommodate for some chucking wastage at one end, where the screws would go in to hold the face plate. Again, following the recommendation of McKay, I used a drill press and forstner bit to remove the bulk of the waste. Boring into the end grain of a hard wood was not quick, and the results were not especially clean, with stalagmites and brad point divots abounding. I quickly cleaned up the resulting surface with a hand saw and chisels.

To profile the exterior, the pot could not be simply spun on the lathe and a gouge be presented to the work unless you were impossibly good at quickly applying and removing the tool as the other two vessels off-axis came around at you. Instead, shaping is done with a router with the work mounted on an unplugged lathe. This required some jigging.

I created a plywood platform that got mounted to the lathe bed. For my smallest router, which I had chosen to use for the shaping, I built a cradle to hold it securely in line with the lathe’s axis when resting on the platform. Lastly, I cut a template for the router to follow.

For a clean cut, ease of control, and long reach, I chose to mount a 1/4” up-spiral solid carbide router bit in the trim router. With a pot screwed to a faceplate and mounted on the lathe, I used the router to estimate where to position the template to remove the minimum amount of material, while creating a fully shaped vessel without flat spots. I clamped the template with a pair of clamps and got ready to start routing.

My left hand was on the wheel controlling the rotation of the lathe, and my right hand moved the router on the platform. Taking shallow bites, I slowly worked my way around the pot as far as I could. It took patience and focus to take only small bites, and to keep the router firmly on the platform. Several times, the router caught, tipped forward, and ended up carving deep holes in the side of the pot, requiring me to re-adjust the template to remove the divots. In the end, I ended up deciding that there was not going to be enough material left to make it worth continuing.

I started again. This is where that template came in handy. I simply screwed it to a new piece of locust and cut it out again at the bandsaw. After determining the height of the pots, I cut across the tops of the pots with a coarse handsaw, then split away the waste with a chisel and mallet. This was much quicker and cleaner than using a forstner bit.

At the lathe, I took the shaping process much more cautiously. Analyzing my previous failure, I realized that I would have a better chance of success if I: clamped the router to the platform to avoid tipping; didn’t use a spiral bit to prevent the bit from wanting to pull itself into the work; used a router bit with a short cutting length and a bearing to keep the cutting part from engaging with the other two vessels; and screwed the template securely to the platform. I took all these precautions for the second attempt.

In this video, I describe my setup, and demonstrate the shaping method.

My process worked well, and the extra precautions I took were worth the effort.

After routing all three pots as much as I could, there were a few spots that the router couldn’t access. I cleaned those up with skew chisels and carving gouges.

Next up: hollowing!

Power Tools vs. Hand Tools, and When Can You Modify the Design?

I am continuing to work my way forwards through back issues of the since discontinued magazine Woodwork.

If you are proficient with the tools at your disposal, the decision to use either hand tools or power tools can be based on pleasure or efficiency. I use a combination of hand and power tools, and my choice is usually based on which will produce a satisfactory result quicker with less effort.

The machinery is important for sizing and rough shaping, but much of the work in the shop is done with hand planes, chisels and carving gouges. It is not a production shop; handwork is often faster than setting up jigs and machinery for an operation that will only be done once or twice.

Kristian Eshelman in Master Craftsman Robert Whitley, in Woodwork issue #41, page 34, paragraph 4

In another article, the author writes about building a piece inspired by one that he saw, but made changes to suit his needs, aesthetics, and the materials he had available.

In you can appreciate what it is about the original that is so proportionally appealing, by all means change things according to your circumstances and rely on your own eye to preserve the spirit of the original.

Graham Blackburn in A Pepysian Bookcase: A handmade case-on-stand in Woodwork issue #42, page 46, paragraph 3

Read more on my page, Quotes from Woodwork.


Hugh McKay – Tripot #5


Artist Name:  Hugh McKay
Title:  Tripot #5
Details:  Maple burl

Why It’s Notable:

When I first saw this photo, I thought, “Those are three nicely-proportioned vessels made of nicely-figured wood.” And then I looked again. What I failed to realize at first was that the three hollow vessels were actually made from a single piece of burl, and still connected!

This is a level of multi-axis lathe work that I have never encountered or imagined before, and it has reignited my interest in turning.

Make a 3D Wooden Jigsaw Puzzle

I’m not sure if there is any project that brings more pleasure after it leaves my shop than a jigsaw puzzle.

After buying a scroll saw, I was soon making jigsaw puzzles from 1/4″ plywood. As fun as they were to make and assemble, I soon began experimenting as I do, and started cutting multi-level 3D jigsaw puzzles. To date, I have cut thousands of puzzle pieces on the scroll saw dd(and even a dozen or so with a manual fret saw).

If you’re interested in learning how they are cut, check out my article in the latest issue of Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement: Make a 3D Wooden Jigsaw Puzzle. There are some good scroll saw tips in the article as well.

Not interested in making your own puzzle? I sell them too – they’re a great gift idea. Click here to shop.

Knotty Pine

This question kept me awake in the wee hours one morning:

What would it look like if I carved a knot in a piece of wood?

I lay in bed trying to visualize it, and figure out how best to attempt it… Start by finding a fairly thick piece of rope, tie a knot, use it to layout the carving, rough-out the carving with a saw, then finish carving with a knife and/or gouges.

Tracing the imaginary path of the rope with my index finger while laying on my back, I rehearsed the carving over and over, over and over.

At the first semi-reasonable hour, I got out of bed and went down to the shop to find an appropriate piece of wood to carve. I found a clear piece of Austrian pine, salvaged from a piece of 6×8 dunnage in a container of Felder machines.

I tied a knot in a short length of 3/8” rope and used a pen to roughly indicate the path of the rope on each of the four faces of the blank.

Using a jigsaw and long blade, I cut to my layout lines. Then I completed the shaping with my folding carving knife.

And that is how you turn a clear piece of pine into a piece of knotty pine.

knotty pine

Work That Leads to Discovery

I found another good quote from the back issues of Woodwork. This one is from the article titled Traveling Woodcrafter in issue #38, from April 1996. 

“Work which leads to discovery is the highest kind of work. Its reward of inner renewal and the generation of energy is of the purest kind.” – Brian Mills

Find this quote among others on my page titled Quotes from Woodwork.

Defects Are Hints For Something Better

In all the creative work I have done with live-edge material, I have always looked at a cut section – where a limb was removed or the material cut to length – as a shortcoming.

But recently, I had an epiphany.

Like so many of my revelations, this one came while experimenting on a piece of scrap wood worth nothing to me. This particular piece of wood was about the size of a 2×4 roughly three feet long. The middle foot had the bark intact and the area to either side was cut straight.

I was carving for no reason other than to carve for enjoyment. I started removing material, trying to make the cut edge flow into the live edge. Then, as I like to do, I began forming a twist. Completely by eye, I carved a quarter twist into the first third of the board, blending it into the bark as best I could.

The result was very interesting. It was no longer an area of defect that you should divert your eyes from and politely pretend you hadn’t noticed. It was not apologetic, rather it was a bold feature that demanded equal, if not greater attention than the live edge. I think that the irregularity of the done-by-eye twist worked favourably with the organic bark edge.

Moreover, I feel that if used between two sections of live edge, this twist would not only fit in with equal authority, but it would in fact visually tie the two live edge sections together.

I am never satisfied when I have to make a compromise in a design to make up for a shortcoming. This, however, is not a compromise – it is taking a problem and fully exploiting it for what it really is: a design opportunity.

twisted edge sculpted into live

More Wood Uploaded, Big Sale This Weekend

This weekend, I am opening up my once-private wood shed to all my readers and the public in a bid to reduce inventory levels so I can finally finish moving out of my old shop space.

1114 Barberry Place, Port Moody… wood shed around the right side in the back

Friday September 29, 10-4
Saturday September 30, 10-4
Sunday October 1, by appointment only

For anyone with a specific project in mind (table, mantel, shelf, headboard, etc), or just getting into woodworking, this is a great opportunity to get quality, local wood that is of premium quality and at very affordable prices. Volume discounts available! (I also have a 2-speed Delta ceiling-mounted air filtration unit that I would like to sell.)

I have finished uploading all the pictures that I have; some wood still remains undocumented and will be priced this weekend during the sale as I have time.

Check out my online inventory here.