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!

Making a Long-Blade Marking Knife

A couple of years ago while working on a chair, I found myself needing to lay out the position of the seat slats on the centre rail, which was basically a cross-lap joint. Normally, I’d use my marking knife for this operation, but due to the thickness of the components, my marking knife wasn’t able to reach.

So I grabbed an old chisel and quickly ground a spear point on the end to make my marks, then proceeded to complete the project.

Recently, Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement hosted a hand tool build-off on their forum called Building Together: Hand Tools. I decided to make a long-bladed marking knife to complement my two short marking knives (shown on left of photo).

Marking Knives

I think that at some point, somebody used the chisel with a steel hammer without a handle in the socket, so the inside taper had a lip. Since I wanted a handle for the marking knife, I started by filing the taper smooth.

Filing Taper

I lapped the back on my 120-grit diamond stone, which was my coarsest.

Lapping Back

I applied blue layout fluid to the back of the knife and used my regular woodworking tools to lay out the shape of the knife point.

Layout

With my bench grinder’s tool rest at 90 degrees, I ground the profile of the knife. Then, I tilted the tool rest and ground the bevels.

Grinding Profile

I selected a piece of dogwood with interesting grain and mounted it on the lathe.

Blank Ready to Turn

I turned a taper on the end, and test-fit it frequently with the knife socket.  By rotating the handle in the socket, I was able to see where it was rubbing.  I removed those parts and kept checking the fit until the parts mated well.

I used an existing handle for shaping inspiration.

Shaping HandleI shaped the handle and sanded it up to 180-grit on the lathe. At this point, I used a hand saw to cut off the handle and hand-sanded the end.

Parting-Off Handle

I applied a coat of oil to bring out the grain.

Finished Handle

To complete the knife, I removed tarnish from the blade with a Rust Eraser, lapped the back of the blade to 600-grit, and ground the bevels flat (mostly for aesthetic reasons).  I finished sharpening the knife with a leather strop charged with honing compound.

Long Marking Knife

Links:

Roots of Flair: Pushing the Limits

In 2007, I was into turning in a big way. I got into turning pens using exotic woods carefully paired with a package of pen hardware. My preference was chrome-plated hardware for its durability and affordable price. The result, when paired with African Blackwood, was an undeniably classy pen.

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Black & Chrome pen

One special piece of wood was often inspiration enough to turn a pen. For this lead holder, I used a piece of bocote which was half heartwood and half sapwood.

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Bocote Lead Holder

Eventually, I began playing with different shapes and materials. I particularly liked the shape of the lower barrel of this European pen, and liked the bold colour and pattern of this acetate.

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Black & Blue pen

However, I eventually grew tired of working with stock pen kits, I opened all of my pen kit hardware and threw the parts into a big jar and I was free to mix and match parts.

In an attempt to see how short of a pen I could create that was still comfortable to use, I created this Micro-Ebony pen. It was exhilarating cutting the Cross refill shorter and shorter, hoping that I wouldn’t hit ink. I never did. The streaky African ebony offered a sophisticated look and a strong contrast to the chrome hardware.

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Micro Ebony pen

I’ve made all sorts of pens, but eventually grew tired of turning pens, which are fairly limiting in form. I have always done my best work when pushing the limits, and turning pens had too many constraints. The other reason I stopped making pens was that I had way more pens than I needed.

In that spirit, I am listing the four writing instruments shown above for sale.

Links:

Roots of Flair: Accepting Wood Movement

At some point in time, every woodworker has cursed the fact that wood expands in humid weather and contracts in dry weather. Because of it, lumber that was once straight became curved, twisted, or both. Parts that once fit snugly became loose, or impossibly tight.

Turning green (freshly cut) wood was how I learned firsthand how much wood can move, and how quickly it can move. I got hooked on turning goblets, which were fun to turn, and could be turned in an afternoon. I learned a lot about grain direction, wood’s strengths and weaknesses, and, after about a week’s time drying, how much wood could change shape as it dried.

I have added three goblets to my website that are for sale, at a price of $30 each.

DSC_9196 As long as we are dealing with solid lumber, wood movement is inevitable. Don’t ignore it and don’t fight it. Accept it.

When designing, I take wood movement into consideration. Sometimes that means using wood cut a certain way (e.g. quartersawn) to focus the expansion and contraction in one direction. Other times, it means using reinforcement (e.g. battens) to keep things aligned. And sometimes, it means just letting the wood do whatever it wants.

If you are interested in learning more about turning goblets from green wood, I recommend Turning Green Wood by Michael O’Donnell, one of the books on my page, Recommended Readings.

Links:

Out of a Jamb

I am proud of myself.  In the past week, I have finished several projects which have been waiting for a while.  Some for a week, some more than six months.  That I am not proud of.  But it’s a fact of life.  Stuff gets put on the back burner and is left there.  While I may put things on the back burner, I don’t forget about them.  In some cases, I don’t have the tools or materials and in other cases, these tasks simply have low priority.  Even so, I think about them almost daily.  Really.

The first of these jobs completed was a matching set of salt and pepper mills.  The idea was to make them out of dogwood to match the dining table I built last Christmas.  About half a year ago, I discussed the idea with the client, Dave, who also happens to be my supplier of wood.  We use the barter system and it works out well for both of us.  We agreed on a set of 8″ salt and pepper mills.  Yes, that’s a salt mill, not a shaker.

Dave provided a nice chunk of 2-1/2″ thick dogwood and I cut it into two square blanks about 10″ long.  I cut them oversized to allow for any checking that may occur while the wood acclimatizes itself to the humidity of my workshop.  Also, during the turning process, about 3/8″ is lost turning a tenon for the top to fit into the bottom.  That’s a 1/4″ tenon and 1/8″ of waste from my parting tool.  The pepper mill is slightly spalted heartwood.  The salt mill is dramatically spalted heart/sapwood.  This made them easy to tell apart.

We had also agreed not to skimp on any aspect of the project.  That’s typical of both him and I.  So a couple weeks later, I located the hardware for a Premium Ceramic Salt Mill and Premium Steel Pepper Mill at Craft Supplies USA, in Provo, Utah.  From experience, I knew that customs can be costly, so I wanted to combine the order with other supplies.  So I asked some friends at work if they would like to order anything and together we placed an order for a couple hundred bucks.

A week later the order arrived and I inspected the hardware and read over the instructions.  To hollow out the inside of the body, a 1-1/8″ drill bit is used to bore a hole through the body of the mill.  Okay, fine.  I picked up a sturdy 1-1/8″ saw-tooth bit at Lee Valley.  The bit was about four inches long overall and I needed to bore a hole over six inches long.  Using my drill press, I could easily bore 3″ deep from each end, but good luck in the two holes lining up well!  Not good enough.  So for about a month, I scoured the world for a drill bit extension that would accommodate a 1/2″ shank bit.  I asked at the local tool stores, I tried on-line, and I tried catalogs.  Nothing.

Convinced that no such thing existed, I reassessed the situation.  I knew that extensions for 3/8″ shank bits were on the market, so I decided that that would be an acceptable option.  Now to find a 1-1/8″ saw tooth bit with a 3/8″ shank.  The only bits with 3/8″ shanks were available in increments of 1/4″ over 1″ diameter.  So I took a step back and re-reassessed the situation.  I figured out that if I put the mill blank on my lathe, turned it round, steadied it with a spindle support, I would be able to bore the hole perfectly in line with the axis of rotation.  And the misalignment in the center caused by drilling from both ends would be nil.  So I experimented once on a scrap and it worked perfectly!  I could not even feel a ridge in the middle.

Once I got the hole bored, the rest was a cake walk.  Start by turning the blank round, cut a tenon at the end of the cap to later fit into the body, then part off the cap.  Bore that 1-1/8″ hole through the body, as well as a 1-1/2″ hole 1/2″ deep in the bottom for the grinding mechanism.  Shape the body.  Chuck the cap into the lathe and bore a 1/4″ hole through it for the shaft, then turn it to shape.

I gave myself a challenge by shaping the mills with a flush joint where the cap meets the body.  There were no beads or chamfers to hide any misalignment.  I took my time and it went well.  I sanded to 320x and made sure that they fit together well.  I filled the few small voids with epoxy, sanded them flush, and sprayed on three coats of precatalyzed lacquer.  I had no idea that precatalyzed lacquer existed in an aerosol can.  Big finishing shops use it regularly, but they buy it in 55 gallon drums.  I happily forked over $40 for the can (made by Mohawk finishing).  They look great and I couldn’t be happier.  Now to get out to Dave’s to deliver them…

Dogwood Spalt and Pepper Mills

At least a month and a half ago, Home Depot had a sale on interior doors.  We decided that the two upstairs bathrooms could use an update, so this seemed like a quick fix.  I can hear you saying, “Yeah, right – ‘quick’!”  We got them home and rolled on two coats of white enamel paint and let them dry.  They were left in the garage for a while to let the offensive smells dissipate (they didn’t bother me though).

Then I spent a week and a half in Arizona, then a week back home, then half a week in California, then back home.  During my time away, the doors somehow migrated into the main bathroom, where I successfully ignored them for two weeks.  Nobody was bothering me to get them installed, and the door weren’t either.  But today I decided to put them in.

I did not want to wrestle a door down to my workshop, so I decided to do all the work upstairs.  First, I removed one of the old doors and pulled off and hinge to make a hinge mortising jig.  I went down to the shop and used the table saw to cut a notch in a piece of fir I had laying around the shop.  I test fitted the length with the hinge to ensure a perfect fit.  I also compared the width of the mortise in the old door with a combination square.  So far, so good.  I screwed on two “legs” made of scraps of maple.  I bought a case of 500 1-1/4″ coarse pocket hole screws and use them frequently when building jigs (not that I build jigs often).

I marked the hinge locations of the new door directly off the old door and clamped the mortising jig in place.  The picture below shows the jig placed on one of the old doors to give you an idea of how it works.  I set up my laminate trimmer (love my PC310!) with a 1/2″ hinge-mortising bit and routed out the recess accurately and efficiently.  I routed the hinge mortises on the front porch, clamped to the railing, to keep the sawdust out.  I screwed the new door in place and gave it a test.

Door Mortise Jig for Router

It closed with some resistance, so I removed the door and clamped it to a wall and planed down the side opposite the hinges with my low-angle jack plane to fit.  Five minutes later, I reinstalled the door and closed it. It closed beautifully.  I installed the privacy door knobs.  One of the reasons I bought my cordless drill with a 1/2″ chuck is so that I could use a hole saw to install locksets.  Yessiree, I am glad to have it.  With one down, I moved my tools to the second bath room and installed the second door.  And it went just as well.

Afterwards, I shook all the sawdust off my tools and brought them down to my workshop.  God forbid I bring sawdust into the workshop!  I spent fifteen minutes sweeping up the big shavings and vacuuming up the small shavings.

By the way, when you test a door for fit, be sure to PULL the door closed.  There’s nothing worse than having a door close beautifully and not be able to open it again.  Don’t ask me how I know this.  There is really nothing for me to show you about these doors unless you have never seen a door before.  But I took some shots of the installed hardware just because.  There’s an interesting reflection of somebody in the door knob.

Mortised hinge2Mortised HingeDoor knob reflection

This last picture is a of my bedroom door.  I found this beautiful piece of hardware during spring clean-up.  Somebody was tossing out a steel entrance door with this attached!  So I unbolted it and installed it and brought it home.  I would have installed it on the front door, but the dead bolt was in the way.  So instead, I installed it on my bedroom door.

New door handle

A Weekend That Turned Out Well

I had this past weekend off, and I made the most of it, turning a total of five bowls, all from green wood.  I slept in until 10:00am on Saturday.  I had a quick breakfast and headed down to the shop.  The first bowl was a result of a co-worker giving me a section of a Japanese Cherry.  It still had the bark on the outside and I was inspired to turn a natural-edged bowl.  I also wanted to try my hand at a deep vessel.  It wasn’t incredibly difficult hollowing out the bowl, but the confined space doesn’t make sanding easy.  Nonetheless, I am pleased with the shape and end result.

Natural Edge Cherry

From the same cherry, I turned a small, thin-walled bowl.  The walls are less than 1/16″ thick.  When I turned the bowl, the wood had a high moisture content.  When I finished shaping the bowl, I put it into the microwave for a minute then, wearing gloves to avoid burning myself, formed the round rim square.

Steambent Cherry

The next bowl I turned was of Black walnut.  I had a nice big blank so I decided to turn a wide bowl.  I started with the rim and worked my way down, shaping the bowl as I deemed appropriate.  I often let the grain and colour dictate the final shape.  Once the shaping was finished, I sanded the bowl and parted it off.  I sat it on a pile of green shavings to let it dry slowly.  When I uncovered the bowl, the rim had warped to a smooth, wavy shape.  I could not have been more pleased with the end result.

Wide Rim Black Walnut

The wood used for this bowl is unknown.  It is creamy white, and has a blue-purple stain at the center.  This pattern is consistent throughout all the blanks I got from this tree (thanks Ralph).  By this time, the light has long since disappeared and I decided to have some fun (correction: more fun) and try a different style bowl and a different technique.  Most bowls I turn have the grain running from side to side.

This bowl, however, has the end grain running from top to bottom.  Once I mounted the block on the lathe and trued it up so that it was round and balanced, I killed the overhead lights and turned on a single articulated fluorescent task light.  I worked quickly to shape the outside to a gentle curve, then moved to the inside.  I quickly wasted out the bulk of the inside, then moved the light so that it was shining on the outside of the bowl.

When a wood is green (has a relatively high moisture content) and is fairly thin, it appears translucent.  By noting the brightness of different areas of the bowl, I can very accurately gauge the wall thickness.  I took light cuts until the light was shining through evenly, then parted the bowl off.  Time for bed – it’s well past 10:00pm.

Translucent

Twelve hours later, I was back in the shop to turn another bowl.  This bowl is an excellent example of how I let the wood determine the final shape of the bowl.  I chose a large chunk of black walnut and cut it round on the bandsaw.  As I trued it up on the lathe, I realized that there was a void in the tree which meant that there was bark further towards the middle.

My first objective was to remove all traces of bark.  Sometimes bark is desirable.  But not this time.  After the bark had been eradicated, I re-evaluated the bowl.  I had a large amount of sapwood (the lighter coloured wood) on what would become the lower half of the bowl.  I realized that I would have to either get rid of the sapwood entirely or use it extensively to make it seem intentional.  So I gauged the highest point the sapwood extended and made that the middle of the bowl.

I have become partial to flared sides, so I decided to stick with that.  A narrow base meant more sapwood exposure in this case without any bark or other defects.  A wider rim seems to make the bowl seem more open – like it has a greater capacity.  I also like to cut a shallow bevel on the bottom of the bowl it makes it seem lighter, almost as if it is floating.  Once I had defined the outside of the bow, I turned my attention to the insides.  I tapered the walls from a razor-thin (and sharp) lip to thick (1/4″) at the base.  I finished off my sanding up to 600x and applied a sanding sealer before parting off.

Razor's Edge (Black Walnut)

This is what my shop looked like after 5 bowls had been revealed.

After a Weekend of Turning

Heirloom Quality Screwdrivers For Sale

My turned screwdrivers are now for sale.  They feature a solid dogwood handle and a polished magnetic bit holder which accepts all 1/4″ hex-shank screwdriver bits.  The price is $30.

To make a screwdriver, I first cut a dogwood blank to size.  Then I bore a 1/4″ hole to accept the shank of the magnetic bit holder and use a forstner bit to square the face of the blank to the hole.

1-Milling Blank

Next, I put some cyanoacrylate glue into the hole and press the bit holder in until it is seated fully.

2-Pressing Parts Together

The screwdriver is mounted in the lathe, with the bit holder in a chuck and a live center supporting the butt end of the handle.

3-Ready to Turn

Finally, the screwdriver is turned to shape and a finish is applied (Photo 4).

4-Finished

Acacia – Block to Bowl

Right now I have a half dozen blocks of green acacia in the garage.  I spent a good portion of last Saturday turning a pair of bowls from a single block.  I first outlined the shape of the bowl on the block and cut it out on the bandsaw.  I screwed the block onto a faceplate and mounted it onto my midi-lathe.  Using my new bowl gouge, I shaped the outside as well as a tenon at one end to allow the workpiece to be held with a chuck while the bowl is being hollowed.  Once the outside of the bowl was turned to a pleasing shape and any sapwood and bark was turned away, I removed the bowl from the faceplate and secured it in my chuck using a set of bowl jaws designed specifically for holding you-know-what.

Deep Acacia Bowl

When remounting a bowl, there is often a slght eccentricity. A minute or so is all that is needed to true up the outside of the bowl.  Before hollowing, I sanded the outside of the bowl up to 320-grit.  Then, I hollowed the inside using the bowl gouge once again.  As the walls became thinner, I frequently checked for an even thickness using a pair of outside calipers.

With the hollowing complete, I sanded the inside.  I recently purchased a Skilton Sander, which essentially a sanding pad mounted on a bearings.  It utilizes the rotation of the workpiece on the lathe the help speed the sanding process.  It’s a neat tool and definately handy to have.

If the wood I was using was dried, this is when I would have applied a finish.  However, since the wood was green, skipped this step.  Finishing will take place after after the bowls have dried.  The last step is to cut the bowl free from the tenon in the chuck.  The bowl gouge is once again used to remove the bulk of the material while creating a slight hollow in the base so that it sits flat.  A parting tool finishes the job if there is not enough room for the bowl gouge.

Of the two, I like the shallower bowl.  It has a smooth inside curve which made it easier to sand.  It appears to float, as I cut a shallow bevel under the wide bevel which is visible.  The thin wall makes it very elegant yet functional.  While there is nothing wrong with the deep bowl, it doesn’t please my eye as much.  Maybe it’s due to the proportions.  The three facets on the inside made sanding a litle more challenging, as well.

Shallow Acacia Bowl

Dedication to Woodworking

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.Small Douglas Fir Bowl

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.

A Gift Box

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.

Bottom Detail