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!

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Overflow, Part VII

Wine Glass Kit

I bought ten of these wine glass kits from Craft Supplies USA.  The stems were cut off so that all the maker had to do was turn the bottom half.  It seemed like a neat idea at the time, but I’ve somewhat lost interest in turning.

If you would like these ten glasses, please leave a comment below indicating your interest before noon on Monday, March 26.  I will then draw a winner at random.  Even if you don’t get these glasses, remember that these are only some of the MANY things I want to give away (yes, there is still much more).

And if you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe to my blog using the widget in the right-hand column so you can be notified as soon as I post something new!  And please tell your friends about my Overflow program.

Review the details of the Overflow program.

Jon Siegel – Elliptori

Elliptori by Jon Siegel

Artist Name:  Jon Siegel
Title:  Elliptori
Details:  circa 2001 – mahogany, glass 56″ wide x 26″ deep x 16″tall

Why It’s Notable:

I like the design, but to me, what is most notable is the process used to make the base.  Instead of laminating the rough shape, then refining it with carving tools, planes, and sanders, Jon Siegel took another approach.

“When I make the turning, which is 4′ in diameter, I am only making 1/2 of the profile, and the back is flat.  Then the ring is cut in half along the diameter and “folded” and glued together to make one table.  This method has two advantages:  it is easy to mount the work on a face plate because the back is flat, and it assures that the form is symmetrical.”

How did Jon develop the process of making the base?

“I never had a drawing of this table – the idea went from my brain directly to a scale model made on the lathe.  My first experiments were in doll-house scale (1:12).  Then when I thought I had the proportions right, I jumped up to 1/4 size scale.  From that model, I measured how I was going to glue up the blank in three layers – three band sawn rings were stacked and glued up.  About a year after I made it I realized that somewhere in the back of my mind I was probably inspired by the work of Stephen Hogbin that I had seen 25 years earlier!”

The glass top makes the table functional without hindering the view of the unique cross-section of the base.  Very interesting!

For the curious, this is the lathe Jon used to turn the table’s base.

Jon Siegel’s Putnam Lathe

“Restoring 100 year old machinery (both woodworking and metal working) is a passion of mine – especially lathes.  The lathe was made in Fitchburg, Massachusetts by Putnam who made mostly metal lathes, but they also made some of these pattern maker’s lathes.  These are woodworking lathes that have a carriage.  This type of bed was used on their metal lathes too, which is why they are so heavy.  But the headstock and carriage are greatly simplified from their metal working cousins.  This type of bed is called ‘extension bed’, and by turning the large handwheel that you can see below the bed, the upper half of the bed slides away revealing the large ‘gap’ which is thus adjustable in width for the particular job at hand.  Of course this also extends the length of the bed when needed, hence the name.  It extends to allow 12′ workpiece length.  It swings 24″ over the bed and 50″ in the gap.  I used this lathe to make ‘Elliptori’.  The rough blank weighed over 100 pounds, and the finished turning about 70 pounds.  Work of this size is turned at about 120 rpm (2 revolutions per second).  The largest piece I have turned on this lathe weighed 500 pounds, and it handled it easily because that is only 10% of the weight of the machine.”

I’d like to extend a “thank you” to Jon Siegel for his help writing this article.  Jon has been turning for over 45 years.  He co-founded Big Tree Turnings, LLC., and is a member of the Guild of New Hampshire WoodworkersNew Hampshire Furniture Masters Association, and president of Granite State Woodturners (a chapter of the American Association of Woodturners).

Every Scar Has a Story, But Not Every Story Has a Scar

If you don’t have any scars, I would venture to guess that you lead a very conservative lifestyle free of peril, risk, adrenaline rushes, and interest. Yes, I have a few scars, each with a story and often a lesson learned as well. Scars can be reminders of epic tales of struggle, heroism, pain and suffering. Other stories, while equally fascinating, leave nothing to remember them by other than the experience itself. Such is this story:

Last year, one of my friends Jared, got married. In high school, we were the two of the best woodworking prospects of our graduation class (which sounds better than it actually was). We made the most ambitious projects and were two of the few students enrolled in the woodworking classes who seemed interested in making woodwork. After high school, I pursued woodworking and Jared got caught up in renovations.

He and his fiancé, Logan, wanted to make candle holders out of sections of birch trees, bark on, for the reception. So I got the call, and together, Jared and I cut the birch logs to random lengths and bored holes for the votives. For a wedding gift, I made a small box I now call the puzzle box.

I made it with just a vague idea in my head and just designed it as I went. Only when I had completed the box did I realize that it would make a great ring box. There were two round compartments with each of their initials carved into an end. It was the only one if its kind when I made it, and it still is.

Fast forward a year, when I received an e-mail from Logan. She was looking for an anniversary present for Jared and asked if I could make a wooden wedding ring. I love challenges, so I took the job. I expected the ring to take about 30 minutes to make, but had no idea what the learning curve would be.

The next week, Jared and Logan came over and we first figured out what wood to use, then what size it needed to be. We quickly discovered that my forstner bits, in 1/16” increments, did not allow the proper fit. Jared and Logan decided to go with a dark wood, with rosewood and lignum vitae preferred. Using my midi-lathe, a spindle gouge, and a parting tool, Jared and I turned a few test rings while Logan watched.

We needed to determine which inside diameter fit the best and what the maximum thickness was that we could use for strength, without feeling bulky. We learned that rosewood, turned to a pleasing thickness, was not strong enough and could be broken easily by squeezing it between finger and thumb.

I reasoned that lignum vitae, the hardest of the commercially available woods should be strong enough. And if not, then likely an all-wood ring would not be possible to be made strong enough. We made a few unsuccessful rings, either too loose-fitting, too thick, or too thin.

After about two hours of trying to turn a ring we were all getting tired and Jared and Logan decided to leave me with the task and come back another day. We had established that Jared’s ring finger was the same size as my left middle finger. I knew what I had to do, and just had to get the ring made. I could have called it a day, but I was determined to get one made. I brought out my Taig miniature metalworking lathe and, five minutes later, had a nice looking ring.

Excited to have a working ring, I tested the fit, slipping it over my finger. It fit. I called Jared and told him that I had completed a ring. I took off the ring to go back upstairs to retire for the evening. Only I couldn’t get it off.

In my excitement to try the fit after finally successfully turning a ring, I hadn’t bothered to sand it smooth and the sharp, turned edges were digging into my knuckle instead of gliding over, as a gently eased edge would do. What do I do now? It wouldn’t slide off. Spinning it only cut up my knuckle, to the point where it bled. There was room to move the ring on my finger, but I couldn’t get it past my knuckle. My solution was to slip a piece of sandpaper between my finger and the ring and sand it until it fit over my knuckle. I watched the second period of the hockey game while slowly sanding the ring off my finger.

I sanded the ring smooth and Jared came by to pick it up. He loves it, as does his wife. And I’ve already had request to make another one.

A Riddle

Today was a beautiful day – warm and sunny. I went to work and, four hours later when I finished, my left side was completely soaked, my right side was dry, and I was standing two inches taller. What was I doing? Do you need a hint? If not, I know that you have done it before or heard this story before.

Hint #1: Shavings. Okay, that’s probably not much help as I’m sure you already guessed it had something to do with woodworking. Now think – what would produce shavings like those?

Hint #2: What is that blurry thing in the foreground?

Hint #3: Okay… what does this have to do with the other two pictures? Everything!

Got it?

Yes, I was turning some very green wood. Yesterday, my friend Dave brought down an apple tree on a lot where a house was levelled the previous week. Today, he and I went back to the site and milled the tree into boards. Using aluminum rails to guide the chainsaw, outfitted with and Alaskan mill, Dave cut off a 3″ thick slab off the top so that there would be a flat surface on which the mill could rest on for the next cut. The rest of the cuts were done with the mill set to cut at 2-1/2″ thick. I loaded the wood into my truck and drove home, stacked and stickered the bole on a skid in my backyard.

I decided to turn some bowls out of the 3″ thick slab, so I laid out three blanks with a clear plastic circle template (awesome tool, by the way – every bowl turner should have one!). I cut out the rounds on the bandsaw and bored a 1/4″ hole in the center of the side we’d milled flat (the other side was still covered with bark) for mounting on a screw chuck. I threaded the screw chuck onto the headstock of my lathe, spun on the bowl blank, checked by hand that the blank spun free and that the lathe was set at its lowest speed and turned the lathe on.

Immediately, water started flying off the blank like a sprinkler. I covered the bed of my jointer located 6′ in front of the lathe with a towel and sprayed on a fresh coat of Boeshield on my bandsaw table directly adjacent to the lathe. I slowly turned up the variable speed of the lathe until it and the bench it was clamped to started to shake, then backed it off until the shaking stopped. Then I started to turn.

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.


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

No Rest For The Weary

It seems that the idea of starting my business this year might just become a reality.  While my weekly hours at Lee Valley hover around 40, my shop hours are probably over 20.  On days where I work at Lee Valley, I spend little time in the shop as I am often too tired to work (safely).  On my “days off”, I work as long in the shop as possible.  Not because I feel I need to, but because that’s what I do.  Besides, there is so much to be done.

One of my objectives to be completed before starting my business is to have the shop cleaned up and organized.  Anyone who has a shop (or a living space, for that matter) knows how hard that is!  I am proud to say that I am winning the war.  I have purged much of the accumulated junk in my shop and found a home for what is useful (or will be somewhere down the line).

A few major shop projects remain.  I need to build a cabinet to store tools and supplies.  The shelves I have currently held up by metal brackets just don’t cut it.  The don’t have the same weight capacity with a given depth.  I also need to build a base cabinet and table extensions for my miter saw.  Right now it’s sitting on a Workmate with a small extension I cobbled together.  I suppose I should put the doors on the cabinets which I built two years ago.

The last project is also the most anticipated – a new workbench.  Right now I have some massive pieces of crotch cherry in the garage which will become the legs.  I’ll laminate up a top and drop it onto the legs.  I would really like a set of drawers below the bench, like a shaker style workbench, but the shape of the crotch doesn’t permit that.  I may make a fine table with the cherry and use something else for the bench.

Pedestal Rendering

I currently have one commision in progress – an Arts and Crafts Pedestal.  It’s being built of solid Red Oak.  Another, a dart board cabinet, is on hold pending the completion of the pedestal an my learning how to use my new Leigh Dovetail jig which I have yet to test.  It comes with an extensive manual which I just finished reading.

Leigh D4

I am now in the market for a new router (or two!).  Somewhere down the road, I would like to build a bowl turning lathe, which has no bed.  This allows a very large bowl to be turned, but more importantly, has no bed or tailstock to be in the way of the ideal position.  I will likely use a 2HP-2-3/4HP motor and a pair of stepped pulleys to turn the spindle.

Bowl Turning Lathe