Category Archives: Turning

Turned Cherry Bowl

In woodworking we often spend an incredible amount of time and energy trying to make things rectilinear. Most trees I see do not have a lot of square edges on them to start yet many woodworkers have trouble thinking in the round.  Lately I’ve been doing some more green woodworking and wood turning and have been enjoying the explorations of different forms and techniques. When turning free form work I love how the wood speaks to me and tells me what shape it would like to be.

The cherry bowl below was a change from the very traditional colonial forms and delicate/thin shapes I spend a lot of time working with. I wanted to make a deep bowl with simple lines to let the grain and color speak for itself. I think mentally I was picturing something Asian inspired, though this piece could be at home on a very traditional table.

Completed bowl
Completed bowl

Recently I had a weekend out in the shop and turned this bowl as a thank-you gift for a good friend. Below is a quick chronicle of the process:

Bowl blank cut out on band saw and mounted to faceplate
Bowl blank cut out on band saw and mounted to faceplate

I had a nice bit of 16/4 Cherry in my shop for a long waiting for it’s time to transform into a bowl. Using a compass I marked out the largest circle I could get out of the blank, cut it roughly round on the band saw and mounted it to a faceplate for the lathe.

Turned outside of the bowl.
Turned outside of the bowl.

Once mounted on the headstock I turned the bowl round and formed the exterior shape of the bowl. For this bowl I wanted to try something different, so rather than turning a tenon which would decrease the external depth of bowl I could get from the blank I relieve the bottom of the bowl so that the bowl chuck could expand to hold the bowl rather than clamping down on a round tenon.

Bowl reversed and in the bowl chuck
Bowl reversed and in the bowl chuck

Once I got the outside of the bowl shaped the way I wanted it, I reversed the bowl and mounted it in the bowl chuck. Next I  hollow out the bowl being careful to not go too deep and blow out the bottom or sides of the bowl.

Applying the finish while on the lathe
Applying the finish while on the lathe

With the bowl still on the lathe I was able to apply finish to the bowl which helps speed up the process. As the bowl gets polished up, you can really see how the figure of the wood pops.

Close up detail
Close up detail

This bowl is finished with tung oil and wax.

Grain detail of the turned Cherry Bowl
Grain detail of the turned Cherry Bowl

Freshly turned the cherry looks pretty light on top of my maple bench, but with time and exposure to daylight it will darken up nicely and take on the warmer color you expect from cherry.

Bottom Detail
Bottom Detail

I learned to turn from Alan Lacer and Rich Friberg and one thing they both taught me was to add little details to surprise or delight folks who took the time to inspect what you made. On the bottom of this bowl I varied the surface under the bowl to give more visual and tactile interest.

Turned Cherry Bowl
Turned Cherry Bowl

I  am happy with the results and hope this sturdy little bowl has a good life.

Take care,
-Bill

Working in the round…

Bowl blanks waiting to be turned
Bowl blanks waiting to be turned

Yesterday I had a rare day off and some time to work in my shop. With the holidays and cold weather fast approaching I am trying to get through my mile long TODO list. One of the items on my list was to make good use of some turning blanks I had on hand. (Last weekend I cleaned up the basement and organized my wood rack so now things are nice and neat)

Mallet blank
Mallet blank

Before tearing into a bowl blank I wanted to warm up with a spindle project and I’ve had a nice mallet blank sitting in my tool rack for the last year (literally).

Turning the mallet
Turning the mallet

You may recognize this style mallet from an earlier post I made last year on my blog here. The handle is made from cherry and the striking face is quarter-sawn hard maple. The concept here is that a mallet made from a single piece of wood usually loses some of the long grain sections that come flying off over its service life. By using quarter-sawn wood on all 4 sides you are not exposing any of the grain that is likely going to fly off. This also assumes that the Titebond glue joint is stronger than any movement in the handle.  We’ll see how well this one lasts in my own shop. (The first one was a gift for a friend)

Finished Mallet
Finished Mallet

A few changes I made in the design is I made the top a tiny bit concave so I can stand the mallet on its end and I simplified the handle a bit as it will likely have a hard life in the shop. I do however really like how the bead makes a pattern with the contrasting wood species.

Turning tools in the rack
Turning tools in the rack

Now that the tools are all warmed up, it’s time to start making some bowls.

Bowl blank mounted on a face plate
Bowl blank mounted on a face plate

After roughing the blanks round on the band saw I secure the blank to a faceplate using good quality wood screws. (The screw holes disappear as that wood is removed from the inside of the bowl)

Bowl blank ready for turning
Bowl blank ready for turning

The first step is to turn the bottom of the bowl. I elected to make a chunky Asian feeling bowl from a small walnut blank I had on hand.

Turning the bottom and making a foot for the bowl chuck to grab onto
Turning the bottom and making a foot for the bowl chuck to grab onto

The bowl chuck grabs onto the foot (or base) of the bowl and allows me to hollow out the inside of the bowl.

Hollowing the bowl, knee deep in shavings
Hollowing the bowl, ankle deep in shavings

You know it’s a good day at the lathe when you are completely covered in shavings and standing ankle deep in shavings.

Hollowed out bowl, finishing the edge detail
Hollowed out bowl, finishing the edge detail

Once I got the wall thickness and profile into a form I liked, I apply the finish right on the lathe. This allows for easier buffing etc.

Finished bowl
Finished bowl

I liked the figure of this piece and how it came out.

Underside of bowl
Underside of bowl

The bowl is finished with Tung Oil and Wax and likely will be a place for my wife to put her keys or watch or similar items at the end of a day.

Turned walnut bowl. Finished with tung oil and wax
Turned walnut bowl. Finished with tung oil and wax

On a cold day like today, I hope that you will get out to the workshop and make something new.  Time for me to get back into the shop myself….

Take care,
-Bill

As the Spurtle turns….

This past weekend I was busy in the shop working on a variety of projects. Sunday I spent most of my day doing some wood-turning at the lathe.

A favorite warm up project of mine is to make a traditional wooden spurtle.

Variety of Spurtles
Variety of Spurtles

What’s a spurtle?

A spurtle is a traditional Scottish kitchen tool that dates back to the middle ages. Traditionally made from maple this utensil is often used to stir soups, and beat the lumps out of porridge.  If you are not big on porridge, it also works well with a wok and will not damage your pots and pans.

Dan turning on the lathe
Dan turning on the lathe

Over the weekend, my friend Dan Farnbach stopped by the shop for a quick lesson on the basics of spindle turning. He was a quick study and picked up a lot of the basics.

Roughing Gouge
Roughing Gouge

I learned about turning Spurtles from my friend and master wood turner Rich Friberg (NBSS PC2 Instructor). It’s a great way to make use of small pieces, produce something usable and explore design possibilities. For this piece I like how the small beads echo the light and dark similar to what you see in the curly figure itself.

Handle Detail
Handle Detail

A good spurtle is generally about a 10-12 inches long, held in the hand similar to a pencil or chop stick and stirs using a wrist action. I tend to like the designs that flair out a little bit at the bottom and are well balanced in the hand. Beyond that, the design possibilities are endless. The spurtle shown here is made from curly maple and finished with mineral oil. With use the finish can be renewed with more mineral oil or salad bowl oil.

Completed Spurtle
Completed Spurtle

If you make some spurtles of your own, make sure to share some pictures with us. If you get really good at making and using them you might want to enter the World Porridge Championships and compete for the Golden Spurtle.

Good luck and happy turning!

ADMINISTRATIVE NOTE:
Earlier this evening many of you may have received a partial post related to Sloyd showing a partial table — that was an accidental misfire wherein a draft got posted prematurely. But fear not, I do have some more Sloyd related posts coming up soon.

Getting a grip on a solid mallet

A good mallet of often overlooked. All too often we settle for a store bought carving mallet or crude instrument we fashioned in a hurry and then live with for years. Before the holidays I decided is was time to make a nice larger mallet for myself and one for a friend. I wanted a mallet that was a little larger and heavier than the average.

You can never have too many clamps, especially when clamping up a blank wherein you do not want to see any glue lines.
You can never have too many clamps, especially when clamping up a blank wherein you do not want to see any glue lines. Plus it takes on the look of some modern art work. 😉

I decided to make my new mallet out of cherry and hard maple as they are two of my favorite woods to work with, and I like they contrast they have with each other when finished. The hard maple (Same I used for my workbench) is hard, dense and wears well, and the cherry (From a curly cherry piece I had around the shop) has a nice even tone and finishes well.

Blanks ready to be turned
Blanks ready to be turned

In making this sort of mallet, the stock preparation work is more important than the actual turning and finishing. That is why its critical to get the mating surfaces planed dead flat and take the time to clamp it up tightly (don’t starve the joint of glue) but make sure you do not have gaps or you will have unsightly glue lines and a potentially weaker mallet.

First Mallet Turned, Next to the blank
First Mallet Turned, Next to the blank

Why would someone spend so much time and effort to make a fancy mallet you are only going to beat the heck out of?

If you’ve ever turned a mallet from a single piece of wood and used it for a while you’re likely to see parts of it eventually come flying off — but only from two sides.  This leaves you with an unbalanced mallet which may not hit your chisel the way you want. Where quarter sawn grain is exposed the wood is mostly intact after years of use, but where long grain is exposed some hard hits can take advantage of the plane of weakness in the wood causing them to fly off. They break off much the way splitting a piece of wood with a froe separates the grain.

The good news is there is a way to avoid this…

Completed Mallet
Completed Mallet

By gluing up a mallet as you can see here the hard maple pieces are quarter sawn — so on all 4 sides of the finished mallet you have nice dense quarter sawn hardwood grain oriented in such a way that it should have a nice long service life even under harsh conditions — plus it’s pleasing to look at especially with contrasting woods.

End of mallet with finish applied
End of mallet with finish applied

Won’t it break apart with seasonal movement or use? I used Tite-Bond II for the glue which has been proven to be stronger than wood when used in long grain to long grain bonds. The center or handle piece of wood should be a well seasoned hardwood ideally rift sawn and known to be stable. I’ve seen many of these mallets get heavy shop for years and hold up very well. A similar mallet is often a regular project the cabinet and furniture making program at NBSS.

Completed Mallet
Completed Mallet

You should take the time to fit the handle to your hand and make it as austere or ornate as you see fit. I particularly like how the laminated structure of the blank results in nice contrasting areas like you see on the bead in the above photo.  I do a lot of period work so I was thinking about the 18th century as I turned these mallets. Most of it is finished with the skew chisel and needed almost no sanding. The finish is tongue oil with a very light coat of wax only on the end grain and handle. I look forward to it providing years of solid service.

 

A Staircase for Very Skinny People

As a student at the North Bennet Street School, one of the many projects Preservation Carpentry students have to complete is the staircase model. The project is a great exercise for students as they each get to walk through the process of building a staircase from end to end. The only caveat is that the stair treads are only about 18″ wide since going full size in width does not add much to the learning experience and makes it feasible to have 10+ staircases in a single classroom.

Rough stringers in place
Rough stringers in place

Above we start off laying out and cutting the rough stringers and then move through each stage until we have a completed staircase. This is one of the projects wherein the students have some design freedom in how they want to trim out the staircase. Some were very modern and minimalist, some very plain vanilla with all square stock, some very traditional.

Turned walnut ballusters
Turned walnut balusters

I am an avid turner and had done a lot of finish carpentry before coming to the school so as a challenge to myself I decided I wanted to turn my own newel posts and balusters and finish off the piece as if it was installed in a house. It was a lot of extra effort, but a great experience. Once completed my staircase model was on display as part of the NBSS annual student works show and exhibit.

You can see the completed project here:

Completed staircase model
Completed staircase model

If you are interested in seeing a time lapse of how this staircase was built, please check out the slide show below:

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Turning Ovals at the Old Schwamb Mill

If you’re an avid wood turner and live in or near New England this is a road trip worth taking. The Old Schwamb Mill in Arlington MA (a short 1 block walk from the North Bennet Street School’s Arlington campus — and on the road to historic Lexington where I lived for a long time) is a great afternoon trip and the sort of place you could drive by every day and never notice — as I did for years. Once discovered, this site is a real gem, and also home to a Shaker furniture and supply store.

Turning and oval frame
Turning and oval frame

You may be asking yourself, “how do I turn an oval frame?”

The magic is in the head stock — one of only a handful of this 100+ year old design known to still exist. And there are 3 or 4 of them at the mill. As the head turns there is a mechanical movement that moves the piece being turned up and down so that the wood is consistently presented to the tool at the tool rest. It also makes for a rhythmic noise as it runs. It’s not like most turning — think of it like scraping with style.

The mill has been at this location for 300+ years and making world famous oval frames for 137+ years. In addition to the lathe shown here there is also a massive version in the basement along with several other unique belt driven tools which expedited the process of making and joining these interesting frames. Work from this mill is in the White House and other similar places around the world.

If you’d like to visit the mill, you can find more information here on there web site: http://www.oldschwambmill.org/

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