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Buffing cord pulls

Today I buffed the latest batch of cord pulls. I turned them a few days ago and  they have been oiled and given enough time for the oil to harden properly in the wood. I use the Beall buffing system. Tripoli first followed by wax. I don’t use the carnauba wax but apply microcrystalline wax from a block as it is more durable, particularly for something like a bathroom light pull that will frequently be wet. I made some in teak, some in oak, and some in plum wood, which have come out very well – the plum has a very rich colour.

I also made some more decorative wooden cones. Some are now ready to finish, but others will need time for the wood to dry before final turning. I removed the centre mark with a dremal cutter and sanding disc, and shaped the point with a chisel by hand.

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Homemade bee houses have lots of tenants

The bees have been enjoying the fine weather recently. A while back I put up some homemade bee houses around the garden. They are very popular. Most are occupied, some completely full. I have at least two kinds of tenant. Some have capped their holes with mud, but today I watched several bees fitting little front doors made of discs of leaf they cut from our runner beans and roses.

The homemade bee houses are very simple. Just offcuts of wood with blind holes drilled in them. The holes are 3/8 inch diameter and about 3 inches deep. I screwed some to a fence and some to a small shed. The leaf cutters are just outside my workshop door.


homemade bee houses with bee active
Busy bees


doors for homemade bee houses
Doors cut from leaf



1 May 2013 – lots of activity around the bee houses now, the bees have opened many of the doors (the bees made smaller holes in the mud doors) and it looks as if they are starting a new cycle. Perhaps they would prefer smaller drilled holes than I made for them last year so I made some with holes of about 5/16 inch. That should be more efficient and better for the bees as they will need much less mud and perhaps will produce more new bees in consequence. The bees opened all the leaf doors last autumn, no new activity on those houses yet. Today, 14 May, I see that the houses are filling up again, the old holes, the new 3/8 ones and the new 5/16 ones are all being taken.

13 April 2014 – A fine day, with lots of bees active. They have opened many of the mud doors in the last few days, with bees going in and out.

30 April 2016 – the mud bees are busy today. The sun is shining, but the last week or so has been quite cold so that presumably is why they are a little later this year. Only the holes in the blocks that catch the sun are open so far. There’s been no sign of the leaf cutters since the first year.

8 May 2017 – I saw the mud bees busy today. Cool weather recently.

Summer 2017 – the leaf cutters are back in residence.

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Turning wooden cones

Some discerning person has bought my remaining stock of wooden cones, leaving me sold out. These cones are decorative items, non functional except perhaps as paperweights, but I think they look good. A while back I took one to the woodturning club show and tell, and other members made some for the following meeting, so they must have something to recommend them!

Now I have to replenish stock. The difficulty is finding suitable blanks, they need to be well figured and of suitable size. I found several nice bits of pear wood with some ripple grain and darker patches. I’ve used this for making bowls previously and know it finishes well. I also sorted out some spalted sycamore and horse chestnut, but this is too wet to use at present. I spalted it myself, simply by wrapping it up in plastic bags for about a year. It certainly is heavily spalted, some of it too much so, but I won’t really know till it’s dry. I roughed out some cones from the spalted wood and put them aside to dry. The pear is good to go now, so I made a couple of cones with that. More tomorrow I expect.

Turning wooden cones is fairly simple. The blank goes between centres and I turn the taper with the point on the left. There is a knack to turning tapers fluently and I am a bit rusty, so the first ones went slowly. You have to slowly lift the tool handle as you go down the taper and coordination needs practice. The bottom is undercut a little with a small gouge so the cone stands straight, and then sanded with a small padded disc sander. The point is finished with a chisel off the lathe and then sanded.

After I had made the first few, I found it was easier to use a bowl gouge with a pulling cut to develop the taper, and finish with a large straight chisel. Few turners use straight chisels nowadays, they are almost extinct, but a dinosaur like me still finds them useful sometimes.


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Sharpening bandsaw blades

After a break (I went to see the Olympic mountain biking at Hadleigh Farm), I finished the turning of my latest batch of cord pulls. Three kinds of wood, plum, teak and oak, all a similar shape but different detailing and diameters. Their first coat of finish has now been applied.

My next job was to move my giant chess pawn globe stands along a bit. Their finish is proving difficult, with lots of coats and cutting back needed. But little by little they are nearing completion.

I was down to just one sharp blade for my Startrite bandsaw. Sharpening bandsaw blades is quite easy to do, and a few minutes work saves the cost of a new blade. I can often get two or more sharpenings from each one. I lay the blade out on a workbench and use a grinding point in a Dremel tool to freshen up each tooth. As long as the grinding point is the right diameter to fit the hollow of the tooth it only takes a second or two to do each one. Just as well as the blades are 112 inches long with 3 teeth per inch. Finer-toothed blades are not worth sharpening, but I rarely use those. Today I used a chainsaw sharpening stone, but sometimes I use inexpensive diamond points from Ebay. If you want to buy points for this purpose I recommend getting a pack of assorted diameters so you can find one that fits the tooth. The best size is a little bigger than the curve of the tooth hook so it cuts back to remove the blunt tooth tip without excessively deepening the hook. Then the blade will cut like new, though repeated sharpening makes it lose its set. Some people sharpen the tip of each tooth from its back, and don’t touch the internal hook. I think either way works, but it seems to me that taking metal off the tip might lead to problems getting the teeth equal.

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Condiment tray

My pal Tony visited today for the first time in many months. He has been unwell for some time, but I’m glad to say he’s improved a lot now. He goes to the same turning club as I do and has become a friend. In the workshop, we made a condiment tray. The design was very simple, just a small flat-bottomed dish with vertical sides that will hold bottles etc on the table. We considered using oak or mahogany as I had some blanks handy, but he wanted pine to match the table. I found an offcut the right size to make a tray about eight inches in diameter.

Tony did all the turning and was pleased with the result. With the blank sawn to a disc and mounted on a small faceplate, he faced off the bottom, making it slightly dished so it would sit flat on the table, and cleaned up the edge with a gouge, making a clean cut that brought out the grain nicely. A small chucking recess on the underside enabled reverse mounting in a chuck. Then the tray just needed hollowing and sanding. He did most of the turning with a tungsten carbide tipped tool that we made a while back. It cut fast and the tray was soon completed. The only tricky part was getting the inner surface flat for the bottles to stand on.

There was time to put on one coat of finishing oil. Two or three more coats followed by buffing in a few days time and the tray will be done.

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Making more cord pulls

Today I started building up my stock of cord pulls a bit. I picked out some teak, some oak and some plumwood and sawed the wood into small rectangular blocks on the bandsaw, about a dozen of each. I marked the centre of one end on each block, drilled most of the way through with a 6 mm twist bit, then the rest of the way with a 3 mm extra-long twist bit.

Then I put them in the lathe and roughed each one to a cylinder before completing any of them. I don’t really know why I do it this way, lots of turners would do them one by one. I like the speed of roughing down, with shavings flying and no accuracy required.

I looked through a bag of pulls that I made some time back, all different, to pick out the shape I wanted, this time a tear drop. This became the sample to copy.

Then back in the lathe one more time to form the shape using a medium size spindle gouge. They have some small coves on the shoulder that I made with one of my miniature homemade gouges. They are normally easy to use, but I found this time that the coves on the sloping surface wanted to over-cut, becoming too big. Several pulls had to be reshaped to remove the defective details and start again. But it was quick work once I got my hand in properly.

I had time to complete the teak ones and start the plum, which is slightly spalted and dark in colour. I think they will finish nicely.

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Redwood globe stands, part 4

More work on the redwood stands today. I finished the leg sections, all but the missing one that I am waiting to be sent over from USA. Next job is the eight feet, which are to be 170 mm in diameter and 200 mm long. I cut the first block into three, each 210 mm long, but immediately discovered that it’s very wet internally. You can see the moisture, with a drier layer at the surface. This is a problem, as the blocks may very well split. We shall have to consult the customer, who provided the wood, to see if he wants to go ahead with the turning now, or wait for the blocks to air dry, which will of course take a long time. They will take a long time to complete in any case, as too high a moisture content will interfere with the shellac finish.

Moisture in cut redwood
Moisture shows in fresh cut surface of redwood block
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Redwood globe stands part 3

Work on the redwood globe stands continues today. I finished the lower leg sections and moved on to the upper, which are tapered. They are made in the same way except that each end has to be callipered to size separately. Here is a block mounted in the lathe.

Wooden tool rest

Note the wooden toolrest. I shall upload an article on making the tool rest soon. A long tool rest is very useful for jobs like this.

This redwood is quite tough to turn. The ripple grain tends to break out quite easily, so it is important to sharpen the gouge and finish with fine cuts.

To be continued….


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Redwood stands part 2

My next job was to drill the redwood blocks for the lower leg sections. These also are nicely rippled, but noticeably denser and less dry than the other blocks. The drilling went a little easier than before as the blocks are much shorter at about 290mm. The purpose of the hole is to accommodate a steel drawbar during final assembly.

Then the leg blanks were ready for turning. I started with the lower leg sections. I mounted them in the spindle lathe using a counterbore centre at the headstock end. Any component with a hole down the middle is best turned on the hole, that is with the lathe centres in the hole. This ensures that the blank runs true and the hole remains axial. I turned the blank down nearly to diameter, trued one end, then marked the finished length, in this case 273mm, and turned away the surplus, making sure the ends were flat, not convex. Then I turned the cylinder to just over finished size, 108mm, ready for sanding. I tried a wide square chisel, hoping it would give the best finish, but flakes of wood broke away in a couple of places because of the complex grain. Chisels give a great finish, but work best on straight grain. So I sharpened the shallow roughing gouge again and used that. The finish was not quite as good, but at least the grain did not pick out.

I had forgotten that pine contains resin. I don’t know how old this wood is, but there was at least one pocket of liquid resin in it. I discovered some of it stuck in the little hairs on my arm. It’s like glue, it doesn’t wash off. I had to cut it out before it hardened and I became like a fly stuck in amber!

To be continued…..


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Making redwood globe stands

Yesterday I received a consignment of salvaged redwood from the USA. Although the surfaces are weathered, it looks as if it has some very nice ripple figure. You can see this in the block on the left in the photo below, and in the second picture too. See also the silvery-gray weathered surface contrasting with the freshly sawn ends.

Blocks of redwood waiting to be turned
Weathered surface of redwood beam showing ripple figure inside
Ripple figure shows in weathered surface

After checking carefully I realized that one block is missing, but the sender has promised to forward it later. This is all to be made into a pair of large globe stands similar to these but showing the wood instead of being ebonised. The globe itself is almost life size (actually it’s approximately 43 inches in diameter. The whole thing, ball and stand, seems huge!) I’ve never turned redwood before and am looking forward to seeing the figuring. I was a little surprised by the low density of the wood, I hope it finishes OK. The stands will be going back to San Francisco when complete and will be a feature of a new hotel.

The first job is to sort out the wood for each set of components. It will make the legs, with upper and lower sections separated by gilded mouldings, the feet, and some decorative buttons to go on the big mahogany disc that sits under the globe.

The pieces are a little over-length, which is a good thing as it gives some leeway. So the next job is to mark the centres of each block and turn a dovetail spigot on one end to fit my big Vicmarc chuck. I am starting with the long upper sections, which are big and heavy, so the spigot has to be generous in depth. I don’t want the block to come loose in the lathe!

Then I transfer the block from the spindle lathe to the Graduate short bed, holding it by the spigot at one end only. It looks a bit alarming to see such a big block held only at one end, but as long as I keep the speed low it is safe enough. This block is nearly 500mm long.

Upper leg section being drilled

I need access to the free end in order to drill through the block. I use a skew chisel to scrape a small V shaped recess in the free end, then use an old fashioned auger freehand to drill a half inch diameter axial hole right through. You can see the auger in the photo above, and here is a close up of the business end.

Redwood block being drilled in lathe
The hand auger used to make axial holes

The wood is soft, and drills easily. This type of drill is good at keeping on centre, but isn’t quite long enough for these blocks, so when it is at full depth I switch to an ordinary twist bit fitted with an extension bar. The hole comes out fairly central at the chuck end and there will be plenty of waste to allow for truing up. If I tried to drill to this depth with an ordinary twist bit in a hand drill or even the bench drill, it would be certain to wander badly off centre.

The hand auger, and also this twist bit, which also has a cross handle, does not turn. It cuts a true axial hole into the spinning wood. All I have to do is hold the handle at approximately the right angle, and push.