I have been reading a very interesting blog by someone who is keen on wooden bowls. The author has done research on Viking woodturning, and has built a pole lathe in connection with her research, though she has not yet got to grips with the craft itself.
I’ve tried using a pole lathe and found it very difficult. You have to stand on one leg while thrusting the treadle with the other, and it is hard to keep steady. The rotation is slow and intermittent, the lathe rocks, and you have to keep advancing and withdrawing the cutting tool in time with your leg thrusts because the direction of rotation keeps reversing. And these lathes don’t have modern chucks etc. So, although the old-time turners did pretty well, and there must be a knack to it, it is no surprise to me that I have never seen any good quality modern turning produced on these primitive machines. (There are some skilled exponents, but the work you see at country shows etc is normally dire, of curiosity value only). Modern turning gear is much more effective.
Today I sawed the two logs I found yesterday to make some bowl blanks. Here are the two logs, the “yew” on top.
I am fairly sure that the bottom one is apple. Its bark looks right, and it has the odd little mushroom shapes in the wood that seem to be almost characteristic of applewood in my experience. At least, it had them when fresh cut but by the time I got the camera to them they had faded. I will take a shot when I cut into the surface again – see below.
The other, which I was initially sure was yew, now gives me doubt. Its leaves look like yew,
and the exposed end grain has a definite red colour that I would expect (you can see that in the top picture). But when cut, the colour is wrong. Yew typically has a bright orange/red colour when freshly cut but this has pale brown heartwood. I cut the logs in half using my Startrite 352 bandsaw. The cut was about 11 1/2 inches deep, with approximately no clearance under the guides. It only just fit and I had to take it slow. It was hard to keep the cut straight and the pieces don’t have very flat surfaces for the faceplate. I should use a sharper blade next time. Here is the yew:
and below is the apple
I cut these halves into bowl blanks. Here they are, with the apple on the left:
I started roughing out one of the ‘yew’ bowl blanks and found it had the small dark knots common in yew, so I think that is what it is. There are many varieties of yew out there. It looks good anyway.
Here is a photo of one of the odd little mushroom/arrow markings that are found in apple and related species. (This one is perhaps too tall to be a mushroom, more a sort of Xmas tree shape). I don’t know what causes these marks in the wood, but I haven’t seen them in other species. The sap in the green wood darkens quickly, just as cut apples do, and these marks soon fade. They do show in the finished bowl though, as the wood is stable then.
Here are photos of one each of the yew (upper) and apple wood bowl roughouts, ready for drying:
All four of the bowls are promising, with good colour and figure, though the yew has some heart shakes (cracks) that if turned away will make the bowl much shallower. Yew is very prone to cracks like this in the wet wood. Fruit wood often cracks on drying, so I shall seal these to slow the process and hope for the best.
Today I have made progress with my giant chess piece globe stands. The material I use for these is very abrasive and blunts the normal gouge quickly, so I got out my tungsten carbide gouge. This is a true gouge with a flute, not a scraper. It has a curved piece of carbide inserted into a groove in a steel shaft. It’s one of those tools that ought to be useful, but isn’t. I bought it years ago for this purpose. Every once in a while I get it out, only to rediscover its fault. Today I once again confirmed the reason I don’t use it much.
There are different grades of tungsten carbide, some suitable for cutting wood. The grade used for this tool is not one of them. The best edge that I can get on it with my diamond hones is still blunt. People do say that carbide stays blunt much longer than high speed steel! The turning is hard work, either using the carbide tool or a normal HSS gouge – that is at least sharp when it begins to cut, but blunts very soon.
There are now carbide tipped scrapers sold for turning, with a sharper grade of carbide. I bought some tips allegedly similar to the popular brand and made them into similar tools. They cut a lot better than my carbide gouge, but soon became blunt. Where are the woodturning tools with diamond tips? Now they would be real progress!
Workshop storage is important. A tidy shop makes us much more productive. There is nothing worse than spending hours hunting for some item that you know you have in the workshop somewhere. And if tools don’t have a proper home, they get left on the work surfaces where they are in the way.
Drawer units are best
In my experience, drawers are the best workshop storage option for small items. They don’t trap dust and shavings, they hold more than cupboards, and stuff is easier to see and get out than it is in cupboards. I currently have 84 assorted drawers in my workshop, mostly homemade, but it’s not enough. Today I started on another 4-drawer unit that will fit into a rack of steel shelves that I have. The drawers will hold more than the shelf did and be more useful. I already have a similar unit on the shelf below. They are quick to make, and very rough and ready – I don’t make furniture, just somewhere to keep things.
I make them out of whatever board I have spare, MDF or ply. This unit has sides and a vertical divider of 25 mm MDF and drawers made of 12 mm ply. It’s just a question of sawing the panels to size and cutting rebates and grooves, then assembling with glue and pins.
Make the joints with a router
I made the grooves with the table saw. I used my router table to make the corner joints in the drawers. There is a simple interlocking joint that you can make with one setting of the router. It cuts both parts of the joint without having to change anything.
Dust collection for the router is not good at present. I don’t use it often, but want to improve the enclosure of the table so I can connect it to my dust extraction system. Because it has a sliding insert in the top, I am not sure how to seal it. I want the air flow to pull dust and chips down into the cabinet and away to the extractor. If there are openings in addition to the one where the router cutter is positioned, the suction will not be effective.
Some Axminster clamps I bought recently have a potential problem. The metal jaws have plastic shoes to soften the grip on the wood. This saves putting a pad between the jaw and the wood. It makes them easier to use because clamping with pads can be one of those jobs that need more hands than most people possess. The problem is that the shoes mark the wood with what looks like a grease stain. The plastic looks clean and dry, but keeps making these ‘stains’ as if something is seeping out of the plastic. Is that possible? My old clamps don’t do it. The Axminster rep says this has not been reported to them before, but he is looking into it and promised to get back to me. If the marks are oily or greasy, they could interfere with gluing and finishing.
Later I had another call from Axminster Tools about my clamp problem. Their theory is that the clamp pressure is burnishing the wood surface. I don’t think this is right so I did some tests.
I put one of my Axminster clamps on a piece of MDF with thin polythene under one of the plastic shoes. The pressure must have been the same on each side. The side with polythene is unmarked, the other has a very prominent stain.
I put on another clamp with a small MDF pad under one plastic shoe and nothing under the other. There is a heavy stain on the top of the pad, nothing under the pad and a heavy stain under the other shoe. The pad was the same size as the shoe so the pressure must have been the same on all three surfaces.
I think these results strongly indicate that something from the plastic shoe is staining the MDF.
I spoke to Axminster Tools again about my problem with their clamps. I had to call them again, although they had promised to call me, and found they had done nothing about the issue. Disappointing, as they are normally very good at customer care. This is an example of what the clamps do to a bit of MDF.
I don’t usually make wooden fruit. In fact I have never made wooden fruit. But today I started work on some wooden pears made of pear wood as a commission for a client who brought me some from a tree that he felled in his garden. I have already made some bowls from it for him. The tricky bit with pears is shaping the ends, because that’s where the lathe centres grip the wood.
Most of the turned pears I see are not very like the fruit in shape. The shape of Conference pears is pointy. You can’t really call them ‘pear shaped’. But the tree was a Conference variety so I shall go for that.
I had a delivery of timber today, a stack of MDF sheets. I spent quite a lot of time trying to fit it into the workshop. It is a great mistake to store materials in the workspace. Someone said that there are four things that a workshop must contain – the tools, the materials, the project and the turner – and that no workshop ever has room for more than three of those. But the days when I had a choice are gone, there’s not enough room outside either.
The cheap PVA I mentioned a couple of days ago seems fine. It looks like normal PVA, though thinner. I can’t break apart the joints I made with it then – I laminated the boards face to face, so lots of glue area and not much strain on the joint. Not sure I would use it where strength is more critical.
I ran out of glue yesterday. I can’t help noticing that shops sell PVA both for gluing and for mixing with cement. On the glue bottles it says you can also use it for cement, and on the cement bottles it says you can also use it as glue. The price in glue bottles is about six times what it is in the cement bottles. So I bought a gallon of the cement stuff. I don’t know yet if it is as good for gluing as the other stuff. It seems thinner than what I normally use. In any case, the purpose I want it for doesn’t need great strength.
Today I turned some of my wooden mice out of reclaimed wood mahogany. The turning bit is easy, it’s putting in their ears that is tricky. I have to drill the little holes to the right depth, in the right place, and at the right angle. I use a hand held drill. The mice don’t like it, and are hard to hold still for the drilling. Then the leather ears are glued in. I don’t use PVA of either type for that. I use Evostik ‘Serious Glue’, which seems tough stuff.