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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’ve been making some more globe stands. I finished some that I turned earlier, and made up a variation on an existing stand, three wanted. To make the job easier I use a couple of finishing aids.
I make holders to help with finishing the stands. Most of the stands that I make have a spindle fitted to a disc at the bottom. I paint them before applying shellac. Before they dry, they are difficult to handle. I made some little blocks with a hole to fit the spindle tenon. They are handles to hold the spindles by. I put the spindle and block in the lathe together to apply the shellac evenly with the lathe running at low speed. The holes in the blocks go right through, so I can use the original centres on the spindles. When the finish is on, I can hold the blocks while the spindles are wet, and the blocks stand the spindles safely while they dry.
The second of my finishing aids are holders for the discs. The holders are square blocks with a small central peg. The peg fits in the screw chuck hole in the underside of the disc. I put the disc and block together on the lathe by pinning them against a small faceplate with the tailstock. I apply the shellac with a brush while the disc is slowly spinning. Without the holder, the disc would have to stay in the lathe until it was dry enough to handle. This is not practicable when doing batches.
Not much time spent in the workshop today. I roughed out another bowl from one of the blocks of yew left over from a few days ago. This one is smaller than the others, only about seven inches in diameter, and has a bit more of the orange colour normally seen in yew heartwood. The bandsaw blade is blunt, and would not cut straight. With the blank on a small faceplate, it was very crooked. The outcome from this would have been that the bowl was shallower than it needed to be. My solution, which I used for the others in this batch too, was to put a wooden wedge under one side of the faceplate to true it up. I made sure that one of the fixing screws went through the wedge to keep it safely in place.
I also cut a block to size for a friend at my local club. He wants to make a finial for a newel post and needed a large block cut to a cylinder as he doesn’t have a bandsaw. It was a glue-up from sections of reclaimed softwood joists, and will be fine when painted.
It was woodturning club night tonight. No special event was organised, just a group of woodturners doing the usual show-and-tell. I took my ornamental-turned square teak bowl that I have written about before and it sparked some interest. Ian suggested that the decoration could have been made with a hole saw instead of the fly cutter I used, but it would still need some indexing arrangement to get the spacing right, and a way to control the depth of cut. Other people brought some wooden whistles, and a very nice small laburnum bowl of very simple design.
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 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!