Thursday, November 30, 2006

A step back in time

Every now and then I stumble across a gem of a website. Today I came across Stuart King's website, and in particular the articles he has written, many of which are about woodturning as it was practiced in days gone by.

Do take a look. There are stories from England of bodgers, bowl turners and twist cleaners. There are tales from eastern Europe of bow lathe turners, drop spindle makers and drinking flask makers.

One point I found particularly interesting was about elm logs:
They stood in a pile for at least two years before being converted into bowl blanks. By this time most of the bark had fallen off and the timber became ‘kind’.
I don't know exactly what they mean by 'kind', but I suspect that it is the point at which the wood has lost its free moisture between the cells, but the bound water is still trapped inside them. This is the point at which I end up turning a lot of my bowls, and in most species I don't have many problems with checking. The wood still cuts easily, but I don't get sprayed with sap as the wood spins on the lathe.

I am surprised however that they did this with elm, a species that I find rots very easily, and that the bark is allowed to fall off, which I find leads to checks starting at the surface.

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Categories: history, bowl turning

Thursday, November 23, 2006

B.A.D. blogging

It's official. I'm a B.A.D. blogger.

Yesterday I had a wonderful conversation with Liz Strauss from Successful Blog. We talked about my blogs, this one, The ToolRest, which is written for woodturners, and The Chipshop which is for my customers. I mentioned to Liz how hard it is to get comments and trackback from visitors to my blogs, and pointed out some posts she has written in the past. The first suggestion is to leave a thought open as a relationship builder. Liz is a teacher and text book writer and I have a background in training. Liz suggests that these occupations encourage us to normally over-explain things, thereby not leaving much scope for open thoughts. The second post is 10 Reasons Readers Don’t Leave Comments.

It's going to take me a while to absorb all this, but in the meantime you can can do me a favour and take a moment to tell me why you haven't left a comment here before. It really would be a great favour and might help me become a B.E.T.T.E.R blogger. Have you got some advice for a blogger who's ready to listen? A view from that side of the screen would be valuable and appreciated. You can't hurt my feelings - I'm a better woodturner than I am a blogger.

DiscussingThe Art of Woodturning

There are many great online forums where woodturning tools and techniques are discussed, and where our latest creations can be displayed. But surprisingly enough there are no forum categories encouraging the discussion of woodturning as an artform. This is a real shame, and is perhaps holding back many people from developing their woodturning beyond being just a craft skill. It certainly is a problem for me.

At my request, the Wood Turning Center have kindly added a category The Art of Woodturning to their forum. Do check it out. I have started one thread, asking "Should woodturners extend their artistic vocabulary"? Please leave your thoughts on this thread, and if you have anything else to discuss please start a new thread. It would also be nice to hear your thoughts and ideas for developing this forum. Don't be shy. You don't need to be an art expert - I'm certainly not, but I do want to learn more and develop my thinking on the subject.

One thing I hope is that artists from other disciplines will drop by the forum and add to the discussion. I think that woodturning can only benefit from input from other viewpoints and it might address some of the concerns that I blogged about in Inspiration for woodturners.

See you soon on The Art of Woodturning.

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Categories: art, craft, learning, wood turning center

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Pens for Canadian Peacekeepers

CBC Radio featured an interview with Jim Shaver who spearheads Pens for Canadian Peacekeepers. It's good that woodturning, and this project in particular, is getting some coverage from the mainstream media.

With help from some thirty ofr so supporters, Jim has sent out 232 pens to Canadian peacekeepers all around the world including Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Haiti, Sudan and Egypt. Some of the wood which has been used for this project was some walnut that was left over from a gunstock factory during the Second World War, a fitting use for this wood with a history.

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

What would you like to see on video?

Last month I pointed out some woodturning videos on YouTube. Chris Anderson, the producer of the videos featuring J.T.Dunphy, has written to me asking for your help in planning more woodturning videos. Here is what he says:
"I'm in talks with JT about making a follow-up--especially for YouTube, so short segments are likely and I'm looking for suggestions. If your readers would like to help in the development of this, I think we could accomodate their interests. I'm hoping that YouTube (and other sites like it) can become gathering spots for artists and those merely curious about the arts!"
This is a great opportunity to have your say about the type of video content you want to see. Maybe you have a particular interest that hasn't been covered on video before? Or maybe you have some insight into what makes a truly great video? Or just something you really think should be on YouTube. Please leave a comment below and I will see that Chris receives it. If you prefer to talk with Chris directly, you can find his contact details on his website,

"The aim of ARTinRES is to give viewers a "behind the scenes" look at working artists in order to de-mystify the creative process, heighten appreciation for the artistic community's contribution to our lives, and to reveal the commitment artists make to their work. Chris has taught English for the past fifteen years and is currently an instructor at Columbus State Community College, Ohio. The AiR series answers his life-long dream to make documentary films."

Skew Chisel: The Darkside & The Sweet Side with Alan LacerSkew Chisel: The Darkside & The Sweet Side with Alan Lacer
Learn to Handle the Most Challenging Tool in All of Woodturning... Video available on VHS and DVD.

Skew Chisel: The Darkside & The Sweet Side with Alan Lacer

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categories: video

Saturday, November 11, 2006

A splash of color

Have you ever considered adding a splash of color to your work?

Woodturner Michael Allison does just that. He uses his experience gained in the guitar refinishing industry to really make his vessels stand out. He describes briefly his methods and materials on his website, but Fine Woodworking has posted a four minute video in which Michael talks in more depth about the techniques behind his graduated dye finish.

Michael uses Trans Tint wood dyes, applied with an air brush. The graduated color is built up over many applications. The manufacturer's technical data sheet describes the dye:
"TransTint Dyes are a single component concentrated metallized acid dyestuff dissolved in a glycol ether carrier. The product is designed to be let down with a polar or mildly polar solvent such as water or alcohol and used as a dye stain on bare wood for interior surfaces."
The data sheet goes on to describe how the dye can be used. This is a must-read for anyone planning to use this product. It covers safety issues as well as hints for dealing with application problems.

TransTint® DyesTransTint® Dyes
Concentrated dye solution makes it easy to apply beautiful color to your project.

Available in 12 colors. 2 oz. bottle...
TransTint® Dyes

Michael primarily uses water based lacquer to build up a finish when the dyeing is complete to make the color pop out. High gloss finishes like this require careful turning since any ripples in the surface will be very obvious, just like a small dent in a polished car.

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Categories: finishing is a brand new online service that aims to match up advertisers with bloggers who will write a review for them. This blog post is one such paid review of

When advertisers go to the site they can find relevant blogs either by a search box or through a list of categories which are presented as a tag cloud. A list of blogs is then presented, along with a brief description of each blog, its star rating, and the cost of a review. Clicking on any blog shows more details such as rankings from Alexa and Technorati, an estimate of the number of RSS subscribers, and recent blog post headings. The cost of a review is related to the blog's star rating. A one star blog costs $40, and a four star blog $250. I couldn't find any 5 star blogs.

Ordering a review is as simple as adding to a shopping cart. At checkout time you get to provide a few details about your website and get to choose from having a review written about either a product, a service, site design or page content. Once the checkout process is complete, an offer is sent to the selected reviewers. Once they choose to accept the offer, they have 48 hours to publish their review.

Bloggers who want to sign up as a reviewer simply have to enter details of their blog. In fact, each blogger can have up to six blogs on the system. Not all blogs are accepted; a blog "must meet a minimum number of citations, subscribers, and traffic". This decision is made automatically and you know straight away whether you have been accepted.

Users have an account page which shows the reviews they have bought and written, and which gives access to all the functions of the site. For the most part, using the site is quite straightforward. I have used to register The Toolrest as a review site on the topics of art, craft, lathes, tools, woodturning, woodworking, and I have also purchased a review from Wedaholic which was written well and very promptly.

I have few complaints about and they are minor ones which will hopefully be resolved as the site matures. First point is that the page titles are all the same. This makes it difficult to move around if you have the site open in multiple tabs, and will cause problems finding bookmarked pages. Second point, and this is perhaps a bigger issue, and that is the categories they list blogs under. I had to put The Tool Rest under House and Home which seemed to be the closest fit. While I wasn't expecting to see a Woodturning category, Arts & Crafts, Recreation, or Hobbies, would seem to be big gaps in the choices they provide. seems set to change the face of blogging, creating another means for bloggers to monetise their efforts and a new way for advertisers to promote their products. Expect to see a lot more sponsored reviews soon. If you write a woodworking blog, or have woodworking products for sale, do consider working with I'll be happy to write your first review.

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Categories: blogs

Friday, November 10, 2006

Extreme sharpening

If your think woodturners get worked up over sharpening their tools, you need to check out this report in Popular Woodworking about Harrelson Stanley's Planing Contest and Sharpening Tour.

Apparently, planing contests are taken really seriously in Japan, attracting hundreds of contestants and thousands of spectators. The shavings they make are typically 1-3/4" wide, 7' long and as thin as 3 micrometres. That's scary, and I wonder what the finished surface feels like.

It all makes me wonder if a 'longest shaving' competition would be a good event for a turning club. Or maybe the thinest, heaviest, widest? There are of course some challenges, such as collecting the shaving without it breaking as it leaves the lathe at speed. But it might make for an evening of fun.

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Categories: clubs, sharpening, woodworking

River of Destiny - The Art of Binh Pho

River of Destiny opens at Long Beach Museum of Art on December 8, 2006 and runs until March 4, 2007. This ehibition features over 40 works created during the past 15 years by contemporary sculptor Binh Pho, whose works combine wood turning with piercing, texturing, airbrushing and gilding.

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Categories: art, exhibitions, sculpture, woodturners

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Bowl blank templates

One of the simplest and most useful accessories I have made is this set of templates.

They are made from large pieces of corrugated cardboard, and are simple circles of varying diameters. They really make an easy job of marking out bowl diameters on boards and log halves. I have the diameters marked clearly on the edges, so it is really easy to find the right size.

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Categories: woodturning, bowl turning, logs, tools

Turning BowlsTurning Bowls
Completely revised and updated, this classic is the definitive book on turning. With new techniques and up-to-date information on tools, this book is a great resource for every turner...

Turning Bowls

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Inspiration for woodturners

Last June, Fine Woodworking reported on a panel discussion, woodturning’s past, present, and future, at the American Association of Woodturners' 20th Annual Symposium.

David Heim, an associate editor at Fine Woodworking, later interviewed panelist David Ellsworth who said that “Turners are not using other art for inspiration, and that’s different from other crafts. Turners don’t have that kind of history,” he said, “only a history of looking at ourselves for inspiration.” He said it was “crucial to gain an awareness of other media.”

There is no doubt in my mind that the woodturning press is to some extent to blame for not promoting a broader depth of understanding of art to their readers. They always have how-to articles, projects, examples of work by other woodturners, and tool reviews, which is great for beginners but more importantly perhaps, their advertisers. But how often do they get to the nitty gritty of woodturning as art? Sometimes they will mention design, but seldom more than functionality and a few basics such as the golden rectangle. The only publication that goes beyond this to any extent is Turning Points, the quarterly publication of the Wood Turning Center.

I am sure it is no coincidence that the fall edition of American Woodturner carries an article titled "Inspiration for the Soul". I am no longer a subscriber so unfortunately I can't comment on the context, but I feel it must be a reaction to the proceedings at the symposium. They have however published a webpage of supplemental information which comprises pairs of photographs, one of a woodturning and one of the source of inspiration for it. It shows many sources, including geology, nature, drawings, photography, architecture, sculpture and various artifacts dating back 5000 years.

At first glance this seems to show that Ellsworth was wrong. But it is worth noting that these examples are all from well known woodturners. Maybe what makes them successful is their ability to be inspired by other visual works, and to use this inspiration in their own work without direct plagiarism.

There is really no excuse these days to not be able to find sources of inspiration from beyond the field of woodturning. Moving on from books and magazines, the internet has made available a huge array of images from which we might gain inspiration for a new work or series. Google Image Search is an obvious place to start, but you might also want to try photo-sharing sites such as Flikr, and stock photo sites such as Fotolia.

I like to browse these and other sites for interesting images, which I then save to my hard-drive in a folder. I have set-up the screensaver to display images from this folder, so that I am continuously reminded of them. And of course, I still keep the old-fashioned scrapbook of magazine clippings.

What does one do with all this visual information? Directly copying a form from one medium to another is one option, but do consider whether this could be construed as plagiarism. It might be that a new idea is born of different elements from many images. Color might come from one picture, form from another and surface texture from yet another. But really what one needs to do is learn to analyze what you see and to figure out what fundamental aspects of it appeals to you. You might then be able to create a new work without further reference to the original image.

However one proceeds, a pro-active approach is necessary, not only in finding inspiration, but also in understanding that is just as important to your development as an artistic woodturner as is learning how to use woodturning tools.

I am sure that this is a topic I will revisit often here on The ToolRest. It certainly raises lots of other points to me, but in the meantime I look forward to any comments you might have on this subject.

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Categories: design, influences, creativity, art

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Hardening spalted wood

Spalted wood often looks very nice and can become the focal point of a decorative turning. The down side is that the spalting process often goes a little too far and the wood fibers become too soft to cut and finish cleanly.

The answer to this problem is to apply some sort of chemical treatment to the punky wood. Penturners might use thing cyano-acrylic glue, but on larger projects this might get quite expensive.

My favorite treatment is acrylic floor polish. I use Future Premium Floor Finish. Typically I will rough turn small items like bottle stoppers and weedpots and leave it in a jar full of floor polish for a day or so. Once the wood has been dried it can usually be worked just like normal wood. On larger pieces with patches of spalting the floor polish can be brushed on to the spalted areas. Keep the rotted fibers wet until no more polish will soak in.

Other products are available that have been specially formulated for the task. The Rockler Woodworking Blog recently reported on a two-part epoxy product suitable for Strengthening Spalted Wood and offered some advice regarding staining and finishing after use.

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Categories: finishing, wood, spalting

Rot fix Wood Restoration and RepairRot fix Wood Restoration and Repair
The name says it all: Rotfix is a low-viscosity epoxy wood restoration system for use on rotted, dried-out, or spongy wood.

Rot fix Wood Restoration and Repair

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Woodturning on YouTube

A number of woodturning videos have been added to YouTube recently, so I thought I would review some of them them here. (I have Basil the Donkey staying with me at the moment and he wanted to see some other woodturners in action.) I hope you all have broadband!

Wendy has a great little introduction to woodturning that you can show your friends if they don't know what you do in your workshop all day long. Y Gweithdy Cymraeg is a demonstration of spindle turning and shows a baby rattle being turned. I hope your Welsh is good, but it's lovely to listen to anyway.

Perhaps the most useful video for beginners is a series on bowl turning with J.T. Dunphy. In part 1 we see how a spalted maple log is prepared for the lathe and in part 2 the outside of the bowl is turned. Part 3 shows the inside of the bowl and how the blank is waxed ready for drying. Two months later, part 4 shows J.T. finishing the outside of the bowl. Director Chris Anderson says that part 5 is coming soon.

The StuIn Tokyo Channel has a few short videos based on what he learnt from Eli Avisera and demonstrates the bowl scraper, double-bevel bowl gouge and how to sharpen this gouge using a jig.

Taking a step back in time there is a demonstration at the Museum of London of a treadle lathe which is a reconstruction of one drawn by Leonardo da Vinci, circa 1480. Cranking up the pace now, Urban trash turns a pawn in 44 seconds - not really but it's an interesting piece of video.

A. B. Petrow shows a quick clip of turning a Parker style pen in stone on a wood lathe while this video has a different take on pen turning all together.

Do leave a comment and tell me which videos you liked the best.

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Categories: woodturning, video

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

On self-imposed rules

I was browsing around Myspace a while ago and found some ceramic work that resonated with me. I'm really drawn to this piece, no doubt because the form is so nearly make-able in wood on a lathe.

When I look at it I can't help but think about how I would make something like this, and how the difference in our mediums would alter the outcome. I'm a bit of a purist when it comes to woodturning technique, probably to my detriment in terms of creating art. I like to work with one piece of wood with no glue-ups that would interfere with the grain pattern. So for me this would have to be one solid piece of wood, maybe hollowed out a little under the lid. I would have to make the lid finial as a separate piece, but that somehow seems to be ok in my self-imposed rule set. I would likely use a contrasting wood for this. The grooves in the middle section would have to run all the way to the edge. Other than that, I think it would be possible to make a form like this in wood and adhere to my rules. Making it as an assemblage would be much easier.

Not that I plan to run off and copy this, I just find it interesting how the different methods of working would change the outcome. It has also got me thinking about how silly some of the rules are that I have created for my work over the years, and wonder if it is time to start breaking them.

Do you have any rules like this which might be holding you back? Or are these rules what makes our work unique?

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Transforming Vision: William Hunter reports on this exhibition at the Long Beach Museum of Art in California:

"Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, Hunter led the field as the medium evolved from its foundations in traditional woodturning practices to its emergence as a vehicle for artistic invention and formal experimentation".

Transforming Vision presents a retrospective of sculptor William Hunter's work from 1970 - 2005. It opens on Friday with a symposium "Turning Wood Into Art" which is sponsored by the Collectors of Wood Art who are also planning other events for the weekend.

The exhibition will be on tour until 2008 so you also have the opportunity to see it at the Oakland Museum of California, the Mobile Museum of Art in Mobile, Alabama, the Wood Turning Center in Philadelphia and at the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton, Massachusetts. Accompanying the exhibition will be a 128-page, fully illustrated catalogue with a major essay on Hunter’s work and its role in advancing contemporary wood sculpture.

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Sunday, October 01, 2006

Pfeifer and Flynn on collaboration

As regular readers of the ToolRest will know, Liam Flynn and Hilary Pfeifer took part in the ITE this year. They worked together on some collaborative pieces and thanks to Vincent Romaniello you can watch some video where they discuss the collaborative process and how they feel about it.

The video starts with Albert LeCoff talking about the collaboration as the Wood Turning Center sees it. Unlike a piece being passed from one person to another, collaboration at the ITE results from artists sharing their work and living space for several weeks and ideas going back and forth on an on-going basis.

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Table saws are dangerous

Last weekend at the Pictou Craft Market I had three woodworkers at my booth comparing their injuries from table saws.

The first to arrive was a freshly bandaged finger. It sounded like the nail and some skin was gone, but otherwise it will probably heal reasonably well. Just then a friend of mine passed by so I called him over to show his scarred finger off to us. Meanwhile a fellow from a nearby booth saw what was going on and came over to show off the four-and-a-bit digits on his hand.

Coincidence? Certainly. But considering how few woodworkers I know, an awful lot of them have injuries from circular saws. Another friend of mine nearly lost his thumb to a radial arm saw last winter. Fortunately it has healed very well.

While all these cases can joke about it now, one local dentist had to give up his practice after a table saw accident since he lost the sense of feel to his injured finger. His career wiped out in milliseconds which must have hurt him both emotionally and financially.

The moral of the story? Learn all about table saw safety before using one. Reading about it is a help, but professional training would be best.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Ornamental turning - Joshua Salesin

It is rare to come across anyone specialising in ornamental turning, so it was a pleasure to find the website of Joshua Salesin. Joshua has his studio in Santa Cruz, California, and his work can be found in galleries across the USA. He makes bowls, boxes, cups and jewelry which you can see in his online gallery.

Joshua's studio includes antique machines and tools such as a Holtzapffel ornamental lathe and a Lienhard rose engine lathe.

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Monday, July 31, 2006

ITE winds up

The International Turning Exchange is nearly over and Hilary Pfeifer has completed her installation project. This is quiet a long post and one really needs to see several of the pictures to really understand what it is all about. There are no hollow vessels, natural edges or exotic woods here. Just some blocks of wood turned on multiple axes, painted red , blue and yellow and hung on wires in an alleyway. I guess this is what happens when you let an artist loose with a lathe - something different to the norm. The title for this installation is "Liminal Space".

An exhibit of the work created by the 2006 International Turning Exchange opens on Friday. AllTURNatives: International Turning Exchange 2006, Aug. 4 - Oct. 21, 2006. On Saturday there is an opportunity to join the 2006 ITE artists and Executive Director Albert LeCoff for a gallery talk and discussion panel featuring the art created during this year's residency.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Carnival of the Creators #11

Welcome to the 11th edition of Carnival of the Creators, a monthly roundup of creativity in the blogosphere. Last month the carnival visited Grackle Stew.

This month the carnival concentrates solely on wood.

Rockler's Woodworking Blog looks at the Advantages of Designing Your Own Projects.

Woodturner Andi Wolfe is currently taking a five day course with Jean-François Escoulen. She is learning to use a bedan and how turn trembleurs.

Christopher Schwarz of Woodworking magazine builds a Roman-style plane.

Philly makes his own moulding planes.

Hilary Pfeifer has been blogging from the International Turning Exchange and reports on progress with her installation and a collaborative bowl made from laminated pegboard.

Also from the ITE, Vincent Romaniello has made a short video promoting the Open Community Day this coming Saturday.

Woodturner Dennis Laidler makes a collaborative piece with Carol Rix.

I'm very pleased to see that a Nigerian 419 scammer is spending his time more wisely and has taken up woodcarving. And if you don't believe how much wood shrinks, be sure to read the whole article on 419eater.

That's it for this month. If you would like to host a forthcoming edition, or have a creative blog post to submit for inclusion, please see Carnival of the Creators for details.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Pole lathe photos

Flickr user timtom has posted some woodturning pictures taken at a Celtic festival in Switzerland. French turner, Jean-Paul Rossi appears to be making some sort of ladle, and I just love the way his lathe is constructed, especially the headstock which is a limb growing out of the bed.  Here is a Google translation of Jean-Paul's homepage:
"The turning of this utility crockery, starting from green heart, is a traditional craft industry of the Solid mass of the Wallows (Savoy - France). It is concentrated since always in the small hamlet of Magne, in Saint François the Dirty ones, close to Féclaz - Revard.

It is practised by the peasants in double activity for a very long time. Texts recently discovered by researchers of the Savoyard company of history and archaeology attests the presence of turners of bowls out of wooden since 1345.  The women, the children and the old ones sell this crockery the winter in the plains of the South-east and the East of France. The return to the country is done at Easter.

The wood of the country, especially the maple sycamore, half-compartments at the end of August, left rough are processed during the next winter, using the turn with pole installed in the house."
The handled items look particularly interesting. I can only assume that they are made by making the lathe turn less than one full revolution for each cut. If so it must take an awful lot of cordination to be able to do this.

Swiss turner Claude Veuillet is pictured using a small adze and a guillotine-like device for preparing blanks to go on the lathe.

Thanks to Timtom for posting these pics. They are fascinating.

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Saturday, June 10, 2006

Gibsons Landing Fibre Arts Festival

Gibsons Landing Fibre Arts Festival doesn't sound like it would have much to offer woodturners, but the schedule does include several woodworking workshops. The aspiring woodturner can learn to turn a bowl, or make a stool. Also on offer is carving, driftwood furniture and basic joinery.

Other crafts on offer include weaving, spinning, rug hooking, quilting, knitting, needlework and basketry. Some courses are already sold out.

Gibsons Landing is just forty minutes from Vancouver by ferry.

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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

International Turning Exchange gets blogged

Artist Hilary Pfeifer is taking part in this year's International Turning Exchange at the Wood Turning Center in Philadelphia, and is promising to blog about her experiences.

Hilary is a mixed-media sculptor who has recently added lathe work to her art. She says that she works fast, inspired by improvisational jazz, creating small components that are later assembled into larger sculptures. Other woodturners taking part in the ITE are Marilyn Campbell, Neil Scobie and Liam Flynn.

I'm really looking forward to seeing the results of all this creative energy colliding in one place and reading all about it in Bunny with an Artblog. Nice idea Hilary, thanks, and have a great time!

(thanks to Alyson B. Stanfield for bringing this good news to my attention in Blogging During an Artist Residency)

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Getting started in woodturning

I quite often mention very experienced woodturners, so to day I thought I would point out a new woodturner who is off to a great start. Messiah, and I would guess that is not this turner's real name, bought a lathe a few years ago but never mastered it's use. A weekend course at a local wood supplier saw the creation of several nice pieces of work. Read all about it and see the finished items in "i made a stick....."

This post really does emphasise the benefits of getting assistance in learning the skill of woodturning. Books and videos are great, but there is nothing quite like the assistance of an experienced turner to provide guidance and feedback. There are so many little ways of doing things wrong that it is difficult for the beginner to analyse their mistakes.

Another problem with learning from pictures is that they are only two dimensional, and we are working in a very three dimensional space.  By my reckoning, the tools that we use have five degrees of freedom:
  1. sideways along the tool rest
  2. forward and back over the toolrest
  3. the handle can move sideways
  4. the handle can move up and down
  5. the handle can be rotated
In most cases these are all happening simultaneously. This is much better learnt with a tool in hand rather than trying to figure out what a book is saying or a video is showing. In fact, it is much like riding a bike.

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Friday, May 19, 2006

Turning ancient wood

Most woodturners are very happy when they are given a 30 inch diameter log to work with, but Don Thur was stunned when carbon dating at the University of Toronto revealed one log he had acquired was 8,637 years old.

The white pine was discovered sixteen feet down by a friend digging a pond. The tree itself was 261 years old when it fell. The Huntsville Forester explains a theory scientists have for why the log is so well preserved. It is also thought to be the oldest wood find in eastern North America.

I was interested in finding out more about this wood and how well it turned, so last night I spoke with Don by phone. He told me that the largest log was somewhat oval due to wind pressure, and measured 30" by 25". Apart from the outer inch or so, the logs were soaking wet and smelt disgusting. Don was surprised to find that there was still tension in the wood when he turned it.

The log had some ring checks and radial cracks, probably caused when the tree was knocked over, and Don incorporates and enhances these features in his work. There was also some attractive figure around the knots. The wood has a green / orange tint. There was no resin apparent in the wood. It has turned out to be quite fragile material, and even with his solid design style, several pieces have had to be glued back into place.

Don regularly uses Pentacryl to stabilise his work, but found a problem with this wood. The Pentacryl would not dry, and the manufacturer suggested this was due to the lack of resin and sap in the wood which normally react to emulsify the Pentacryl. The problem was fixed by mixing 50/50 with mineral spirits.

The bowls made from this wood are selling well. Don has already sold the four largest bowls to past customers; one of these patrons is planning on donating one to a museum and one to a local government office where it will be placed on public display.

Meanwhile scientists are continuing their study of this unique piece of wood and hope to publish their findings in about 3 years time.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Abbot's Chair

I recently took a trip back to my home town of Wells in England. While there, I visited the Bishop's Palace which is open to the public. One of the many interesting things I saw there was this chair, believed to have been made around 1600 CE.

The guide book describes it as "a fine example of wood turning and would have had a swivel writing table fixed to the arm rests."

It is an unusual three legged chair with many connecting stretchers and spindles. It is highly decorated with 'finials' added to the side of many of the structural components, and captive rings incorporated in many of the short horizontal spacers. It must be a nightmare to keep clean and polished. I wish I could ask my grandmother who was a domestic servant at the Palace when she was young.

The history of this chair is a little uncertain. The guide book says it was made sixty years after Abbot Whiting was martyred (1539) and handed down from the Abbot's sister. In 1824 it was given to Bishop Law as an heirloom to the See and has been at the Palace ever since.

I find the connection and date to the Abbot's sister difficult to believe. He was nearly 80 at the time of his death, so sixty years later it is unlikely that any sister of his would still be alive. It would be really nice to be able to track down any original references to this chair to learn more about its construction.

Abbot Whiting's death was rather gruesome. Having fallen foul of the Crown during the dissolution of the monasteries, he was dragged on a hurdle to Glastonbury Tor where he was hanged, disembowelled, beheaded and quartered. His head was stuck on a spike above his abbey gateway, and his quarters, boiled in pitch, were displayed in nearby towns.

South Africa 2006 Conference

Dennis Laidler has been kind enough to post some pictures from the recent Association of Woodturners of South Africa 2006 Conference.

There is some nice work there. My favourites are the bowl which won best on show made by John Wessels and a vessel made from Mopane roots in resin by Thys Carstens.

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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Danger around every corner

I have been making weedpots today, a job I have done thousands of times before. The wood was roughed down and was held securely by a tenon in a chuck. I was at the stage of boring the hole, with the drill bit held in a Jacobs chuck in the tailstock. I decided to withdraw the drill bit to clear the flutes, and rather than wind the quill all the way back, I loosened the tailstock and slid that back.

I don't know how far I had got because it all happened rather fast:) The Jacobs chuck came out of the morse taper and flew through the air. Fortunately it went away from me and hit the wall. It missed the window too, so the only damage was a dent in the Gyproc. If someone had been watching from the other side of the lathe, or the drill had come towards me, the outcome may have been considerably more serious.

So what went wrong and what can be learnt from this experience? I had already made several weedpots with this set-up, so the morse taper on the Jacobs chuck must have been rammed home securely. I had also used the same technique of sliding the whole tailstock back to remove the drill bit from the wood.

Obviously the friction between wood and drill bit was sufficient to loosen the morse taper, but why? It could be because this blank was partially spalted, so it is possible the drill had wandered a little off-center towards the softer material. This might cause it to bind. Also as the flutes filled up the friction undoubtedly increased. Either way the rotating wood grabbed the bit and was able to pull and twist the morse taper out.

The lessons to learn? Withdrawing the bit by sliding the tailstock is inherently dangerous, especially if slid back too quickly to notice the drill chuck coming loose. If I do this again, I will do so with less haste and will be sure to have one hand on the tailstock and one on the Jacobs chuck.

Turn safely. Be aware of the dangers.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Performance Art

Woodturners cutting bowls in half to examine the profile and wall thickness is nothing new. But potter Nancy Utterback smashed a pot to make another point to a customer. As it turns out, she ended up getting well paid for her performance.

(thanks to John Norris for the link to this article)

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Monday, April 24, 2006

Tight fitting wine corks

Over the last year or so I have been having problems fitting pre-drilled wine corks to the dowel on a bottle stopper. They seem to be excessively tight, leading to problems like splitting or getting stuck part way onto the dowel.

At first I thought maybe it was just a bad batch, but as time went on I realised I had to do something about the problem. It was costing me too much in broken corks and wasted time. After some thought, I decided to test the hypothesis that they were too dry and had either shrunk or become too hard.

For my first test I threw some in a pan of boiling water for a few minutes. Anyone who has made homemade wine knows that corks have to be boiled to make them pliable enough to ram into the bottle. Anyway, this worked, but the corks were really too wet. It made the glue very runny and great care had to be taken not to get glue or water over the finished turning.

I treated the next batches a little more gently by steaming them. I used a saucepan with an inch of simmering water in the bottom, and a collander over the rim to hold the corks. I put a wooden board over the top just to keep a little more moisture in. I didn't use a metal lid as I didn't want condensation dripping on the corks.

Anyway, this works like a dream, the stoppers slide on easily, and I think I have a solution to my problem.

Turning ProjectsTurning Projects
Raffan shows 23 woodturning projects..

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

ASU exhibition

The Arizona State University Art Museum have announced their forthcoming exhibition, “Turning Point: Inspired by the Edward Jacobson Collection of Turned Wood Bowls.” It opens April 22 and runs through to August 12.

In 1989 Edward “Bud” Jacobson donated his collection of turned wood bowls by contemporary American artists. This collection has since influenced the museum's collecting of wood art.

This exhibition shows 60 works from the museum's permanent collection and includes pieces from the Jacobson collection but is dominated by newer work. If you can't get to see this exhibition this summer, the museum plans to create a permanent display in recognistion of Jacobson's contribution to woodturning.

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Sunday, April 16, 2006

More woodturning blogs

It's always good to find more woodturners writing a blog. I recently came across two that I wanted to share with you.

First is Dennis Laidler from Cape Town in South Africa. This is a new blog where David shows some of his work in woods like Araucaria excelsa, camphor and silky oak, as well as pictures of work in progress. My favourite piece so far is the Silky Oak Bowl which incorporates some wonderful textures, beading and pyrography.

Dennis also links to the blog of Andi Wolfe who many readers will already know. Andi's blog is not solely about woodturning, but as a professional botanist I'm guessing that she gets a lot of inspiration for her work from the natural world which is the theme for many of the other posts in her blog. I'm pleased to report that Andi has one of her works on the cover of the latest edition of The Crafts Report. This is good for both Andi and the craft of woodturning as a whole.

I hope that you enjoy reading these other woodturning blogs. Maybe you should start your own?

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Cutting large pieces of wood

I have had a couple of large pieces of wood outside the workshop for several months waiting for me to get them cut up and roughed out into bowl blanks. I made a start on them a few days ago, and I thought I would share some pictures with you.

This first piece is a crotch of yellow birch and I want to take a slab out of the middle to remove the pith, leaving two big bowl blanks on either side. In this first photograph you can see how I have marked cut lines all the way around the log. My chainsaw is not large enough to cut all the way through in one go, so it will need to be attacked from all sides. Careful marking and cutting is important so that the saw cuts are all in the same plane. So here I have the log on a flat surface and have a used a piece of card cut to the desired width to ensure accurate marking out.

Notice that I have trimmed a little bark off both sides. This makes it easy to mark the lines, and also makes it easy to stand the log on its side for cutting as you can see in the next picture. Here
I start by carefully cutting a shallow groove all the way around the marked lines. This not only makes them more visible, but will also make it easier to control the saw when the main cutting starts.

The hardest part of cutting these grooves are the cuts across the endgrain. Chainsaws aren't designed to cut endgrain, and the end of the bar tends to wander sideways if it is not kept in a groove. So I cut the grooves along the sidegrain first, then used that to anchor the bar while I let the power unit down to extend the cut across the endgrain. Working this way makes the line difficult to see, so I stopped frequently to check that I was following the line accurately.

Once the grooves are cut all the way around, work can begin making deeper cuts into the wood. Start at the corners, making diagonal cuts and ensure that the bar stays in the grooves on both faces. Work all the way around cutting deeper and deeper. Take care when the nose of the bar gets into the wood; this is the danger area for getting a kickback.

I worked on both cuts at the same time to keep the piece balanced and stable for as long as possible. Once one side was removed, the remainder had to be balanced against a bench leg to keep it upright. Here are the three pieces finally seperated.

Even with all the care I took, some of the cuts wandered off a little bit. Even so, this was much more accurate than if I had tried to eyeball it.

Here is one of the pieces off the side, trimmed up and ready to be turned. Spending a few minutes with the chainsaw can save a lot of turning time with these large unbalanced pieces of wood.

Finally here is the central slab after it has been cut on the bandsaw. This piece had the piths running through it and this needed to be removed. The round piece is destined to become a small bowl and was located to avoid the pith. You can see some of the nice crotch figure in that piece. The two large pieces down the sides could be used for either small bowls or for weedpots. They will be dried first, so I don't have to make a decision yet as to what they will be used for. the two smaller pieces have remnants of pith in them, so they are likely to split. I haven't decided yet what to do with them, but they will probably be cut up even smaller and prepared for bottle stoppers or inlays.

If you take on a project like this, do take care with the chainsaw. If you are unsure if what you plan to do is safe, get some help.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Turned Wood - Small Treasures 2006

The del Mano Gallery is currently showing its annual exhibit, Turned Wood - Small Treasures. With work from over 60 artists, all of whom are showing technically and aesthetically brilliant work, it would take too long for me to look at them all, so I have chosen just three which caught my eye.

The most original in my opinion is Glenn Krueg's series Asian Temples. These are beautifully executed assemblages, rich in textures, forms and colours. As well as the Asian theme, perhaps they are also temples to the art and craft of woodturning?

Segmented work seldom appeals to me, but William Smith's Spiral Galaxy caught my eye. It makes bold use of colour while its minimalist pattern is very pleasing to the eye. I found no pleasure in Kaleidoscope II or Purple Spiral, but I did find the Emergence series interesting. At first sight I thought that William had used a novel and technically complicated method of assembling just a few pieces of wood. Closer examination shows that it is in fact made from multiple blocks, but the glue lines between similar colour blocks have been disguised by the surface texturing, giving a very pleasing overall effect. There is very little overlap between the blocks and William must have more confidence in the strength of a glued joint than I do.

Finally I want to point out Molly Winton's pyrographed vessels. I was particularly drawn to The Hunt and others on that theme. The beautifully rich colours of the wood contrast so well with the dark pyrographed areas and form the wonderful backdrop for the sketches. The turnings themself have a simple elegance that will stand the test of time.

There are many other marvellous things to see in Turned Wood - Small Treasures so do please go and take a browse. I'd love to know what you liked, so please leave a comment or a trackback from your own blog.

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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Spare wheels for the Beall buffing system

When you order spare wheels for the Beall Buffing System, make sure you order the right ones. I just discovered that they sell two different types; one for the standard motor-mounted buffer, and one for the three-on-a-mandrel system.

The difference is in the mounting hole. The wheels for the mandrel system have a much larger hole. So when I realised my mistake and figured out what was going on, I decided to turn a spacer rather than go to the trouble of returning the wheel. Here you can see the new wooden spacer mounted on the bolt.

The spacer is turned so that it is a snug fit in the hole. It's length is a little trickier. It needs to be long enough to support the wheel, but not so long that it prevents the nut tightening sufficiently to grip the wheel. Hopefully though, you will never need to do this!

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Potter's Marks

Emily Murphy's blog post "A Potter's Mark" is interesting in several ways. First, those potters have it so easy! Just press a stamp into the wet clay and your maker's mark becomes an indelible part of their work.

But Emily goes on to say that one magazine is showing the marks of the potters they feature, and that the Potters Council is creating an archive.

Wouldn't it be a good idea for woodturning organizations and publishers to do the same?

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Sunday, February 19, 2006

The Creativity Portal

The Creativity Portal™ is a great website to check out if you feel the need to boost your creativity. The site describes itself as "an imagination-inducing sanctuary for artists, writers, crafters, and creativity enthusiasts."

The site is chock full of articles on the topic of creativity. Its one fault is that it is difficult at first to find your way around this huge site, the large selection of articles are overwhelming and there is nowhere obvious to begin. I hope that this small selection of articles will help you find something that might make your woodturning more creative, and encourage you to explore the Creativity Portal in more depth.

And if that is not enough they have a series of articles about Learning from Leonardo da Vinci.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Art in Motion

Art in Motion is the name of an exhibition just opened at the Wood Turning Center in Philadelphia, and features the work of German woodturner Siegfried Schreiber.
"Schreiber combines minimalism with an understated elegance that moves and rocks with the lightest touch." (WTC)
While most woodturners approach bowl design with some stability in mind, Siegfried takes a different attitude to what a bowl should be. They are most definitely not designed to sit inertly on a table and hold things, and it is no surprise that his website is divided in to sections for Kinetic Objects, Sensual Sculptures and Meditation Objects. Some beautiful ideas are shown there, and like his work, the website is wonderfully minimalist though I would have liked to see a video clip of some of the kinetic works. Do take a look - it might lead your own woodturning in new directions. Leave a comment and tell us what you think of these works.

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