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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