Thursday, August 02, 2007

Wood sculpture interpreted

Lesya Popil, a dancer from Group Motion Dance Company, spent time in the workshop with the turners taking part in the International Turning Exchange and choreographed three dances based on their work. Following is a video of Part One, Seasprite Capering To Her Demise, based on an artwork by Sean Ohrenich.

What did you make today that made you get up and dance?

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Blast from the past

I have a couple of videos for you today, both a bit of a blast from the past. The first is Robin Wood turning bowls on a pole lathe, the second is Stuart King turning flowers on a treadle lathe.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Empty Vessel

Many woodturners are drawn to making vessels. Many make simple bowls, some make more elaborate bowls, often with decoration added by methods other than turning. Some make hollow vessels with tiny necks, others make goblets or boxes. Inspiration has been drawn from many sources including ancient art, nature and contemporary art.

The Empty Vessel is a blog by Susan Lomuto Rose about "the container as art". There you will find many stunning contemporary vessels, some from names familiar to woodturners, others from artists from many other disciplines. A great source of inspiration for woodturners, and other artists, that I would highly recommend.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

What's that tree?

Have you ever been offered some logs or a whole tree for turning, but don't know what it is? The website Discover Life might help. Although it covers all life forms, the tree guide is for woodturners.

To get started you do need a leaf, so be sure to get a sample or two, along with fruits and flowers if available. If no live samples are available check for dead ones under the canopy. Click the appropriate check boxes for leaf type, leaf shape, leaf veins, leaf edge, flower colour and seed colour, then press any of the search buttons.

A list of suggested species appears in the sidebar, and clicking on any of these will bring up a page of information about the species. This is culled from a number of sources, and the amount of information available is very variable.

This tree guide is also a good way of finding information about a species if you already know the name. Click on the Search link at the top of the page and enter either the common name or the scientific name in the search box. It will return all the information on the species from multiple sources. Some of these include Tree Canada, Canadian BioDiversity, Virginia Tech Tree Fact Sheets and the USDA Plants Database.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

How important are handcrafted items in your life ?

How important are handcrafted items in your life? This is the question that will be addressed on the Maritime Noon phone-in, tomorrow, Friday, July 13th.

In a world that's awash in mass-produced products, certain individuals still devote themselves to making things that are unique. Artisans around the Maritimes create everyday items like coffee mugs & breadboards, accessories like earrings & shawls, and fanciful objects that blend various media and defy description.

Maritime Noon is the lunch time radio show of CBC serving Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. It can be listened to live from the links on the Maritime Noon homepage, and will be archived for one week from their Phone In page. The phone in starts after the one o'clock news (Atlantic Standard Time).

I will be listening. It will be interesting to learn what my potential customers have to say.

update: (Due to special coverage of the Lord Black trial, this show was shortened to about 30 minutes and started at 1:30 or thereabouts)

ITE 2007

The International Turning Exchange is underway at the Woodturning Center, and resident Lynne Yamaguchi is blogging the activities there. The ITE has been underway for a month now, but I only just found this blog which is a shame. There is a lot to catch upon.

I sometime use masking tape in my shop to hold things on the lathe, but the example shown in this post seems a little extreme to me, but it's certainly quicker to set up than a donut chuck, so I might give it a try. It is a rather small bowl though, so that might account for the success.

The most encouraging post is the one showing the works in the homes of three collectors. It's good to know that someone out there collects woodturning.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

AAW Symposium 2007

Blogger Alan Irwin has been covering the 2007 American Association of Woodturner's Symposium in Portland, OR. So far he has covered day 1 and day 2.

The AAW have also published a lot from the symposium, the best in my opinion being the catalog from the invitational exhibition, Japanese Bowls: a western perspective, and Turning Green - An International Juried Exhibition of Woodturning.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Pysanky and Trypillian decoration

Yeah, I know. It's been a long time since my last post.

I recently got an e-mail from Philip Streeting of Woodturning Plus wondering why I hadn't posted anything here in a while. Apart from doing nothing but uninspiring work in the shop like bottle stoppers and coring bowl blanks, I have started a new blog A Somerset Family History and I'm giving a makeover. To make matters worse, I have just started building another garden shed. So until today I just haven't had anything worth posting here. Until this morning...

While searching YouTube for videos for my Craft Videos blog, I came across this video about decorating eggs:

I wasn't too excited about this until Eve started using an egg lathe. She used this and it's indexing head to mark out an egg ready for decorating with aniline dyes using a wax-resist technique called pysanky. This got me wondering if the same technique could be used on wood turnings? The most likely problem that I can foresee is that the hot wax (which is applied with a stylus called a kistka) will migrate along wood pores and leave a fuzzy edge. Has anyone very tried this on wood?

Most of the traditional Ukrainian designs don't do a lot for me, but on Eve's website she mentions a style called Trypillian.

The Trypillian people lived in the Ukraine 6,000 years ago. These eggs are characterized by the large motifs in earth tones.
I found some examples here that I liked, but the style was originally used on ceramics, and there are contemporary examples at I can see how the spiral patterns may have been carried on in Celtic cultures.

So, some nice ideas there that might be applicable to woodturning. Right now though, I'm too busy to find out. Any takers?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Design resources

One of the reasons I read blogs about other crafts is that they often have ideas and links that I can apply to my woodturning. My friend Cyndi recently posted Online Jewelry Design Tools, which includes some resources that applies to the artistic design of anything.

Formal Visual Analysis: The Elements & Principles of Composition by Jeremy Glatstein is a very concise explanation. It is worth keeping as a check-list. When looking at work by other artists, we can examine how they use each of these elements and principles in their work. When designing for ourselves, we can make sure that the final design addresses each item on the list in a sensible manner.

In any work of art, all of these elements and principles will be present, but some will be more obvious than others.

For those who want more depth to their understanding of design, Art, Design, and Visual Thinking is an entry level course, an introduction to design concepts and the idea of visual language. If you plan on using color in your work, whether by painting or just using more than one species of wood, Cyndi also mentions an earlier post of hers, Online color training and tools.

Cyndi also recommends a couple of books in her post, but I would also like to add Design!: A Lively Guide to Design Basics for Artists & Craftspeople which was recommended to me a year or so ago by Bobbi Chukran, and I find it very useful. It covers pretty much the same ground as the online course mentioned above, but has lots of examples and analysis of designs in a wide range of media.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Interview on Layers Upon Layers

Hey folks! My friend Cyndi Lavin, a professional blogger who writes for b5media has just posted an interview we did recently.

Thank you Cyndi! You asked some searching questions that made me really think about things I take for granted in my day to day work.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Some low-tech approaches to drying wood

I acquire a lot of my wood while it is still green; kiln dried boards are expensive and often not available in thickness' greater than one inch. In the maritime climate in which I live, air drying is slow and only gets wood down to about 15% EMC (equilibrium moisture content). This is not low enough for work that is to be glued, or if it is going to find a home in more arid climates.

Anyone setting out to dry their own lumber will benefit from a basic understanding of the physics involved. The rate of drying is determined by the temperature, relative humidity and air flow. The final EMC is determined by the relative humidity:
  %     %
 80   15
 70   13
 60   11
 50    9
 40    7

Raising the temperature not only makes the moisture more mobile within the wood, but also reduces the relative humidity. If you want to know more about drying wood I highly recommend reading Wood and How to Dry It (Fine Woodworking)

I usually err on the side of caution when seasoning wood to avoid defects such as splits or honeycombing so I try to be patient and let the wood dry slowly. Every piece of green lumber has its end-grain sealed with either paraffin wax or proprietary end-seal.

It is then stickered somewhere cool to air dry to below 20%, preferably 16%. This may take some months, but unless I am in a particular hurry, this is better than risking it splitting. The back room in my workshop is cool, and makes a good starting point. After a month or two I may move it into more normal room conditions until I think it is safe to put it into a 'kiln'.

A moisture meter is an invaluable tool to help you assess how drying is proceeding.

One simple way of drying wood that I have used in the past is to place a table (plywood and folding legs, not a good one) over a hot-air floor register. A cloth is draped over the table top, large enough to reach the floor all the way around. It is weighted down at the back and sides but left free at the front to encourage hot air to pass all the way through the chamber.

Wood is stickered inside, leaving a space above the register to promote even airflow. The advantages of this system are that it is cheap and easy to set up, and costs virtually nothing to run as the heat eventually warms the house. The main disadvantage is that the operating temperature and humidity can only be controlled by adjusting the register or lifting the table cloth. As a rough guide I find that it takes one month for every inch of thickness. The whole contents are removed and checked once a month. Anything dry enough to use is removed. The remainder is returned to the back of the chamber nearest the register and any free space filled with new wood. The temperature can get up to 40°C and the humidity down to 40%, but generally it runs at about 30°C and 55%. This will depend a lot on the humidity in the house and how much the furnace is running. I find that most woods get down to about 8% EMC. It doesn't work anywhere near as fast as a commercial kiln, but is far better than air drying alone.

I have dried 3.5" oak from green to 10% in less than 9 months using the two techniques above..

The 'kiln' described above obviously isn't going to work during the summer months, so I have a simple solar kiln in the back yard. It is essentially a greenhouse, a wooden frame covered in UV stabilized polythene. Black polythene is stapled to the inside of the frame in order to keep direct sunlight off the wood, and to absorb heat.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Where's the remote?

Remote controls for dust collectors are a real boon, but the controller is usually pretty small and easy to misplace in a cluttered workshop or worse still, shovelled out with a pile of shavings.

My solution is to tie a piece of high visibilty marker tape to it.

In six years of use I haven't lost it yet.

Now, where did I leave the remote?

Friday, February 09, 2007

Repetition as a design element

One of the simplest methods of making our work more visually interesting is to repeat a motif. If we limit ourselves to pure woodturning, this might be as simple as using sets of small beads as I have done here, using a group of three inset beads and a group of two inset beads.

We might also get more adventurous by using other techniques such as pyrography, painting or carving to add a repeating motif to our work.

I was prompted to bring this subject up by a post by Karl Zipser on Art & Perception titled Is grownups’ art art?. Karl is comparing the design on some eigth century pottery to something made recently by a child, but in doing so shows how the child's work can gain a sense of rhythm and complexity by repetition of the whole design and elements within it. It really is worth taking a look to see how this has been done and the impact it has.

If you want to study this some more, there are plenty of examples of repetition in A Study of Different Modes of Repetition in Art and Design, and a nice little tutorial on the subject at Principles of Design - Repetition.

Do you use repetition in your designs?

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Woodturning Plus

There is a new blog on the block. Woodturning Plus is written by UK turner Philip Streeting.

This seems to be a blog with a mission. Philip is critical of the British woodturning scene:

"...the focussing of attention in British woodturning on matters relating to technique and finish, was inhibiting the growth and development of the craft."

So this is what Woodturning Plus is going to be all about:

"This Blog is intended for those in the UK who ...... have found their current sources of information or encouragement either unsatisfactory or unchallenging. I will be adding entries that may help creative thinking and doing, using net and book references. ....... It will be for you ..... to find your own solutions using the same trial and error processes that most makers in other disciplines use to achieve their unique designs for any given project or method of working.

So if you are reading this and you are a woodturning craft fundamentalist having no wish to see tools used incorrectly, grain abused and alternative materials used with wood, then this is not the site for you."
I don't think this is an issue restricted to the UK, so I am sure that his blog will be of interest to wood turners from around the world. I don't think that the 'problems' Philip perceives are geographic. There are certainly some fine and creative woodturners in the UK. Wherever we live I think we need to be aware of the woodturning culture that we expose ourselves to, whether it is clubs, periodicals, galleries or shows. This culture is not just about design, but also things such as quality of workmanship, and skills and opportunities for marketing and promotion. Education is another factor. Someone with a degree in fine arts is going to have a huge advantage in terms of design matters over someone who comes to woodturning as a hobby and is just wanting to be able to make things. And there is nothing wrong with this, but I do agree that there is a big distinction between a craftsman and a designer-craftsman.

Long time readers of The ToolRest will know that I am thinking along similar lines to Philip, and have blogged about some of these issues in "Who influences your work?" and "Inspiration for woodturners". In those posts I have attributed some of the blame for these issues on the woodturning press. For example, when Woodturning Design first came out I had high expectations for some refreshingly different content, but unfortunately I now realise that they really meant to call it Woodturning Designs, or maybe Woodturning Projects. Too bad. Anway, I hope that Philip and I can keep some sort of dialogue going between our blogs and provide some content that is lacking in the mainstream press, or maybe even encourage them to change their focus. I am not going to be as radically selective in my content as Philip though, and you can be sure to continue to find tips and techniques here too.

Before I sign off, I should point out that Philip also has a website,, which has some very nicely presented papers, such as 'An Introduction to a Design Method for Woodturners'.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Sharp tools and lathe maintenance

Every woodturner knows the importance of keeping their gouges and chisels sharp, but what other tools need occasional maintenance?

The two things that I tend to forget are drill bits and the tailstock. I do a lot of drilling on the lathe, typically several thousand operations a year. I use mainly brad-point bits when making bottle stoppers and weedpots. If the flutes of the drill bit get clogged with wood chips, the drill gets hot, and a lot of effort is needed to feed the drill into the wood. Sharpening a brad-point bit is quite straightforward on the grinding wheel, and uses less skill than sharpening a gouge. After touching it briefly to the grinder, check that both tips project equally far forward by holding the bit up to a try-square. Keep the angles of both bevels the same, and if the brad itself needs attention, be sure to keep its tip central.

I just sharpened my 3/8" bit today, and it now cuts cleaner chips and requires less force on the tailstock hand wheel to feed it into the wood. It feels like it is cutting better, and the chips seem to eject from the hole much easier. While I was in the maintenance mode, I also cleaned the flutes of the drill bit and even carefully gave them a polish with an old buffing wheel loaded with Tripoli. Anything that helps eject those chips is worth doing. I can now run the lathe a bit faster too.

One problem with using the tailstock for drilling is that it puts a lot of stress on the tailstock spindle where it bears on the striker plate. Periodically I strip down the tailstock and clean out all the mess and file away any scarf that has been thrown up. Recently I left it too long between services, and had great difficulty disassembling the tailstock. Its not a pleasant job, but much easier to do before the tailstock jams up. A good indicator that things are not quite right is if the tailstock spindle becomes hard to wind in or out under no-load conditions. I use powdered graphite as a lubricant, the same as I do for chuck maintenance.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Marking dark wood

A pencil line on many exotic woods is nearly invisible. The bark of most trees is equally difficult to mark before cutting. One answer is a white china marking pencil, available from office supply stores. Its is designed to mark on glossy surfaces, and the white line is easily visible.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Building my lathe bench

My lathe bench is made from construction grade spruce and plywood. It is 26" wide and 60" long to accomodate both my Nova 3000 and Delta. It is square with no splayed legs but the width makes up for this. The legs and cross members are 4x4's. The frame joints are all mortice and tenon.

Plywood has been fitted to the bottom and sides. This will help keep it square and add rigidity. Eventually sand will be added as ballast. Fishing line has been stretched diagonally between the corners to check that they are planar. They should touch where they cross.

I fixed 2x4's (on their edge) to the top of this frame to support the top. They are easily planed to make the top as flat as possible.

Before the long plywood panel was fitted, I added vertical 2x4's between the beams. When the plywood is screwed to these, there are no large areas of unsupported plywood that could flex or vibrate.

The top is 4 layers of plywood glued and screwed together. Care had to be taken to make sure screws weren't used where bolt holes are needed to secure the lathe.

One invaluable tip for anyone building a workbench is to wire in some power sockets, so that you have somewhere to plug in lights, power tools, vacuums and the like.

Inside the frame I have added plywood panels (the black ones you see here) and filled the resulting cavities with sand. This not only adds weight to the bench, but it adds that weight higher up than if I had merely thrown some sandbags in there. It also reduces any vibration in the exterior panels.

The dimensions are:

61 inches long. That accommodates the Nova headstock and two extensions. I mounted the headstock flush with the end of the bench incase I want to add the outrigger at a later date.

27 inches wide. This is wide enough to have another lathe on the other side, but the important thing is the stability a wide bench gives you.

33 inches high. This was calculated to put the Nova spindle at elbow height, the 'norm' quoted by most books, and it seems good for most things except hollowing vases where it seems to be a bit high. You can always stand on a raised board if the lathe is too high, but you can't make yourself any shorter.

The only other items which seem to be dimensionally important are the positioning of the cross members that the bench top sits on. You need to make sure they won't be in the way of the bolt holes. Apart from that, I think I figured everything else out to maximize usage of 4x8 sheets of plywood.

I did a few sketches to help in determining dimensions, but nothing I would consider a plan! I tried to use materials I had on hand where possible, so a lot of my dimensions are specific to that, and my own circumstances. You will probably be best off figuring out what suits you best. But if you have any other questions, please ask.

What did I do wrong?

Actually, not a lot! I do wish that I hadn't been in such a hurry to try the lathe out, and had given the bench a coat or two of finish. It would probably have been easier to keep clear of dust.

I positioned the 2x4's that support the bench top so that they are either side of the holes where the Nova is bolted down. I positioned them close together so that they would provide maximum support where they are most needed. Unfortunately I didn't give myself enough space to get my hand in to fit the nuts, so that job became really tricky.

Other than that it works pretty good.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Wood 2007 - exhibition

The Stephanie Ann Roper Gallery at Frostburg State University (Maryland, USA) presents “Wood 2007”, on view Feb. 10 through Feb. 28. The exhibition looks at how the craft of woodturning is gaining popularity with local artists. It will feature an interesting mix of expressions in woodworking by craftspeople of all levels. It opens with a free, public reception from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 10.

“Wood 2007” will feature work of the Quad-State Bodgers, a group of regional craftspeople who explore different sculptural forms and objects through woodturning. The Quad-State Bodgers meet on the third Saturday of every month in FSU’s Fine Arts building, room 101.

“Wood 2007” will also highlight pieces by cabinetmakers and other artists just beginning to explore woodworking. The opening reception on Feb. 10 will include a woodturning demonstration and provide more information about the craft’s presence in Western Maryland.

The Stephanie Ann Roper Gallery has free admission and is open to the public Sunday through Wednesday from 1 to 4 p.m. For more information about the exhibition, please contact FSU Department of Visual Arts at ( 301 ) 687-4797.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Box lids and wood movement

I once took some nicely fitting boxes to a craft show and by lunch time the lids were all stuck. Since then I have have pretty much given up trying to make boxes as a commercially viable product. Never the less, here are a few thoughts that may help boxmakers refine their process.

First, it's important to realise that a round box and lid will become oval as their moisture content changes, so they may need to be turned upto 90 degrees to get them aligned properly before they will fit.

Rough turning and leaving for several months before finishing may help, both in drying and relieving stress in the wood. In practice I have not found this to be a complete solution to the problem.

Choice of wood may be critical. Look for a wood that shrinks very little, or has similar shrinkage characteristics in both tangential and radial directions. Some of the lowest North American T/R ratios (1.2 - 1.3) are yellow birch, southern magnolia, eastern hophornbeam. Some of the highest are beech, black cherry, American elm, sugar maple, up in the 1.9 - 2.2. I have to admit that most of the boxes I have tried in the past were maple, so maybe I will have to try again with yellow birch or hophornbeam.

Treating the wood to limit movement might be worth trying. Rough turn and leave to dry, then soak in a finish like danish oil before finish turning. There may also be mileage in trying one of the solutions that some bowl turners use for green wood, such as LDD or alcohol, or a proprietary product like pentacryl. I'm not sure though how well these will work on dry wood.

Another thing to consider is the climate you turn in. It might be worth turning boxes only when the RH is mid range, maybe 60%, rather than at an extreme like 30% or 90%.

Turning Boxes, Fine Woodworking DVDTurning Boxes, Fine Woodworking DVD
Richard Raffan shows step-by-step the techniques and tricks to make elegant turned boxes with perfectly fitting lids. You’ll see firsthand how to do the work, the tools, the techniques, and the subtle rhythm of each process. 55 minutes.View sample video clip.

Turning Boxes with Richard Raffan, revisedTurning Boxes with Richard Raffan, revised
Revised and updated full-length study of box-turning. When it comes to turning, there is no greater master to learn from than Richard Raffan. Here in Turning Boxes, Raffan reveals the tricks you need to know when turning boxes, from the cutting and seasoning of the wood to finishing the piece.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Zero clearance bandsaw throat

Do you ever cut tiny slivers off with the bandsaw, only to find that they get stuck between the blade and the throat?

When I am cutting small pieces I use a couple of sheets of fridge magnet material on the table, set so there is zero clearance between them and the blade.

I used to stick cardboard to the table, but the magnetic sheets are much more convenient. When they are not in use I slap them on the top door of the saw.