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Design Elements in Bowl Turning

Once you have learned to turn a bowl from a chunk of wood you want to begin to explore what constitutes a good design from that blank. We chuckle about new wood turners creating a design
similar to a dog feeding dish. A dog feeding dish is well designed for its purpose and that is not to tip over and spill the contents as a dog puts his nose and mouth in the dish and pushes food against the rim so he can grasp it. Therefore it is considerably wider at the base than the rim.

Yet we would like to rise a step above designing dog food bowls. I had an artist who had looked critically at my earlier turning attempts give me some very good advice. He said there are three design elements in any vessel. They are the rim, the body and the base. In well designed vessels they should all bear a harmonious relationship to each other. What that relationship is you have to determine yourself. Just using mathematical formulas won’t work well in many cases.

In general, as a starting point, the base should be perhaps a third of the diameter of the rim. Smaller than that makes the bowl look delicate but it tips over easily. Wider than makes a very stable vessel but it looks the opposite of delicate, that is, heavy and dull. Superimposed on that ratio of rim to base are many other factors which means that a rigid formula will not give the desired result all the time. Perhaps you want a piece to convey strength and stability. A wider baes is in order. If you want to convey lightness then a smaller base is called for. If you want the vessel to appear to float, then a small foot at the base will give the illusion of lift like the vessel is floating since the foot is hidden under the curve of the lower part of the bowl.

For those who wold like to go more deeply in to bowl design I highly recommend a book by Richard Raffin, a well known turner and teacher from Australia. The book is Turned-Bowl Design.
It has gone through more than one edition and is available at book sellers and often in catalogues marketing wood turning tools.

In a previous post I discussed one way of shaping the body of the vessel. This was the calabash, or gourd-like design, employed so successfully by artisans in Hawaii using just coral to shape native woods. It is pleasing because it is a shape we see in Nature frequently. Undoubtedly it is a shape dictated by natural laws and these are universal principles that are used over and over in creation.
We like what we know and when we see what we know the recognition produces an emotion of pleasure in us.

In this post I would like to discuss another pleasing shape. That is the ogee curve. This is just a term used in the past to describe the S curve. A highway that curves to the left and then to the right is a common example of this curve familiar to all of us. We are also intimately connected to it when we learn to write the letter S. In bowl turning we tend to stretch the S out by the ends to make the curves more gentle.

In this example of a thin cherry bowl there is a slow, even unfoldment of the curve from the base to the rim.
In this Russian olive bowl the curve is rather tight at the base and then expands more slowly as it approaches the rim.
In this example, from a natural edge bowl from a very old red oak tree, the middle portion of the curve is greatly extended to give the vessel more depth. Notice how the perfect symmetry of the ogee curve contrasts with the irregular shape of the natural edge rim from which the bark has been removed.
In this ash bowl the top and the bottom of the ogee curve are so tight that it might be missed. The top of the curve is almost concealed by the overhanging rim and the bottom of the curve is lost as it briefly tucks into the tiny foot.
In this this cherry bowl the s curve flows very slowly from the base to the rim producing a shape that invites you to pick it up and hold it. Hopefully these few examples will inspire you to start experimenting with the ogee curve and start producing beautiful vessels.

In Praise of the Lathe

It was three o’clock in the afternoon this Christmas eve.  I was down in my basement finishing shop when I heard my wife let in my neighbor boy who cuts my grass.  He is fifteen and has been cutting the grass each week for the past two years.

I met him when his step-father cut down a tree in his yard.  It was a dead elm tree.  I heard the chain saw and crossed the street to investigate.  The wood looked interesting to me and asked if I could have some.  He brought over a whole trailer load as the rest was going to the dump.  I found out about the boy and made a mental note that when he was a bit older to see if he would like to cut my grass.

So when he turned 14 he began to cut my grass ever week.  I offered to teach him some about turning and he turned a rolling pin for his mother and later turned some tops.  Like most adolescents it was hard to keep his attention very long.

Last summer he told me that another dead elm was coming down in the yard and would I like some. When I said yes he promptly appeared with a wheelbarrow load and left it for me.  When I asked him if he would like to rough turn a bowl from the wood and put it away to dry, he readily agreed.
So I guided him through the steps of using a gouge to rough turn the bowl after we had prepared the blank on the band saw.  We put his name on it and placed it in a paper bag to slowly dry without checking.

This fall when I was taking rough turned bowls out of the paper bags to inspect them prior to finish turning I came upon his bowl blank.  It looked fine and was not checked in any way.  I mentioned to him on several occasions that he needed to come and finish turning his spalted elm bowl.  He always said yes but never came

Now here he was at 3 PM on Christmas eve asking my wife if I was here. I knew exactly what was on his mind and said lets go out to the shop and finish that bowl.  He worked carefully and diligently and by 5 PM we had the outside and inside finish turned and finished the foot and sanded it on the lathe. I then motioned for him to come with me to my basement finishing shop and we did final sanding of the foot and applied a coat of tung oil.  

With the oil still wet he went beaming home with his hand made Christmas gift for, I presume, his mother.  He was beaming with pride as you can see in this picture taken the minute  after he finished his project and before he took it home.

Used by permission

It is a fine looking bowl and you can see the pride and excitement beaming from his young face.  This is why I love working with the lathe.  Coming at 3 PM on Christmas eve he was able to take a gift to completion and share his excitement.  I know of no other woodworking tool which can give such prompt gratification. This is particularly important to young people as they have not developed the long attention spans and the capacity for delayed gratification as their adult peers.  It is also important to the adult peers.  Putting a chunk of wood on the lathe and in an hour or two time, or even less, having a finished product to display or give is satisfying to any woodworker.


The Calabash Bowl

There are several classic bowl designs which are pleasing to view. Spectacular grain and color can carry a bowl for a while. However, when the bowl has darkened with age and the color is faded all one is left with is the design. So its s better to study the designs which have stood the test of time and use them to strengthen your spectacular grain and color. That way someone will be enjoying the bowl long after you are gone.

One such design comes from Hawaii. When Europeans first started to visit the islands in the 1790s they were impressed with the bowl design they found there. The lovely symmetrical shape with a gentle convex curve to the outside and the beautiful finishes were comparable to the finest traditions of European craftsmen.

Yet these craftsmen had none of the sophisticated tools available to the old world craftsmen. The Hawaiians achieved their results rubbing the local wood with coral to carve out the whole bowl. This must have taken much patience and energy to hollow a bowl by just scratching it with sharp coral. Yet the shapes they produced were so perfectly symmetrical that the appeared to have been turned.

The wood they used was kou which was native to the islands. Others were fashioned out of gourd or coconut. For design they looked to nature and copied the shapes of gourds which have come to be called calabashes. They are grown all over the world and serve a multitude of purposes. You may be familiar with the calabash pipe like the one Sherlock Holmes was reputed to smoke. They formed containers for many cultures. As a young boy I remember drinking cool well water with a dipper gourd at my family’s farmer relatives in south central Kentucky.

Nature is such a rich source from which the craftsman may obtain design. Shapes in nature are formed by natural laws and when we see the representation of natural law in a physical structure we remember it and that memory is pleasing to us. Shapes of mountains, clouds, vortexes, flowers and trees all conjure up pleasant memories in us. So, in design, you can never go far wrong when you copy a design from nature. As one person told me long ago:” A good reproduction is much better than a bad original.”

Below are examples of use of the calabash design from my shop over the past couple of decades.

calabash wooden bowl

calabash bowl

turned calabash wooden bowl

turned calabash wooden bowl

turned calabash wooden bowl

turned calabash wooden bowl

turned calabash wooden bowl

turned calabash wooden bowl

turned calabash wooden bowl

turned calabash wooden bowl

turned calabash wooden bowl


Wood Turning that Uplifts the Spirit

At a show earlier this 2018 season a woman told me of an ash tree in her yard that had to come down. It made her very sad as she had sat under this tree many time for support when things were tough. Now, she said, it laid in piles on the ground. She did not want it all to go for firewood and was I interested.

Of course I said yes and made a date to visit her and get some wood. It was kind of a gray day when I left to drive about 20 miles to her rural home. By the time I got there It was snowing. By the time I got my saw ready to cut it was snowing hard.

cutting wood in the snow

The tree was covered with about a foot of snow. I made cuts as best I could and with the help of the woman’s husband got chunks of ash loaded in my van.

a little help

I remembered that when I was sent to Japan on business with the TM program that a stranger gave me a beautiful paper box and inside was a little bird carved of wood. I was told that it was a Kami. This is the Japanese word for spirit. They believe that there is a spirit that lives in everything. When a tree is cut and used for construction the spirit has no place to live. So the bird was carved as a home for the dispossessed spirit.

So I decided to make a Kami from this ash tree and give it to my benefactor. I turned the nest of the same tree and left the bark on. Inside sits the new home for the spirit of the tree.

small bowl

She deeply appreciated the gift and sent me this picture from her dining room table. Some of her work is seen on the right.

on the table

It is not that this is anything particularly artistic but it honors the meaning of that tree in her life and provides a space to keep the memory of her favorite tree alive in her awareness.

Over the years I have had occasion to make something of use or beauty out of wood from lots of favorite trees. When a tree has been part of our lives for many years we form a deep attachment to that living thing. When it comes down we have a feeling of loss. Giving it another life in the form of a bowl or a carving is comforting. It reminds us that material things come and go but the spirit in those things actually goes on and on.

This is a spiritual side of woodworking that has brought me a great deal of pleasure over the years.There is more to wood than just meets the eye.

I just got an e-mail from the woman. She painted the Kami. Picture is below.

painted kami


Spalted Wood

spalted silver maple

Wood is such a fascinating medium. Even in the decay process nature brings forth spectacular designs and colors. Spalted wood has been used for many centuries by woodworkers to enhance the visual appeal of objects. The recent publication of a book called Spalted Wood: The History, Science and Art of a Unique Material by Sara C. Robinson et. al. places in one volume all that is currently known about this form of wood. Sara has devoted her academic career to advancing the science of spalting and has collected an enormous amount of information on the subject. It is a very scholarly treatise on the subject and an excellent collection of photographs of spalted wood objects produced over the centuries.

My own interest in the subject has to do with the use of spalted wood in objects turned on the lathe. My first experience with it came from cutting down a tree in my yard in Virginia. It was a maple and I decided the wood was too attractive to burn it. I set it upright on the concrete floor of my garage. Two years later I cut into the log and found it discolored by black lines. My first reaction was that the pretty white wood was spoiled by this fungus attack.Yet as I examined it more closely I found the black lines more interesting as this was a piece of tiger maple and the lines followed the plane of the wood fibers and outlined
the squiggly pattern.

Over the years I have seen lots of spalted wood species. Most of my experience has been with wood with black zone lines. These lines are composed of melanin pigment, the same pigment that makes our skin dark. They mark boundaries to keep other fungal colonies out of that territory which had already been claimed. They are like fences, if you will. Of all the varieties of wood to produce these zone lines I have found silver maple the most dramatic.

spalted ambrosia silver maple

Spalted Ambrosia Silver Maple

This is an example of ambrosia silver maple. The wood is infested with the ambrosia beetle who brings the fungus with him. So around the holes he bores developed the discolored wood, mostly in terms of brown colors.

spalted silver maple

Spalted Siver Maple

This is a more typical spalted silver maple pattern with the dense black zone lines and the white rot contrasting with the darker undigested wood.

Spalted Sugar Maple

Spalted Sugar Maple

This is an example of spalted sugar maple. I my experience the spalting is more diffuse in this species. You can see a few black zone lines but the color changes are more diffuse.

spalted sugar maple

Spalted Sugar Maple

Another example of spalted sugar maple showing the diffuse changes in the wood. Spalting occurs in many other species of wood. Attractive examples are ash, birch, box elder, beech to name a few.

box elder

Box Elder

In her bood Sara Robinson points out that many different colors can arise from spalting wood. The chlorociboria species of fungus produces green colors which were favored by European intarsia artists to portray grass or forests. Other fungi may produce red, orange, purple and blue colors. Extracts of these fungi can even be used for creating dyes. However, she pointed out something that I had already suspected. The red color that comes from box elder is not due to fungal activity but is produced by the tree in response to injury.

The dramatic red color of this box elder piece is not due to fungal activity but is produced by the tree in response to injury. If someone would get around to study it they might find that the pigment has some anti-fungal or anti-bacterial properties or yet some other interesting quality.

spalted Norfolk Island pine

Spalted Norfolk Island Pine

This is a Norfolk Island pine hollow vessel with the characteristic blue diffuse staining of pine by fungal attack. As I had already turned the lower piece of this with the colorful symmetrical knots I almost discarded the remainder but on a whim turned this vessel and found it interesting.

Robinson goes on to tell about how other woodworkers induce spalting. David Ellsworth takes logs and lines them up about an inch apart and then covers them with leaves and leaves them on the ground for a year or so. The practice of coating the wood with chips from spalted wood turnings, coating with beer or other substances Robinson believes is a waste of time. She points out that the fungi eat the easiest food first so these coatings just delay the fungus getting into the sound wood. The fungal spores are everywhere and cut wood comes already inoculated. She does go on to talk about commercial efforts to induce spalting but this goes beyond the turners interest but the information is available in the book.

My own technique for inducing spalting is based on my first experience. Take a log section, set it upright on a concrete slab floor and now I cover it with a plastic bag. You want the wood to stay damp but not soaking wet. Moisture wicks up through the concrete and up the wood fibers at just about the right speed. I leave it there for one to two years and have been rewarded with very attractive spalting.

Turning spalted wood produces some challenges. The wood has been partially digested by the fungal enzymes and it is not as dense. You may have noticed that a spalted piece of wood is light in weight. When sound wood is next to spalted wood it can lead to tear out. Cuts need to be light and sanding may be the only way to get a smooth surface. That surface will be more porous and won’t take as high a shine when finished but the interesting colors in the wood make up for that “defect.”

The easiest way is to let nature do the word for you. Check out wood that has been down for a year or two. Look at dead standing trees. You may find hidden treasures.

spalted hop hornbeam

Spalted Hop Hornbeam

This was a dead hop hornbeam trunk. In Vermont they call it hardak. I just bored down the center of the log to get this vessel with interesting visual appeal. Hornbeam, also called ironwood, is very hard so there was a lot of tear out but the color contrasts between the white rot and the normal wood was so striking that the tear out is not noticed.

So, most spalted wood has already been created for you by nature. You can assist the process if you wish but don’t fail to discover the joys of working with spalted woods.


Making Wooden Bowls from Unwanted Wood

In every community in which I have lived, and there have been quite a few, there always seems to be unwanted wood. This can be a real boon for the wood turner. The wood species may be very plentiful such as cherry in Kentucky. Horse farmers felt that the huge cherry trees in the pastures harbored tent caterpillars which made the colts sick. So they cut down huge cherry trees and left them in the fields. In Albuquerque, which is high desert, wind would take out trees that had been planted and the cut wood was just left at curbside to be hauled to the dump. In Maryland the power company would clear right of ways and just leave all kinds of hard woods for the taking. Storms everywhere take down large trees in city lots and disposing of the wood is a headache for the owner.

Here in Vermont, where I currently reside, the same rule applies. Dutch elm disease was first reported in the US in 1928. It is caused by an invasive beetle that may have started in Asia and spread to Europe from where it made it to the US in infected lumber. Every where I look here in Chittenden County there are dead elm trees. Some are small but others are more than 12 inches in diameter. When they are finally taken down they have been standing dead for several seasons. No one seems to want them. Elm has interlocking grain that makes it hard to split. Early settlers did not like elm because of its peculiar odor. So there the trees stand.

My first experience with elm was in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Siberian (or “Chinese”) elms were widely planted in the city as they grew rapidly and provided shade. Someone gave me some logs. The wood was not very attractive to my eye and it was very hard to split. It did not take a good finish.

So, when my mother-in-law in Shelburne, Vermont asked me to take down some dead elms from her yard, I did not think I wanted any of the wood. When the time came, however, I could not resist salvaging a log or two. It was attractively spalted, was very hard and turned well and accepted a nice finish, much better than the finish I could achieve on Siberian elm.

When I noticed some dead elms across the street from where I live, I asked if I could have some wood when they took it down. I showed them a bowl from the previous elm bowl I had made and they were interested. One Saturday this summer I hear a chain saw and followed the sound. The neighbor was taking down his dead elm. He not only let me have all the wood I wanted but brought it over to my shop. The rest went to the dump.

Below are examples of the finished products.

diffuse gray spalted wooden bowl
I find the color and grain pattern in this bowl to be interesting and attractive. The diffuse gray spalting adds additional interest.

diffuse gray spalted wooden bowl side view
This is a side view of the above bowl.

spalted bowl mother-in-law
Here is the small bowl from my mother-in-law’s tree. The spallting, both linear and diffuse in the upper left side adds visual interest to the piece.

natural edge bowl dead elm
Here is a natural edge bowl from a spalted dead elm from down in the lower end of Addison Counthy. It was just going to sit there until it disintegrated as no one had interest in the wood. The spalting followed the annual rings and gives a visually appealing pattern.

So, if you just want to stick to what the wood merchants sell, you will be missing some very interesting and attractive wood which is free for the asking. Unwanted wood is a headache to the property owner but a boon to the turner. If you give a bowl in return you make a fast friend.


In Praise of the Bandsaw

I would like offer my experience with the most important saw in my shop.
Next to my lathe and bench grinder the band saw is the tool I use the most. My experience is that wood is everywhere for the asking. Neighbors are happy for you to take wood from downed trees off their hands. This can vary from large limbs to major trunks.

With a chain saw, also an important saw, I cut the fresh wood to lengths. Then I use my bandsaw to rip the pieces in half through the center growth ring. With the band saw I can cut a circle which will fit on the bed of my lathe. I find my 14 inch Delta is good for smaller projects but I rely heavily on a 21 inch Grizzly band saw which will cut bowl blanks 14 inches thick. My advice is to get the largest band saw you can afford. With the two saws I find I don’t have to waste so much time changing blades. I use a 1/2 inch blade on the large band saw and a 1/4 inch blade of the smaller saw. The thinner the blade the tighter radius it will cut.

As most experienced turners know, there are many non-commercial wood species which possess beautiful grain patterns and colors. With a band saw you can experiment with these different woods and may find many treasures lurking in wood that has been rejected by commercial loggers. Further, wood with wild grain patterns tend to be rejected by loggers and these may be of the greatest interest to turners. With a band saw you can rip a crotch piece of wood to discover what is inside.

As I don’t limit my woodworking just to bowls, I find the band saw invaluable for ripping out small planks for making spoons and other treen ware. In addition you can rip out turning squares of various dimensions for turning rolling pins, boxes and cups. What may start out as a candidate for a bowl blank could have a defect
but the same piece may be suitable for the non-defective part to be ripped into planks and turning squares.

Just a word of caution. The band saw may make re-sawing so easy that you cut more wood than you have room to store and dry that which is not turned green. Treen ware is not critical due to the small size of the spoon or spatula and it tends to dry without difficulty though I prefer to shape it when dry. However, when you turn lidded boxes out of wood it must be absolutely dry. If not, you may find that a perfect fitting lid just off the lathe will not fit after the parts dry and warp. So if you rip the turning squares you need to have a place for them to dry for a year or two depending on the thickness of the square.

So, get a band saw. If you cannot afford one make friends with someone who does. It is certainly a saw that can be shared. It used to be that lumber yards had a bandsaw where you could get wood re-sawn. I was visiting my son in Ojai, California this February and the local lumber yard did not even own one. I finally was able to track down a local contractor and he was happy to let me re-saw some olive wood for the price of a new bandsaw blade.

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Invasive and Unwanted Wood Species

I was doing a show in Maryland and a woman looked at a bowl and exclaimed:  “That’s Norway maple isn’t it?  Well at least it is a dead one!”

She worked for the government in an agency that combatted invasive species.  In spite of all the hype I have never known an invasive species that took over the whole world, except for mankind, I guess.

My own feeling is to make the problem the solution.  If you can make something beautiful or at least useful from an invasive or unwanted species then then next thing you know it will make it to the endangered species list and another government agency will be getting involved.

A few months ago a woman brought me the biggest buckthorn log I have ever seen.  Buckthorn is an invasive species here in Vermont and elsewhere.  It is a low scrubby bush with bad thorns and it spreads easily.  You will find it in overgrown meadows.  It is not a climax tree and gets shaded out by the taller climax growth hardwood trees.  The wood is very hard and tends to have twisted grain which checks easily.  However, like any dense wood it turns well. Here are some of the items I made this woman from the chunk of buckthorn she brought me.

buckthorn wooden bowls

buckthorn wooden spoons

To my eye the wood has a lovely orangish tan color.  I was trying to tell my son who had never seen it what it was like. I told him that it looked exactly like buckthorn.  Don’t know any other wood that looks like it.

buckthorn wooden spoons close up

A close up reveals the interesting color variations of the grain.  You can make out a little curly pattern on the spoons. Who would have guessed you could make anything useful out of buckthorn?  I once heard a definition of a weed being a beneficial plant the use for which has yet to be discovered.

This same woman, who had been doing some land clearing, also brought me what I would describe as a cedar fence post. Where I come from in Virginia we call it common red cedar.  Actually, it is Juniper virginianis, a juniper and not a true cedar like we have here in New England.  It was about five feet long and no more than six inches in diameter.  It surface was deeply corrugated.  She wanted something made out of that!  Here is what came out:

red cedar wooden cups

Frankly, I was surprised at the interesting patterns which appeared with spindle turning this aromatic wood.  A man from New Zealand spent a day in my shop recently and I let him turn a piece of this wood.  He was delighted as no wood of that color grows in New Zealand.

Going back to that invasive Norway maple here are some things that came from that “dangerous” species.  These were ornamental trees planted in people’s yards that died or had to be cut down for some reason.

Norway maple hollow form

spalted norway maple hollow form

norway maple bowl

norway maple bowl

norway maple bowl

So, for my money, everything has a use.  Don’t overlook the unwanted and invasive species.  I’ll take all the Norway maple and large buckthorn I can get.

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What Can I Do With That Wood? Part 2

Developing skill with a chain saw and having a large bandsaw at my disposal has allowed me to make use of a wide variety of woods. Commercial lumbering favors wood that can be sawn into boards and that has qualities favored by carpenters and cabinet makers for construction. For this reason there are many non-commercial species in the US which are overlooked by the commercial interests. Many, I think, are just as spectacular or quietly beautiful as any imported exotic wood species.

In a sense I am a wood recycler. Trees are always falling in storms, dying of old age, or having to be removed because of proximity to a house, pool, etc. The wood then becomes a liability to the home or farm owner (unless they have a hobby like mine).

One of the most unwanted tree here in Vermont where I am living is the box elder. It is a poor cousin to the sugar maple. Yet unlike its cousin its wood is not hard, does not make good fire wood and it grows like a weed, especially in wet areas. In short it is considered a trash tree.

Yet it take a good finish and it has one interesting feature. When injured the wood produces a pink or red color which contrasts sharply with the creamy white wood of the rest of the tree. My research suggest that this pigment is a non-specific reaction to injury. You see it where a branch has broken off or where there was disease in the center of the trunk.

The color varies from light pink to scarlet red. Unfortunately the color is not fast and fades into a light brown over time. No one knows how to prevent this color fading. Yet while it lasts, it can be very attractive. It is the nature of all wood to fade or darken with the passage of time. You may have noticed that furniture under a sunny window changes color.

If you have ever seen a 17th century antique you will note that it is black. Wood as it deteriorates reverts to elemental carbon which is black. You may have noticed that you have faded a bit with advancing years yourself. So don’t be too hard on the box elder because the color is not permanent. If the design of the object made from it is good then it will be enjoyable in spite of the changes just as you consider yourself to still have value in spite of the changes in your physiology induced by aging.

red box elder hollow form

This is a box elder that is about as red as I have ever seen. It almost shouts at you. It was from a tree that fell over in a storm in the town of Williston, Vermont where I live. It was kindly given to me by the owner who was happy for me to remove some of the wood on his lawn. I, in turn, was very happy to get this unique log and was happy to share a hollow turning from this log to the donor of the wood.

box elder wooden hollow form

This is a hollow vessel from the same log. You can see that some of the color has changed into a lovely light brown with differing intensities. So I feel that Nature has hidden some great beauty in a lowly short lived brittle tree of relatively soft wood which grows like a weed.

Butternut is another of my favorite woods to turn. It takes patience as the wood is softer than its cousin black walnut and tends to leave a fuzzy surface. It takes extra sanding to produce a good surface but the extra work may be well worth it.

butternut hollow form

Notice how the soft curves of the grain are reflected in the soft contours of the bowl. Notice how the soft shades of brown of the heart wood blend into each other. This is the subtle beauty of Nature at its finest, in my opinion.

butternut hollow form

Yet we are losing our butternut stands to a fungal disease known as butternut canker. This hollow vessel shows two black streaks where the fungus has invaded the tree. In time it will kill the entire tree. This tree had died and was given to me by the homeowner.

Even in disease we can see beauty in Nature. Those black defects can be considered artistic accents to an otherwise plain design.

Butternut Vase

Here is another example of the softness of colors in the butternut. The creamy sapwood blends gradually into the soft warm browns and tans of the heartwood. The simplicity of the design does not detract from the subtle color variations created by Nature. In my opinion, Nature is the real artist and my job is to show the beauty nature has already created.


Shop Safety Tips For Woodturners

Over the years you come on tidbits of information that become a part of your routine. Woodturning is a hazardous hobby or profession. When I attend my woodturning club meetings I am constantly seeing members who have managed to injure themselves. If you have tried to get insurance to cover your woodturning activities you know that the insurers realize that injury is common and they may be severe and the insurance premiums reflect that. So here are some pointers to file away in your mind.

Most would agree that it is not good to be between a rock and a hard place. A tool rest does not have much give to it. When a finger is caught between a spinning block of wood or a four jawed chuck and the tool rest it is a formula for pain at the least and a disaster at worst. So learn to rotate your work piece by hand before you turn the power on and keep fingers clear of the gap between the tool rest and the spinning wood.

One of the conditions which can encourage such a mishap is an ornery banjo. The banjo slides on steel ways. Into it is fitted the tool rest post. There is little tolerance between the banjo and the lathe bed (or ways) when the lock released. So just a small amount of dust or wood chips can cause it to seize as you try to slide it up or back. So you wiggle on the lock down handle and push with the other hand. Often it will stick and then when heft is applied it suddenly gives way and slides into the moving work with unpleasant repercussions.

We all know that we are supposed to turn the lathe off when we adjust the banjo holding the tool rest. Yet I doubt there are one in a hundred turners who regularly do this. The reason is that time is money. It takes extra time to do this step.

What may help is to make sure that the banjo slides easily on the ways of the lathe. It is steel on steel and friction is a problem, especially when dust or chips are on the ways to reduce the clearance. It is not original with me but I read somewhere that if you take an ordinary piece of wax paper and rub the ways frequently, it makes the banjo slide easily.

The first time I tried it I was surprised at how well it worked. The wax leaves no sticky residue. It just reduces friction by transferring a minute amount of wax to the steel surface of the ways. Now I keep all my used wax paper sandwich wrappers just for this purpose. I had tried grease but that just attracts dust and chips. Spray on silicone did not seem to last very long. The wax paper was just the ticket for me.

Just bear in mind that the banjo may slide so easily that it flies further than you intended and can run into the spinning headstock if you are one of those who refuses to turn the lathe off when adjusting the banjo. Whatever, wax paper really makes the banjo slide on the ways. It has to be repeated frequently but will reduce the cussing you do when it sticks and it saves time and is much safer.

Another point I want to make is that a sharp piece of spinning wood will cut you just like a scalpel. Someone in our club recently cut a tendon on a finger. This is no trivial injury. So I make it an absolute rule to sand off any sharp spinning edge of wood that I have created, with my gouge preferably before I cut myself. When I ignore this rule I get blood on my lathe and tools. So, really, sand that sharp edge down as soon as you create it.

As a physician who has taken care of patients with chronic lung disease I know the dangers of breathing particulates. Thus I have made it my rule to don a dust mask as soon as I enter my shop and don’t remove it until I leave. It makes conversation difficult but I don’t do a lot of talking in my shop for that reason. Enough dust will make anyone wheeze. It is a signal from nature that something is wrong that you need to correct. I want to be turning for a long time and breathing easily for a long time as well. Prevention is better than cure.

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