Rough-Turning a Beech Bowl

Most of my bowls are rough-turned to a thickness of 1 to 1 1/2 inches from a blank split from a bolt of wood as freshly cut as possible, then dried for several months before being re-turned to a final shape and dimension, sanded, and finished.  I start with a bolt; a section cut from the trunk or a limb of a tree.

This is a bolt of  beech.  It's sitting on the ground in the same orientation as it was growing in the tree.
This is a bolt of beech. It’s sitting on the ground in the same orientation as it was growing in the tree.

The bolt will yield two bowls.  The first task is to split the bolt right through the heart center or pith.

This shows the end of the bolt.  You can clearly see the heart center and the annual rings.  There is a primary crack radiating out from the heart center.
This shows the end of the bolt. You can clearly see the heart center and the annual rings. There is a primary crack radiating out from the heart center.
First, using a sharp wedge and a hammer, I score across the end of the bolt following the primary crack.
First, using a sharp wedge and a hammer, I score across the end of the bolt following the primary crack.
Now drive the wedge and split the bolt.
Now I drive the wedge and split the bolt.
Two bowl blanks.
Two bowl blanks.

You’ll note that the blanks pictured are not equal in size.  The bolt is split down the heart center or pith, which may or, as in this case, may not be the same as the geometric center.  The pith is the dark line running down the face of each blank.  Next the blank is sawn into a rough circle on the band saw.

Turn a Green Bowl 018Then the round blank is mounted on a faceplate and fixed to the lathe.

Find the center of the blank.
Find the center of the blank.
Screw the faceplate tightly to the blank.
Screw the faceplate tightly to the blank.
The faceplate screws directly onto the headstock spindle of the lathe.
The faceplate screws directly onto the headstock spindle of the lathe.
Bring up the tailstock for stability and safety.
Bring up the tailstock for stability and now we begin turning the outside of the bowl.
Turn a Green Bowl 036
It’s easy to see that this blank is way out of balance so we begin turning at 200 rpm or less.

Now the turning begins.  This piece is unbalanced so I start with the lathe barely turning.  I gradually turn it up till the machine starts to shake, then back off until it stops.  In the photos below it appears that the work is turning quite fast because the shavings are flying, but even with the lathe turning slowly a 14 inch disc is moving pretty fast at the circumference.  The second photo shows that the gouge spends considerable time in the air.  It’s out of the frame in these pictures, but at this stage I keep the butt of the tool handle in my leg or my side for better control.

Turn a Green Bowl 039Turn a Green Bowl 038Turn a Green Bowl 040

Once it’s close to the shape I want on the outside of the blank I make a tenon for my chuck to hold.  In this case I made a groove, a circular dado, I suppose, so that the chuck jaws can grip the tenon on the inside or be expanded to grip the outside of the dado.Turn a Green Bowl 041Now the bowl blank is removed from the faceplate and mounted in reverse on the chuck.Turn a Green Bowl 043

This piece is still a long way from being balanced, so the lathe is kept at a slow speed and, again, the tailstock is brought up for stability and safety.  Facing off the blank will bring it substantially into balance.

Turn a Green Bowl 045

Turn a Green Bowl 044In this case, after facing off the top of the bowl blank I decided to re-true the outside so everything would be perfectly balanced.  The chuck is supposed to be self-centering, but the tenon may not compress evenly or some other factor may introduce some wobble.  This blank will be re-turned once it has dried, so it needn’t be perfect, but if it vibrates very much the inside turning will go much faster once the outside has been re-trued.

Beech sap 004
Re-truing the outside of the blank before continuing to hollow out the center.

This wood is freshly cut: very green.  You can see that once I’ve increased the speed of the lathe a bit the sap is flying from the bowl and dripping from the tool rest.  I get a nice little shower as I true up the outside.

Turn a Green Bowl 053Now we can really make some beautiful curly shavings: balanced blank, green beech, tailstock pulled back out of the way, turn the lathe speed up to 5 or 600 rpm.  Let’er rip!

Here I'm using a tape measure to check the depth.
Here I’m using a tape measure to check the depth.

I want an even thickness in the walls and bottom so it will dry without cracking.

Rough-turned to 1.5 inches thick.
Rough-turned to 1.5 inches thick.
Off the lathe.
Off the lathe.
Painted with glue and ready for the bag.
Painted with glue and ready for the bag.

There are many ways to dry these bowls.  In this case I painted the entire bowl with glue that had been thinned with an equal amount of water.  I’ll put it in the heavy grocery bag that I’ve labeled with the date and type of wood and leave it for about 3 months before re-turning it.

A Rush Seat

A couple of weeks ago we had our worst winter weather of the year.  It was the perfect time to stay indoors and weave my first rush seat.

Weaving a Rush Seat

As with all things there’s a learning curve, and in the finished seat it’s pretty easy to see that I’m just a beginner when it comes to seat weaving.

My first rush seat

The material used here is bullrush stems imported from Portugal.  Next summer I’ll try to find a stand of narrow-leaved cattails whose leaves I can harvest myself: these are the new world equivalent for seat making.

Post-and-Rung Chair

Post-and-rung chair - Walnut
Post-and-rung chair – Walnut

Today I got a first coat of finish on a post-and-rung chair that I’ve been working on for a while.  This chair was made following Drew Langsner’s excellent book The Chairmaker’s Workshop.  My chair is different from his in that I turned all the parts on the lathe, whereas he makes his using a drawknife and spokeshave.  I rived all the pieces from a green walnut log and turned all the parts while the wood was still green.  I then dried the rungs in a drying chamber, similar to the one described in the book, before re-turning the tenons and assembling the chair.  I used through-wedged.mortise and tenon joints to join the rungs to the legs: Langsner uses blind mortise and tenon joints.  The rear posts were steam bent and the back slats were boiled.  Now I need to weave a seat.

Spoons

spoons in different sizes and different woods
spoons in different sizes and different woods

 

I’ve been turning and carving spoons for several years.  I make these spoons from wood that I have riven straight from the logs of native hardwood trees.  I finish them with a product called Tried and True, which is a completely food safe finish made from linseed (flax seed) oil and bees wax.  If the spoons are washed and dried right away they retain their beautiful grain and color for a very long time.  Putting any hand made wooden item in the dishwasher is pretty close to putting it in the wood stove.

two salad serving sets: small - walnut and large - cherry
two salad serving sets: small – walnut and large – cherry

I make salad serving sets, which have matching handles.  One of the spoons is carved into a fork.

Guitar Picker’s Special

guitar picker's special

This is a picture of my son, James, sitting on a stool that I made for him at Christmas. One day last year he was sitting on a stool that I had just finished. He put his foot on one of the stretchers, a natural thing to do, and remarked that his knee was substantially lower than his hip. He pointed out that if you were playing the guitar while sitting on one of these stools, the guitar would keep slipping away from you. He suggested an extra, higher, rung that would place the thigh parallel to the floor, comfortably supporting the instrument. So I made a “Guitar Picker’s Special” for him. Our musician friend Mark Simonsen helped me get the height correct. This one is made of Hickory and Walnut

Guitar Picker's Stool dry fitted
Here’s a picture of the stool being dry fitted prior to final assembly, glue-up, and finishing.