Friday, December 4, 2009

Leather Apron for Real Men

You know by now that I do a lot of woodturning, and one thing I do dislike is chips falling down the front of my shirt.  A few years ago I made up a turning shirt by taking two old work uniform shirts and cutting the shoulder yolk and collar off one and attaching it to the front of the other.  It looked like one of those old western movie shirts with the buttons down both sides and a clerical collar at the top.  Worked like a champ, too.

As I got more skilled at turning though, I felt like my attire was holding me back.  Perhaps I could be a better artist if I were wearing a better turning outfit.  So I bought the red turning smock from Highland and whether or not my work is better, I sure do look better when I'm working. 

Now I do have one bad habit when sanding finished bowls.  I tend to hold the bowl against my body while sanding with the electric drill so that the dust goes down the dust collector hose.  Unfortunately, I sanded a hole in my beautiful red turning smock.  You've heard of chiseled abs; I have sanded abs. 

Well the answer to that sanding problem is one of the new leather aprons as found on the front cover of the new Highland Woodworking catalog.  These leather aprons are beautiful!  I went by the store today to look at them and I suppose I am just partial to leather, but when you walk in the front door of the store, there are at least 40 aprons on display all over the place.  (You really need to come see the store at Christmas.)
They are made of four basic pieces of leather stitched together with four pockets added to the front.  The two larger lower pockets have riveted flaps over them to keep chips out and the other two are made for pencils, calculators and this time of the year, candy canes.  The back of the apron is the naturally rough leather and the front is smooth and finished.  I looked at a bunch of them before picking the one I wanted and the naturally occurring marks on the leather really add to the appeal. 
Some aprons are slightly thicker than others and have more marks, and some are lighter or darker in overall color and appearance.  I was also very surprised when I picked one up and found how lightweight they actually are.  This thing will not weigh you down.  I bet if you call the store and ask them to pick out some particular feature for you, they will do it.   With the light and strong flat straps across the back, and a quick snap connection, the whole thing is supported by your shoulders and still easy to get on and off.  Beautiful!

If by some very small chance you don't want this one, you could get one of the others that Highland carries, such as the ballistic cloth turner's apron, the leather turner's apron, the belt apron, or a regular cloth apron.  But the really good leather ones are on sale, and come on people, this is Christmas.  Get the good one!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Saw Sharpening Service

Have you tried the new Sharpening Service that Highland Woodworking now offers?  Maybe you didn't know there was such a service available, but there certainly is.  I thought I would give it a try and let you know how it works. 

I had one very dull twelve inch sixty tooth carbide tipped saw blade, and five each  half inch carbide patternmaker router bits, the ones with the bearing on the bottom.  And no, they did not know it was me giving them a test for the blog, as if that would have made a difference.  It was a Wednesday afternoon when I took the whole package to my local retail shipping outlet and asked them to pack the stuff up for me and ship it to the service in New Jersey.  I live in Atlanta so they checked all three shipping options and decided on UPS to get it there on the following Friday afternoon.  They charged me $12.80 for the minimum five pounds plus $2.00 for the box.  Both the other shipping options were within a dollar or so.  (If I'd shipped it myself via Priority Mail using one of the Post Office's free Flat Rate boxes, It would've cost around $5.00 to ship.)

The finished tools came back Thursday a week later.  They are all sharpened perfectly as nearly as I can tell so far.  I used one of the router bits all day yesterday routing the window openings for a new house and it performed very well. 

The charge for sharpening the saw was $22.00 for 60 teeth and the return shipping was $12.00.  Total cost for shipping everything and sharpening the blade was $47.00.  The router bits were additional cost.  Was it worth it? 

saw blade.jpg

The actual sharpening cost is right in line with other services I have checked.  Of course I could take my blades to a local guy working out of his backyard (no offense here people) but two problems come to mind.  If I pay $135 for a top of the line Forrest blade, I darn well am not going to take it to "Ralph's Pretty Good Saw Shop" and take a chance on getting it completely messed up.  Plus if a tooth needs to be replaced, I don't think I want Ralph doing it for me.  One definition of a bullet is a carbide tip coming off a table saw blade. 

The shipping is what adds to the cost.  There happen to be two professional sharpening firms within about forty minutes of my house.  If I deliver my blades to one of them, it will cost me four one way trips plus the time.  On the other hand, my time is pretty cheap these days. 

I conclude that even in an urban area with professional shops fairly close, if I need high end blades sharpened, I will accumulate as many as I can and ship them all together to save on shipping costs. (And if you send them at least five carbide sawblades to sharpen at one time, the return shipping is free.)  I think the service is well worth it under that circumstance.  On the other hand, if all I have is one $35 blade, then I'll probably let Ralph do it.  

Monday, November 16, 2009

Just the Spax, Ma'am

I love Spax screws.  I bet I have ten different sizes and lengths of screws in my shop and I use them all the time for all sorts of things.  My primary use is attaching the faceplate to a new chunk of wood to put it on my lathe.  With my little impact driver I can put in six screws in about ten seconds and I am ready to turn  

I went to the Spax website and  checked out their history and would you believe 1823?  The company started in Germany and has been in business all this time and is still very successful today.  While you are there, take a look at the neat little games on their web site.  There is a car racing game, a retail counter service game to see if you can sell enough screws fast enough to keep the customers happy (that's a new one on me), and a football game that is really a soccer game — they are German, remember? 

The secret to the screws is in the shape of the barrel of the screw and in the shape of the threads.  The bottom threads are wavy with serrations which act like a miniature drill to cut right through most materials.  The net result is effortless work without having to drill pilot holes first unless you are running them into masonry.  That's right, the same screws work for mounting things to a masonry wall.  And oh yes, the same screws work on sheet metal up to 24 gauge without pre-drilling.  Are you getting the idea here?  THESE THINGS JUST WORK. 

Of course Highland has all the Spax screws you could want.  Go try out an assortment to begin and then find the ones you really need on a regular basis.        

Friday, October 30, 2009

James Krenov

James Krenov has died.  I don't know how I missed the notification, but I just heard about it this week and I found it deeply saddening. 
James Krenov
Krenov was able to write down his ideas about woodworking as evidenced in his work and his thoughts have endured for many years.  So many people in the hobby have been influenced by his work and his writings.  All of us aspire to his standard of excellence and wish we had his design sense. 

For an idea about what this is really all about, consider this image of a lovely little 12" x 18" storage box that appeared in an out-of-print book. The King of Sweden collected little ceramic pieces and needed a box to store them.  This one works just fine, thank you very much. 

James Krenov
The scale of his pieces is what is amazing.  Should you buy the books still in print, look carefully at the size of the pieces and you will realize that bigger is not necessarily better. 

Last year I was surfing the net and happened on Krenov's web site.  At the time he had stopped making his iconic pieces because of failing eyesight, but continued to offer planes for sale.  I bought one.  I think I paid $300 for it after several e-mails back and forth with his wife.  After they shipped it to me, I looked at it briefly but needed to set it aside because of some illness in my family. 

After hearing of his death, I looked for and found the plane I had bought from him last year.  Look at his initials on the front of it.  I thought he had put the blue masking tape around the throat and blade simply to keep the pieces in place for shipping, and I debated whether to take the tape off.  Finally I did take it off and lo and behold, the throat was full of the most beautifully delicate shavings.  Shavings put there by the master.  I left them there and I don't know if I will ever take them out...  

James Krenov

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Krenov Plane

About a year ago, I was clicking around the internet and happened upon the web site for James Krenov.  He was offering planes for sale since his eyesight had failed to the point where he would not do woodworking any more, so I bought one.  I think I paid $300 for it.  It came and I glanced at it and then life got in the way and I put it aside.  Somehow I missed the death notice for Mr. Krenov until last week and I went and got my plane out.  It was still wrapped in bubble wrap and there was blue tape all around the throat and blade.  I debated a long time whether to unwrap it or just leave it as some kind of museum piece and collector's item.  I have this vision of Mr. Krenov making the last little shaping cut with his knife  and then testing the shape and the feel and the blade set by running a few cuts and adjusting the blade and trying it again.  When I unwrapped the throat it was indeed filled with the most beautiful thin shavings.  Maybe he did exactly as I envisioned it.  How can I take them out? 

Think about it, this is not a Krenov "style" plane, this is a Krenov plane, hand made by the master himself. 

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Wood Stripes

You know, one of the things I love in my shop is the vertical stripe on the wall behind the lathe.  I turn green wood most of the time and when you get a blank up to speed and really going, it flings water out of the piece and  makes a stripe on the wall. 

People who are not familiar with wood and wood turning will ask why green wood?  First of all  it is cheap.  If I want to make a bowl which ends up five inches deep, then I need a blank about five and a half inches thick.  Try going to the wood place and buying a piece of dried wood that thick and it will cost a fortune, even if you could find one that size.  It is better to make your own and in fact, I leave my wood out in the weather until I can get around to shaping it for the lathe.  Green wood is mostly free for the taking, and if you put it on the lathe and turn away most of it and then let it dry naturally, you can get a nice bowl for much less money. 

Second green wood is so wet that it tends to cut very easily.  Chips just fly when you present the tool to the wood at just the right angle.  When it all fits together, the work is a joy indeed. 

Monday, October 12, 2009


I love the wood chips all around my lathe.  People who have never been to the shop are shocked to see all the chips on the floor, but I take great joy in walking over the pile and standing on top of the pile to turn a new piece.  Even with my dust collector and the floor sweep installed right behind the machine, I still leave the chips on the floor more than I should.  Every now and again, I do sweep them up and mulch the flower bed with them.  The colors of the wood for the first few days is just beautiful.  Of course eventually it all fades to the same color and keeps the weeds down.

In the book about Bob Stocksdale, "To Turn the Perfect wooden Bowl" by Ron Roszkiewicz ( there is a picture of a store window where Stocksdale had set up his lathe to demo turning some bowls.  The chips had piled up several feet high against the window with beautiful stripes and layers like some ancient geological formation.  I thought it was lovely and I am so envious.  Maybe somebody will ask me to turn in their window. 

Friday, April 24, 2009

Turning Van

I was watching some show the other day and they had a big article about a new van, Honda, I think, which was especially made for dogs and dog owners. Now I have a dog but she lives in the yard where dogs belong and the only time she gets in my truck is when we go to the vet together. I wonder what a dog van is like. I suppose it has special nonstaining carpets and seats and it probably has dog biscuits in the glove pocket and fresh bubbling water flowing into a doggie bowl. Videos of rabbits and quail and ducks and dogs playing with kids. Maybe a place to store the leash and a dog bed in the back. Maybe a ramp to help get up in the back of the van when you get tired and old. Probably one of those Mack truck bulldog hood ornaments. Anyway you get the idea.

I got to thinking that someone ought to create a turning van and I was trying to figure what it should have in it. I would start with a ramp just like the dog van so you could get logs in it easily and then a big storage place for the stock because you can't have just one piece to turn. You need a chain saw and some saw horses to get a piece roughed out. It must have a sharpening station so you can sharpen as often as you need and it has to have a band saw to clean up bowl blanks. A place to store the tools, and if you don't have a dust collector then the windows will get covered up on the inside and you can't see to drive. Maybe windshield wipers on the inside also. Wonder if it is legal to dump chips and dust on the highway as you drive. that way you can save the space for the dust collection bin. Then you have to have a place to sand the finished piece and after that you need a dust free place to put the finish on it. How about a display gallery to show your wares. You know you could take this thing to craft fairs and shows and let people tour it. They could walk up that ramp into the rear of the van and observe the turning process and then leave through the display gallery and sales area and if you had a little refreshment area, perhaps they would stick around and stand a better chance of buying something. We still need a lathe in this thing. Course we will need at least three people to run this thing -- one to drive and sell the wares when we stop, one to turn, and then one to sand and finish. Oh yeah, someone to keep the web site up to date and handle the internet sales, plus do the packing and shipping when someone buys something. Plus we need a place in the van for the computer.

Maybe GM or Chrysler could take this up as a project and help rehab themselves. I think they may not sell but one or two of these things, but when they do get one built and sold it will be so big and expensive it could affect their profitability. Maybe my shop in the back yard will do and I will just stay at home.

Monday, April 6, 2009

And the other thing Mahoney did...

And the other thing that Mahoney did was he practiced the motions before he made them. Or before he made the actual cut. That is, he practiced how he was going to make a cut, particularly on the outside shape, before he made the actual cut. I had never done that when I was turning.

What Mahoney did was he got the tool rest just right, got the tool just right, and then he got his feet set in a position where he was comfortable and balanced, and then he moved the tool through the complete cut he proposed to make without actually touching the wood. I can't remember whether he had the lathe running at the time or not, but then it wouldn't matter would it? He was checking to see if he could reach the full cut comfortably without moving his feet around or having to change his grip on the tool. Most of the time if you change your grip or move your feet you get a ridge or a groove in the wood. What you are looking for is a long smooth continuous cut with one motion and you can get a long smooth continuous shape on the wood. When you do it right, it is beautiful to see and do.

I have started practicing my cuts before I make them and trying to make sure I get a long smooth continuous cut. I figure if Mahoney needs to practice his cuts up on the mountaintop like that, then I can sure use every trick I can find to make my bowls better. I surely do dislike those ridges and grooves when they show up cause they take a lot of sanding to get out.

Course if I had two sanders. . . . (some people just won't let go, will they?)

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Flung through the woods

I am tired of turning bad wood. When on the mountaintop with Mahoney, the other thing he said, (see previous posts) was that nobody kept a bowl made out of a piece of bad wood. Since no one was going to keep them, there was no use in making them. I have decided he is right.

My thinking in the past has been that I will not throw out a piece I have just spent several hours making after having waited two months for it to dry. Just couldn't do it. And then often as not I would end up with a flawed piece. Maybe a crack, a rough side, a hole, anything. Sometimes I would call it a piece of art (what is art anyway?) and go ahead and finish it up.

Yesterday I had a nice piece of cedar and I had trimmed it up on my new band saw into a perfect bowl blank. I waited a day or two before starting (anticipation -- remember the ketchup commercial and the song?) and when I started I thought I had a nice bowl about the size of a vegetable serving bowl, roughly eight inches in diameter and almost four inches deep. When I got the bottom flattened out, it had a pitch pocket which I thought I could cut off and still have a nice bowl left. I started cutting it out and it kept going. I cut some more and it was still there. I cut some more and it was still there. The bowl kept getting smaller and smaller and I was headed towards a soup bowl. Then it got to be a saucer and that stupid pitch pocket was still there. It was not going away and the bowl I had pictured in my mind was going away. I took it off the lathe and took the hatchet to it so I would not be tempted to salvage it and then I flung all three pieces down through the woods behind the shop to recycle it. Life's too short to fool around with bad wood.

I am trying to decide if the same idea applies to people.

Friday, March 6, 2009

10,000 Hours

I saw a book mentioned the other day which I may have to buy. Malcolm Gladwell has written a new book called "Outliers" and it is about extraordinary people. When you graph things and they all fall within a certain range, sometimes one will fall way outside the range. That one is an outlier. Best example I have seen lately is the cricket player from Australia who is the furthest out outlier I have ever seen. Go look at Wikipedia and look up Sir Donald Bradman, generally conceded to be the best cricket player in all of history. Knighted for playing cricket. More dominant in his sport than Pele in soccer, Tiger Woods in golf, Ty Cobb in baseball and Michael Jordan in basketball. Wow.

Anyway, Gladwell in his book says that the way people get to be an outlier is with at least 10,000 hours of practice. One good example is Bill Gates who accumulated his hours before he got to college. I want to be a turning outlier, so I have been trying to figure how much longer I need to practice before I get my hours. I have been turning about eight years as near as I can remember. That is 416 weeks and if I averaged 5 hours per week, which is generous, then I may have upwards of 2000 hours on the lathe. That makes me about 20% competent. That's about how competent I feel sometimes, so maybe Gladwell is right. I have more time to spend in the shop now, so I figure another four to six years should get my 10,000 and I can begin to feel as if I am somewhat competent. Then I can be rich like Bill Gates. Maybe someone will knight me.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Would you believe Zen?

I love the 1970's cult classic "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance". Bet you never read it, but it applies to woodworking and bowl turning and as the author, Robert Pirsig, famously declares, it is not about Zen nor is it about motorcycles. I came to it later in life since my education was technical and we had no time for all that philosophy nonsense. The book is an essay on quality and how it applies to work and about getting work done. One of my favorite parts is where the writer divides the world into two sections. See which group you fit into.

The first is those people who love to get ready to work. They set up shop in detail and they paint those outlines of all their tools on a piece of pegboard on the wall so they can tell when a tool is missing or put out of place. Drawers have felt linings (red) in the bottom so no tools get scratched when carefully placed in their prescribed location. All the tools are there in all the sizes and carefully lined from smallest to largest. The floor is tiled and waxed and has not a bit of sawdust or shavings. Everything is set up and ready to go and the owner of this shop has all the tools he needs to build anything out of wood. Probably has a neon sign on the wall that flashes "Ken's Place" or some such. Except he never makes anything because it would mess up the shop. What he really loves is getting ready to make something.

The other type is the guy who has all the tools but they are scattered all over the shop. Some are dull and they certainly don't fit in a drawer or on a pegboard. There is no red felt anywhere. The floor is covered with dust and chips. The only thing pristine in the shop is the current project sitting on the bench in some ethereal glow not explained by the overhead flourescent lighting. No signs, no tile, no pegboard, no felt -- just beautiful work in a messy shop.

Two groups of people -- one likes getting ready to work and the other likes working. Which one are you? Go read Pirsig to find out more about yourself. You will need to read it about four times but eventually you may get it, (or maybe not). I'm in the second group by the way.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Doo Rag

I'm gonna get a doo rag. I think I will be a better turner if I wear a doo rag, particularly while I am trying to get the outside shape of a bowl as nice as I can make it. I can take it off while I am roughing out a bowl and while I turn the inside, but for the real shaping and the stuff that separates the men from the boys in bowl turning so to speak, it takes a doo rag. The reason I say this is because I was watching some TV show the other day and some craftsman was repairing a door or some trim work or some such, and he was wearing a doo rag. I knew instantly from the rag that he was a craftsman and knew exactly what he was doing. The host knew it too, and we all sat around in awe while he did his thing. He did do a really good job and I think it was because of the rag. Only thing it could have been. I'm getting one now.

Did you ever think about the difference between homemade and handmade? When I was growing up we didn't have a lot of money and I can remember Mama making shirts for me and my brother out of flour sacks. If you bought 25 pounds of flour to make biscuits (Mama made biscuits every day twice a day) it came in a fabric sack of cloth suitable for making clothes. Since you had to make biscuits anyway, the shirts were free if you could make one. Mom could make one. Course we didn't like them very much because our classmates knew what the deal was and homemade shirts did not cut it even in that time and place. Remember Dolly Parton's "Coat of Many Colors". Same thing. Those shirts were handmade, but they were homemade, and that did not gain much respect.

I make these bowls at my home, so I suppose you could say they are homemade. But homemade carries a connotation that is definitely negative and I don't sell homemade bowls. Handmade carries a connotation that is distinctly positive, so all my bowls are handmade. Don't tell anybody I make them at home. I can sell them for more money.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Dust Collector

Do you have a dust collector? I worked for years in a dank basement with little light and a damp floor. As I have said before, I used to walk over a pile of chips and shavings to get to the lathe and I only cleaned it up about every three months because I hated so much to empty the shop vac. Net result is lung and nasal congestion, musty odor in the house and corrosion on the tools. Plus when you have limited time to turn, you don't want to spend it on cleaning, you just want to turn.

When I was able to start a new shop building, one high priority item on the list was a dust collector. I checked into several different brands and went with the Oneida brand. I sent them a shop layout with the tools located and with a spot picked out for the collector and they did a detailed design of the system with proper sizing of the blower and all of the pipes sized to ensure the proper flow of air from all machines. Once I approved the system, they did a detailed parts takeoff and then shipped the whole package to me in about a week. It went together pretty easily since my shop is on a crawl space and I was able to run all the pipes under the floor. It is one of the best features of the shop. It has a three horse blower (sucker?) and is connected to each machine with a valve at each one so you can direct the air flow. My favorite is the floor sweep which is an open vent with a kick open flap door. It is below the lathe and when you turn on the blower (with the pocket remote switch) and kick open the door, all that is required is to sweep dust towards the vent and it is gone. I sweep the floor these days just for the fun of it.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Shop Dignity

When I was on the mountaintop watching Mike Mahoney turn a couple of weeks ago, he said the most amazing thing. He had two sanders. I don't mean he has two electric sanders. Everybody has that. He meant he has two hired hands (people I mean) that do nothing but sand the bowls. Now you have to understand that no one likes to sand. It is boring, messy, dusty (duh), and hazardous to your health. Nobody wants to sand anything. When I heard him say it, it took me a minute to comprehend what he was telling us. He actually has two people who do nothing but sand his bowls after he makes them. Can you imagine? You just mount a piece of wood on the lathe, turn it off to a shape you like and you know will sell, and as soon as you get done with it, you take it off and hand it to the sanding person and you don't even have to apologize for that ridge in the corner of the bottom which you were too lazy to try to clean up cause you didn't want to sharpen the tool one more time. And if they want to complain about your technique, you just hire someone else.

Then I got to wondering who these sanding people must be. Is it some elderly grandmotherly type who will spend hours on every tiny pore and would sacrifice herself on a burning pyre of cracked bowl blanks if she found a scratch left in the bottom of an otherwise perfect specimen? Maybe it is a retired hippie (when have you heard that word?) who does it because it gives him just enough money to buy his weed and he can take long lunch hours and zone out with a joint and it numbs the afternoon up enough to make a little more cash to repeat the cycle. Probably has to pay him an hourly wage -- not by the hour, but on the hour, just so he will keep working, plus run another dust pipe to his work station to keep down the fumes. Or maybe it is a young couple who bring their children to work with them so they don't have to pay child care (do they make baby dust masks?) and they are saving their money to go on a world cruise. I saw a guy in the last issue of "Fine Homebuilding" who worked about two months of the year and then cruised the world in his boat with his family the rest of the year. I wonder.

You are probably asking yourself by now what all this has to do with "Shop Dignity". Well, it's like this. When I first started woodworking about 40 years ago, I worked in the basement of our first house and started with a work bench I made out of two by pine. We built a new house and I had a one car garage to fill up and soon did so. I used to pride myself on walking over the top of the pile of shavings at the lathe because it was a sign of how much work I was getting done and I really could reach the lathe better. But the big problem was I had to share all that joy with the riding lawnmower. There was no other place to put it and I was not going to leave it out in the rain. So there it sat watching me. And me nursing a growing disdain and festering hatred for its intrusion into my personal space. No woodworker should have to suffer the indignity of having to share space with the stupid lawnmower, especially one whose battery runs down every winter out of pure spite and animosity. The height of my woodworking ambition was to have a shop where the lawnmower did not live. Well, joy of joys, I inherited some money and found myself in a position to build a shop in the back yard. It is a separate building and the lawn mower is allowed to sniff around the outside, but it will never set its solid rubber front tires in my shop. At last, I have made it -- I am a real woodworker with a real shop with no lawnmower in it.

And then Mahoney comes along and has two sanders.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Walnut Bowl

There comes a time in the making of every bowl when it is fish or cut bait. You start off with a piece of rough wood and generally cut away the bad part and see what is left over. That idea is usually expressed rather pompously as "I let the wood tell me what to do". It boils down to you work with what you have left over because that is what you have. (Sounds like life to me, don't you think?) Then comes decision time. You have to pick a shape and go with it. I suppose there are some basic rules, but when you have already spent a fair amount of time or money on a chunk of wood up to this point, you want to make the best of it. So you pick a shape and start cutting. The other half of the process is the wood only comes off -- you can't put it back on. Once it's gone, you are stuck with it (life again?), and the difference between good and pretty darn nice is less than an eighth of an inch. So you put a shape on it, hang your ego on it, go to work and hope for the best. That ego part is the hard part.

The walnut bowl shown here had a hitch. One way of attaching the wood to the lathe chuck is by cutting a recess in the bottom of the blank and then expanding the jaws of the chuck into it. When I cut the recess, I made it too big and my chuck would not expand enough to hold the bowl while I hollowed it out. Several different solutions would work, none easy. I finally decided to buy new jaws for the chuck and swap them out. After a trip to Highland Woodworking, burning up a Christmas gift card on a set of new jaws, and the rest of it went like clockwork. I sanded it up good and put one coat of Mahoney's walnut oil on it so far and I think it is beautiful. I still debate the shape and guess I will wonder a long time if it could have been better. But it is done now and I will add a few more coats of finish and then put it up for sale on the site.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Angsty Bowl

I created this bowl as a commentary on the continuing degradation of the moral situation in our country today. I have a passion for work with social relevance and this piece just captured me. As it emerged from the rough block, it spoke to my soul of the chaos and vapidity so evident in cities today. The holes that appeared as I dug deeper into the block speak of the loss of moral authority and social mores within society. I love the way the black and gray streaks juxtaposed on the white background of the wood reflect on what I perceive as the lack of leadership exhibited by rising generations and are a symbol of the moral relativism invading society. The absence of a finish material which lets the wood soak up anything put into it speaks to the propensity of society to simply absorb current trends and fail to question authority and the decisions of our governments at all levels, even to the very top of the bowl. This piece lets me indulge my passion for angsty work as well as the occasional pretty bowl.

On the other hand, it could be just a bowl. You can buy it at

Sunday, January 25, 2009


Well I've been to the mountaintop. I had a class last week at Highland Woodworking with Mike Mahoney, world class bowl turner. There were only about ten of us in the class including one young man about sixteen years old. I think the young guy summed it up for all of us when he decided the one big thing he got out of the class was "I am not as good as I thought I was."

There is a group of people out there who are head and shoulders above the rest of us when it comes to turning wood. Mike demonstrated a bowl for us on the lathe and then we were all supposed to make one of our own. He roughed his bowl out in less than 15 minutes and it was perfect. It had a beautiful line to it and the wall thickness was completely consistent. Took all the rest of us about three hours to screw one up. It really makes you appreciate the skill and talent it takes to make a beautiful bowl.

On the second day, Mike made a hollow form for us to try to duplicate. He started the same way and in about ten minutes turned a piece of green wood into a classic Grecian urn shape. He looked at it a second and decided it might look good as a contemporary shape, so in about fifteen seconds, he cut off an eighth of an inch in a particular spot and it was contemporary. He looked at it again and decided to go back to the classic, and in another fifteen seconds, he took off another eighth and it was done. Absolutely beautiful.

You know how in the Bible, the parables always start out by saying ... "the Kingdom of Heaven is like this." They said this so you would recognize how far from the Kingdom you really are. Watching Mike turn is like that, you see him do it and realize how far from
the Kingdom you really are. Go look at his web site --

I am embarassed to say that it was only when I got home after the classes that I realized I have been using his oil finish for several years. I just never connected the name and the teacher and the finish. It is my favorite finish.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Big Salad Bowl

Want to see the big bowl roughed out?

This is what it looked like after about an hour of chips flying everywhere. The walls and bottom of the bowl are about an inch and a half thick. It is really wet and heavy and needs about two months of drying. I wrapped it up in several layers of newspaper so it will dry more slowly and not crack as it drys. If it drys unevenly or too quickly, it will split and the salad dressing will leak out unless you put a lot of cheese in the salad and let the cheese plug the split. If you don't like cheese in your salad, then there is a big problem. Maybe you can use one of those salad sprayers and spray each forkfull before you eat it.

The trick now is to make the small bowls reflect the shape of the big bowl so it all looks like a set . In addition, all the small bowls need to be essentially the same size and shape and that is a pretty good trick in itself. I started with the smallest wood blank and roughed that one out and now the task is to cut each one down to match that one. These are all dry already so there is no wait time on the small bowls. Should be fun.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Cherry Wood Salad Set

A friend wanted me to make a salad set with one big bowl and six little ones. He left the choice of wood up to me and there is just nothing better than cherry in my opinion.

Jon and I went over to the wood place to pick out some blanks and it was a real pleasure trip. I buy wood from Mark Sillay here in Atlanta and I recommend his shop to you ( Mark used to be a tree surgeon and he must still have some contacts in the business because he has more wood than anybody I know. He likes local woods and since I do also it is a perfect fit. We were looking for his shop and drove down between two warehouses. When we came to a pile of wood as big as my truck, I knew we had it. When you walk in the warehouse, there is wood stacked everywhere. Mark loves what he does and spent a good bit of time with us helping to pick the right blocks of wood and then even took the time to put our blocks on the bandsaw and round them up for me on the spot. The piece we found for the big salad bowl was green and in the truck sized stack outside. He rounded that one up for me also and when I got it home to mount it on the lathe, it must have weighed 40 pounds. I roughed it out so it would dry and then wrapped it in newspaper to keep it from cracking as it starts to dry out. Here's a picture of it on the lathe before I started to turn. Wouldn't want this one to come loose and start walking around the shop.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Dogwood Trayplattercandleholdersliceofwoodthingy

Before Christmas, I was shopping with my friend M. at West Elm. West Elm, for those of you who haven't been, is like the Ikea for rich people. And after seeing something I loved there, and not being a person of any extraordinary wealth myself, I thought of my father's crafty abilities. What did I like so much to ask my father to make them? Simple slices of wood being used to hold candles. So often, we need fancy things, but the simplistic beauty of these slices is just right. I sent the idea to Dad, and here's what he came up with. I think they're beautiful.

This one is made out of an old Dogwood tree from our front yard. The size of this Dogwood tree is a rarity in the South East. After he made his initally cuts, Dad counted 75 rings--it's an old tree! Dad ended up using all kinds of tools on it to get the shape right, but I think it came out really well. I particularly like the little splits that come in from the sides, and the bark that made it through the milling process.

For a while now, I've been telling Dad to put something on or in his pieces for scale. When he sent me a picture of this piece for the first time, it had a pot full of shotgun shells on it. Clearly, that didn't last. We opted for a candle instead.

This piece is great for really anything you need a stand for. You could use it as a candle plate or a tray or a small platter or a woodsy addition to place a candle or plant on. Currently, it does not have any sort of finish on it, but that can be added according to your wishes. Interested in this great little piece, check it and ones like it out at The Wood Shop on

Friday, January 2, 2009

The Smell of Cedar

I have been working on some cedar bowls lately. The smell is attractive to some people but after awhile I get really tired of it. If you create some dust, it is real fine dust and it gets in everything including your nose. The shop is filled with it and between the dust, and the chips and the bowl itself, there is just a huge smell of cedar all in the shop. My dust collector is working overtime, but there is no getting rid of the smell.

The cedar bowl turned out pretty well I think. It had a bit of decay in the center of the log so the the top of the rim has a notch out of it. You have to be really careful when it is turning because the notch will catch the tool or the sandpaper or your hand and it can be dangerous. I have this image of me spinning around at about 800 rpm when the notch catches my hand. (I would hate to get the bed of the lathe messed up with chunks of me.)

I am also working on a walnut bowl for a friend. The wood comes from a log off the ancestral home over in west Georgia. The log had been lying out by the barn for many years and when I went to get it, it was really wet and heavy. All the sap wood which is softer than the center of the tree had rotted away and it took us a while to cut it into chunks. When I got it back to the shop and started cutting it up and splitting it, I barked my shin with the splitting wedge after it popped out of the log when I hit it with the sledge hammer. When I finally started turning a bowl, I found a nail buried deep inside the bowl blank. Any turner hates for that to happen. We spend a lot of time getting the tools sharp and they are expensive on top of that. You are just standing there blissfully turning away and you realize there is a strange ticking noise which should not be happening. That is a piece of metal that is fast dulling your chisel. I got the bowl rough cut and it was so wet that water was dripping from the bowl onto the bed of the lathe. It will take a while for that to dry.

Keep on turning.