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.