Late in 2016 Mark from Canuck soaps approached me about making some shaving bowls. I had been asked about them before but this was the final push that made finally consider the idea seriously. Over the course of a few days we kicked around some ideas and finally came up with a design that included a lidded bowl with a well in the bottom for a puck of soap and enough extra space to swirl a brush around and work up a lather.
In the new year I began working on the idea and made a prototype shaving bowl out of Mountain ash wood.
I have been using this bowl for almost a year now and so far it is holding up well. I was originally concerned with how it would hold up to moisture. In practice it does not seem to be a problem. It turns out that that there is not really a lot of water that actually gets into the bowl since it is only enough to whip up a bit of lather. So far it seems to dry out well enough between uses to not cause problems.
I showed the prototype to Mark and he liked it well enough that I decided to go ahead and make a small run to pin down what the price would need to be. I felt comfortable enough that if the price was too high for him then I could still sell them myself. After all I am selling a bowl that happens to some with soap where he is selling soap that happens to come in a bowl.
Since he wanted a darker wood I purchased some walnut to make these bowls. After making a run of ten shaving bowls I came up with a price that was more than he felt he could sell them at. Since that was the case he sold me some shaving soap at wholesale prices to go with them. I tried one myself and it has turned out to be quite nice. It is unscented, lathers well and has so far lasted over six months of shaving every other day. I should note that he has a variety of scents available but unscented was my preference.
I still have some of these available in my Etsy shop. Enough of them have sold though that I am starting to think about what kind of wood to use next. I would like to go back to using reclaimed local wood of some kind. A few options that may be possible are: maple, cherry, yellow cedar or maybe something I’m not thinking about right now. Which would you like to see:
The album for the wooden bowls that I have turned is getting a bit unwieldy so I have decided to start organizing them by year starting with 2016. I make most of my bowls from locally sourced wood. The majority of it is from trees that were cut down for other reasons. The wood is often then given away as firewood but I collect it for my own use. The kind of wood that I use for my bowls is entirely dependent on the kind of wood I find.
In 2016 most of my wood finds were maple and oak. I had a number roughed out bowls from previous years though so in addition to those I had some wooden bowls made from cherry, black locust and chestnut.
Earlier this year a co-worker approached me about making some music trophies. He has a music studio where he teaches music to children and wanted some trophies for his students. I agreed thinking that it would be a simple matter of turning a cup or some other shape. When he showed me a sketch of what he wanted it turned out to be more complicated. The trophy design is based on his logo and can not be turned for the most part.
I made most of the upper part of the music trophies using the band saw and scroll saw. One piece, shaped like note, I made from walnut wood. Then two heart shaped pieces that I made from maple.
At first I tried making the heart pieces separately but realized that aligning and joining them to the walnut piece was a problem. It was simpler to make them so they were still attached. Then I joined them to the walnut note piece at the point where they were attached. I joined the note and heart pieces to each other using a lap joint cut with a saw and chisels. After that I did more shaping using a half-round rasp and various sanding methods to round things over. In retrospect I do have a Dremel tool that would have been worth trying out with a carving burr.
With the first top for the music trophies figured out I made the rest using the same design.
With the tops made I was finally able to do some turning when I made the bases for the music trophies. Here they are on the workbench before finishing was complete.
After a bit of finishing they were ready for delivery. Ricky presented them to his students already and says that the were a bit hit with the kids.
Every year I try to come a with a couple of new ideas for things to make for my nieces and this past Christmas what I came up with was ring holder boxes. It’s not a new idea, other people have made them before but while I’ve made ring holders and I’ve made boxes this was my first time to combine the two ideas.
The basic idea is to make a ring holder that serves as a lid for a small box where other pieces of jewellery can be stored. To give credit where it’s due my wife gave me a lot of help in refining the shape and proportions when I was first trying to figure out the design for these.
The first prototype was made from mountain ash wood and while the basic idea worked out there were a number of changes that I wanted to try in the next one.
The next ring holder box was still mountain ash but with some refinements to the shape and proportions.
After the second box I was happy enough with the design to start making the ring holder boxes for my nieces Christmas presents. For these I decided to use some maple burl wood with really spectacular figure to it.
I decided to make one more that is a bit special. My wife had to work on Christmas day so I was left at home with some time on my hands. I already had her present but decided to make her one more using a nice piece of plum wood from a tree that had been in our yard. It turned out to be a bit tight time wise but I managed to get it done just in time to present it to her when she got home (no time for wrapping though).
As the size of the bowls I’ve been turning has gotten larger the need for a vacuum chucking system has become greater. This is not so much for holding a bowl while doing the bulk of the turning but mostly for at the end when removing the tenon used to hold it in a chuck and cleaning up the bottom. The traditional way of doing this is with a jam chuck but those are a little fussy to get right and need to be sized for each bowl. Another popular method is to use something like cole jaws that can be customized to hold a bowl from the rim. These work but they are expensive and there is still a size limit. The method that I had been using was a bit of a cross between those methods. I have a set of flat jaws that I can screw pieces of wood to and then make something like a jam chuck but with the adjustability of a chuck. This worked really well since it could be set up to work with a few different sizes of bowls. The problem was that I reaching the limits of where I felt safe using it as I started turning larger sized bowls more often.
The beauty of a vacuum chuck is that the larger you go the stronger it gets so it actually works better as the size of the bowls gets larger. The amount of force holding a bowl onto a vacuum chuck is related to the amount of vacuum developed and the area on which it acting so as the chucks (and therefore area) get larger the force holding the bowl on gets larger.
Early this year I decided that it was time to do something about it. The first thing I needed was a source of vacuum and after a bit of research and looking around I settled on a used Gast rotary vane pump that I found on ebay. This is an oilless pump capable of pulling 4.5 cfm and reaches about 24 mm Hg while in use.
The next thing I needed was a way to connect it to the lathe. This is fairly simple since there is a vacuum adapter fitting sold for my lathe that simply attaches to the hand wheel. The rest of the equipment I needed included:
- A liquid filled vacuum gauge
- A needle valve to regulate the level of vacuum
- A small in-line gas filter to protect the pump from dust
- A cross fitting to connect everything
The fitting for the lathe fit on one side of the cross fitting with the needle valve on the other side, the gauge on the top and the air hose connected to the bottom.
The in-line filter is attached in the middle of the airline before it gets to the vacuum pump. This is important because sanding dust will get sucked into the system while it is in use and it could damage the vacuum pump.
The air hose is then connected to the vacuum pump. The other thing that is needed are different sized chucks to hold the bowls on the lathe. There are commercial versions available but I found it fairly cheap and simple to make my own using different sizes of PVC fittings, left over construction lumber and craft foam. Basically I made wooden face plates from the construction lumber by drilling and tapping pieces to fit the threads on my lathe. I then trued them up and cut a groove for the size of fitting I wanted to use and then glued the fitting into the groove. On the open side of the fitting I fastened some close celled craft foam to help it form a seal with the bowls without causing damage. So far I’ve only made three different sizes but those seem to work for a wide variety of bowl sizes.
Overall I’m very happy with how well the system works and only wish that I had done it sooner. Once I ddecided to do it I was able to find some great resources online then filled the gaps by talking to Beverly Pears from the Greater Vancouver Woodturners guild who had the same lathe and recently set up her own system. One of the best online resources I found was on the Golden Horseshoe woodturners website with a wealth of information.