Wooden bowls turned in 2016

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.

Music trophies made for a co-worker

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.

Ring holder boxes

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).

Vacuum Chucking

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.

Winged bowls

One of the forms that I have been exploring this year is winged bowls and in particular I’ve been exploring winged bowls where the wings coming down to act legs and suspend the bowl. I’m not sure what sparked my interest but some of it may to do with having come into possession of a number of pieces of wood that lent themselves well to that particular form.

The first one I tried was this one made from a piece of Japanese snowball wood.

I found that the legs moved a bit as the bowl dried but I was able to bend them back to where I wanted them by steam bending them in the microwave.

On these next two bowls I experimented with the orientation to see if I could show more of the crotch grain in the wood. Both of these next two bowls are made from plum wood. On the first one I orientated it so that the bottom came from the outside of the tree. It worked well but lost feathering from the crotch figure in the grain.

On this next bowl I reversed the orientation so that the bottom of the bowl came from the inside of the log. This resulted in a great display of the crotch grain feathering but I wound up with the wings being too short to work as legs. I tried steam bending them into place but on this piece it didn’t work. Still kind of an interesting piece though.

Another attempt was with a piece of magnolia wood given to me by a neighbor.  It had a crack in it that I was hoping to be able to turn away or at least keep tight with the application of some glue but it didn’t work out that way. Being turned from green wood it changed shape as it dried and the crack became much larger. I have a few ideas for making it a decorative feature but haven’t entirely decided which to go with yet. The options I am considering include: leaving it as is, decorative stitching with leather or copper wire or using some kind of resin to fill the crack.

The most recent one is a winged bowl made from butternut wood. The wood came from a tree that my parents had cut down in their yard and then sent me a couple of pieces.  At first I was thinking that it was too large to do a winged bowl with but I decided to try it anyway.  The piece did not lend itself to making a suspended bowl so I decided to go with a more traditional winged bowl design for it. It was much lighter than I expected and did not change shape much in spite of having been turned to finish from green wood. I think this is because the tree was cut near the end of winter before the sap started to flow. I also noticed that when I had it on the lathe it was not very out of balance to start which would be explained by the low moisture content.

Although I have some pieces now that I really like I still feel that I have not yet put all of the elements that I would like in one of these bowls together. I’m getting closer but I’m going to have to play with the design a bit more I think. What I would like to try next is a winged bowl where the wings come down to support and suspend the bowl and oriented to show the feathering of the crotch grain.