Day 2, Basic Woodturning

We started with sharpening, always a very important part of any woodworking class. Coming from the hand tool world I was immediately struck by how quick the sharpening generally is for turning–mostly because all the tools come straight from the finer grind wheel straight back to work. While I have a grinder, I have not set it up in my shop yet, so this was lots of good info, especially the Wolverine system the class grinder had installed. One interesting grinding profile that our instructor showed us is the thumbnail (aka Ellsworth) grind on the spindle and bowl gouges. While you can do that freehand on the grinder, there is an extra jig that makes things a lot easier.

During lunch I ran out to the woodcraft store to get my 10% discount and bought some of the necessary gouges for turning. The cool thing was I could use my new bowl gouge (w/ a traditional bowl bevel) in the afternoon project. It was shockingly easy to sharpen. Put the handle in the cradle, pull the cradle out till the bevel matches the wheel, start the grinder and just roll the tool. Check for a nice, even facet. Done. About the only honing required for most turning tools was on the skew, and only at about the 600 grit level. Compare that to getting a plane blade ready for use, where you might need to grind, hone, then polish the edge for a total of 4 or 5 different levels, depending on how crazy you get with the polishing stage.

For the bowl turning, we used a glue block base with a faceplate. The faceplate is attached to the glue block with some wood screws. While somewhat crude compared to more modern methods (four-jaw chuck), this is certainly easily accessible and works just fine. A medium CA glue attached the glue block to the bowl blank. We all had some nice cherry for the bowl. The plan was to turn the outside of the bowl into a nice, pleasing, large half-bead. Well, I managed to not do that. I planned on doing that, thought I was moving correctly to end up with that result, but lo and behold it was almost opposite. I’m sure I’m not the first person to have trouble with this operation, but it sure made for a little bit of frustration. I believe I was starting to move towards the center way too early and so created more of a slightly flared/cove shape rather than a gentle half-bead. Before we moved on to working the inside, we had to finalize sanding and surface treatments on the outside. I put a small line detail and burned it in with the guitar wire (just guitar string strung between two little handles, then with the piece spinning, the friction creates a burn mark in the skew or spindle gouge line). We were starting to hit some time constraints, so the exterior surface treatment is not as great as I’d like (I have a bit of tear-out I need to work on). Still I kind of like the shape, so all was not lost.

With the outside turning on the bowl we had the tailstock engaged (bowl base at the headstock end, bowl opening on the tailstock end). Unfortunately since my bowl shape was close to opposite of everyone else’s, I had to listen to the instruction for what to do on the basic interior bowl shape, and do some translation to my own situation. When the inside work started, we all removed the tailstock from the piece. This was more fun, and I felt like I had a better handle on riding the bevel and getting the cut I wanted. My new Crown gouge worked like a dream. “Uhh, Joe be careful, you’re getting close to the bottom.” Doh! ok with some of the inside cleaned out it was time to focus on getting the sidewall thickness to be consistent. With the flared outside I had to basically do the reverse inside, so again a bead. Double doh! As I was working it, this inside bead shape seemed easier for me. Maybe my head is just wired different. I got the walls pretty consistent all the way down.

On to what I thought would be the most terrifying part of the whole course–turning the bowl around, putting it on a jam chuck and finalizing the turning on the bottom of the bowl. Kind of like expecting to be hit by someone in hockey and escaping unscathed, I was surprised how (relatively) easy it was. We used a plywood round piece for the jam chuck, attached the faceplate to the back, then turned it round and balanced using the roughing gouge. Finally the outline of the bowl is set as close to center as possible (I left my micrometer at home, so I had to eyeball it. Horrors). Trace the outline, then put the jam chuck back on the lathe. I suppose you could do this on the lathe, but I found it easier to do the tracing/centering on the bench. Using the parting tool I cleaned a small portion inside the line I just drew down maybe 1/4″, about as wide as the rim of the bowl. I did a test fit, not quite there, so I took it a bit closer to the line, refit etc. I noticed that the inside of my bowl was rubbing on some of the jam chuck wood in the center, so I cleaned it out almost entirely to the center to give some clearance. I got right up the line with the parting tool and cleaned it up. The test fit and it was a very tight fit. Weee! I then used some of that packing clear plastic wrap to secure the bowl on there better, and put it on the lathe.

I looked at the start switch. Ground my teeth a few times, blinked, held my breath a few seconds then yelled out “WOLVERINES!” and turned it on. No flying cherry bowl bits. Phew. I cleaned up the outside of the bowl as best I could in the time that we had left, put a little dish at the base so the bowl would sit without rocking too much, and called it a class. My bowl ended up looking like an upside-down UFO. After I knocked it off the jam chuck I was immediately struck by how light it was. I expected it to be a bit heavier and commented on that to our instructor, Corey. He suggested that if, as a viewer, you see a piece, then go over and pick it up–your mind is calculating what it ‘ought’ to weigh without you realizing it. Often if it is lighter than expected or about the same weight, the viewer leaves with a favorable impression. On the other hand, if it is heavier then the viewer’s mind becomes concerned that maybe there is some hidden problem with the piece their mind hadn’t considered. Part of that might due to inconsistent wall thickness or a thicker base than the design suggests. All of which were things I’d never thought much about to be honest.

So with my first couple of turnings behind me, I think I’ll be working on this aspect of woodworking some more in the year to come. I had fun, and I can see myself doing some spindle legs, perhaps some William & Mary pieces or decorative items. I think I learned more in two days than in any other class I’ve taken, just because I hadn’t read much about turning beforehand. I’m sure that actually helped me learn some of the techniques because I had no clue (other than seeing David Marks or Roy Underhill on TV) how most of the spindle or bowl turnings were done.

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  1. Al (Thomas)

     /  December 12, 2011

    Hi Joe, as I read your blog entry I resisted the temptation go the the end to see the photos of your finished bowl… first nice summary of the class. It looks very nice and you took excellent advantage of the “design opportunity” presented to you when you shaped the outside! I really enjoy Corey as an instructor. He explains things in a way that I can translate. I had another class and the instructor was very good but I didn’t make the same connection. Also, just like regular woodworking it is nice to use your own tools. Kep on turning… Al

  2. Thanks Al! Yes, the ‘design opportunity’ is such a great way to look at it. He is a really good instructor. I did a little practice after getting home tonight, just some bead & cove spindle work. Mostly bead. I now have a reason to use my dad’s Shop Smith for something other than the bandsaw attachment. The spindle gouge I bought is much smaller than the one I used in class and I could tell a big difference, but also it is ground in a typical grind rather than the Ellsworth/finger nail grind of the school’s.


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