Downed trees are a plentiful source for woodturning blanks, however, before you turn on the saw it is important to understand the best practices for cutting and storing your own blanks.
As you inspect a fallen tree, make sure to distinguish between limb wood and trunk wood. Generally, trunk wood includes fewer knots and irregular growth, features that add uniqueness to your piece but tend to warp and crack.
Until you are ready to cut your log into blank sized chunks, store the wood in long pieces to limit the number of open ends at risk for cracking. Using a sealer, such as this one offered at Packard Woodworks, will guard against checking. Don't worry about removing tight bark, it will actually slow moisture loss and protect against splitting.
When you are ready to cut the log into blanks, it is helpful to understand that the middle of the log is called the 'pith' and is the tree stem. This area is very unstable, tends to dry unevenly, and should not be included in your turning blanks. Following the diagram below will allow you to cut two bowl blanks from a log while avoiding the volatile pith area.
Once you've cut your blanks don't forget to mark, seal and store them in a dry area until you are ready to mount them on the lathe. Happy turning!
Information drawn from this helpful Wood Magazine article.
And this informative video.
Performed by lifelong turners, spindle turning appears simple. Mount the wood, a few strokes, and voila, a beautiful piece. In reality, there are many fundamental principles that will allow you to approach spindle turning with ease. Professional Nick Cook shares a few of these concepts.
A full article by Nick Cook including more spindle turning tips can be found here.
- Always cut downhill, from large diameter to small diameter on spindles. Attempting to cut uphill on some woods will produce disastrous results—expect a lot of catches.
- Adjust the height of the tool rest to match the tool you are using. You should cut above center for most lathe tools. If you switch from a thick tool (like a spindle roughing gouge) to a thinner tool (like a skew) you will need to raise the tool rest.
- For additional support and better control of your spindle turning, wrap your index finger around the tool rest.
- Never drive the blank onto the spur center while it is mounted in the spindle. This can damage the Morse taper and stress the lathe bearings.
- Never drive the spur center into the blank with a steel-faced hammer.This will damage the Morse taper, preventing it from fitting properly. Always drive the spur with a wooden mallet, dead blow, or other soft-faced hammer.
- Position the tool rest parallel to the blank and as close as possible— 1/4" is adequate clearance. Be sure to lock the tool rest to the support and the support to the lathe bed. Always rotate the workpiece by hand before turning on the machine. No matter how many times you have seen it done in demos, never move the tool rest with the machine running. Always move the tool rest closer after removing the corners from the blank—excessive overhang of the tool will cause chatter.
In the midst of how-to videos and articles, Nick Cook offers a different type of insight.
Find more insightful tips from Nick Cook here.
1. Local tree cutting services can often direct you to scrap wood that can become excellent turning wood.
- Too big. Start by mastering crucial techniques on smaller, shallow bowls.
- Too hard. Start with green wood, it can be found inexpensively and will provide smooth, easier cuts.
- Big gap at the tool rest. If the tool extends more than an inch over the tool rest it's time to stop the lathe and adjust the tool rest.
- Wrong direction. For face grain bowls cut uphill. On the interior of your bowl, cut downhill or from rim to center.
- Wrong tools. Remember to never use a roughing gouge on bowl work. A 1/2" or 5/8" bowl gouge makes great beginners' bowl gouge.
- Rushing into finishing. Don't worry about finishing a piece, focus on basic shape and confidence. Practice pieces are most important as you begin turning bowls.
- Lack of body movement. Notice how most turners move with their work. This allows them to produce fluid curves.
2. Local landscapers often have connections with tree cutting services and know when trees are going to be cut down.
3. New building sites that are removing trees to clear land for construction are a prime spot for finding wood.
4. Online sites and auctions such as eBay and Craigslist oftentimes have great deals on lumber.
5. Friends from your local woodturning club will oftentimes have great ideas and resources for finding wood. Find your local AAW chapter here.
When looking for and collecting wood make sure to carefully choose the best pieces and only as much as you can process. You don't want to end up with a shop full of wood you won't be able to use. Also keep in mind that building a group of contacts who will help you find the best free wood may take some time. Don't be discouraged, just keep making connections. Happy turning!
There is nothing quite like transforming a discarded log into a work of art. Approaching the lathe with a design in mind is an important step in the bowl turning process.
An article entitled Basic Bowl Design by Scottish turner Peter Smith shared some interesting pointers on how to design an aesthetically pleasing bowl.
Smith begins by describing two key features of every bowl: lift and heft.
When turning a bowl, keep these two factors in mind. For inspiration, referring to timeless pieces will give you a good idea of bowl designs that will never grow old. Smith references an antique Chinese bowl with delicate, proportioned curves. Simply googling antique pottery and glasswork will provide a rich portfolio of inspiration to any bowl turner.
- Lift is the visual shape of the bowl and how it rises from its supporting surface. It is comprised of the curvatures of the bowl, the foot, and the rim and the width versus height ratio.
- Heft is the feel of the bowl. It is comprised of the thinness and distribution of weight between the walls and the foot.
Regardless of the design you choose, Smith points out that the wall of the bowl should be curved without any flat areas. Holding up a ruler to the profile of the bowl will quickly tell you if your bowl has any flat areas. The ruler should only touch the bowl at one very small point.
As far as the foot of your bowl goes, Smith warns that there is no perfect formula. Too small, and the utility of the piece is compromised, too large and the bowl appears clunky. However, a foot about a 1/4 the diameter of the bowl is a good starting point.
Cutting a few bowls in half is a great way to get a sense of how your bowl turning can be improved and will give you a different perspective on the shape and design of bowls.
Overall, when it comes to bowl turning practice is key. Not every piece will feel or look just right, but every bowl is a step in the right direction. So go ahead, grab that log and start turning!