Thursday, August 30, 2007

Having a Bowl

A small sample of my adiction... ur, hobby.

8" Alaskan (Baltic) Birch heartwood with carved filigree.

I harvest the wood myself, with a chainsaw and 4x4 ATV skid. The logs are then cut into 2 foot long rounds and cut lengthwise into raw stock slabs. The slabs dry for a week or so, and are then run through the thickness planer to give them smooth surfaces, parallel top and bottom. Then I mark a round using a compass or template, and cut out the round on the bandsaw. This then is a turning blank, which gets mounted on the lathe and turned into the basic bowl shape. Shape varies depending on the wood figure and how I'm feeling that day. Once turned, the unfinished bowl is moved to the downdraft station and I cut the filigree using a Foredom Tool (a professional rotary tool kind of like a Dremel flex shaft on steroids) and a carbide carving bit. The filigree is cut following the wood grain, the patterns are naturally freeform. After carving the bowl is saturated in oil, Tung, Walnut, or Danish. This one is finished with Danish oil, and later will get a coating of glossy polycrylic. A bowl this size (about 8" in diameter) takes 4-5 days to complete.


  1. Cool, Jim. Really very nice. Does Alaska have a "craftsman" pavillion where you can get these placed? And have you ever thought of "marbling" (intentionally introducing certain fungi to the wood)? And at what moiture percentage to you aim to get the wood to before turning?

    Yeah, can you tell I also work with wood?

    I don't have a lathe, but I do have a contractor's table saw (Delta) and a nice fence along with some other electric doo-dads around the shop. One of these days I'll get time to start making stuff (and get a plate joiner and planner)

  2. Steve, there are a number of places to display your work here in Alaska. Also, a large number of stores in the tourist sections of Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau buy from local artists and craftsman. Currently, I'm building up inventory for a craftshow in December. Next year I will probably rent space at the Saturday Market in Anchorage. My wife has a number of my prototype pieces on her desk at work (She's a manager with a big shipping line in the port of Anchorage), a large number of folks pass through her office every day and I get very good feedback and requests for more work.

    As to marbling, the more common term for mold or fungus induced patterns in the wood is "spalting." And yes I do work with spalted birch and spruce. I'll put up some pictures eventually. Spalted wood can be dangerous to work with, especially on the lathe or operations that generate large amounts of dust. You need very good dust/chip collection. The dried mold, liberated as fines, can make you extremely ill (How do I know this? well...). One of my projects this year was to construct a large, high capacity cyclone-based chip/dust collector system with 1 micron filtering and connect every machine in the shop to it. I also added a couple of downdraft tables, one for carving and rotary tool work, and a larger one for power sanding. I'm very happy with the result.

    I have a porter-cable plate joiner, but I don't use it much. Nice tool, but I tend to use mortise and tenon joints cut on the tablesaw and with my Delta mortising machine. For joinery work I tend to use tongue and grove joints cut with a t/g bit set on the router table. As to planers, I couldn't live without one. I buy roughcut lumber from the local mill in Wasilla for furniture projects and cut to finish on the planer.

    My shop is huge, over 2500sqft, but if you don't have a lot of room for a shop or room for a lot of dedicated tools, you might look at acquiring a Shopsmith. I own one, and find that I use it as much as the dedicated machines in my shop. And it's mobile, I move it anywhere I need it (try that with a Unisaw). You can find them used for very little money on ebay or craigslit. A truly excellent high quality machine, I absolutely love mine.

    Speaking of which, I'm beginning the china cabinet project today. Two built-in glass and birch displays that will flank my livingroom fireplace. I think I'll document my progress here, that'll keep me motivated :-)

  3. Oops, you asked about moisture content. Well, I turn birch green. Very green, dripping wet green. So I don't meter the exact moisture content. If I can't get to the logs right away, I leave them outside in the rain until I'm ready for them. I cut the blanks the same day I turn them. I turn to final dimensions, and then let the finished piece dry using the oil to water replacement method. This can cause the bowls to dry slightly out of true, which works for me because it adds character to the piece. I don't want my stuff to look like it was made on a CNC machine in a factory.

    Spruce is a different story, I use beetle-killed trees (we have a major Japanese Spruce-bark beetle problem here in AK). Most of the spruce trees I harvest have been standing-killed for several years. Once harvested and cut into blanks, the blanks sit in my shop drying for up to a year. I use gas heat in the shop and in the winter the ambient humidity is pretty low, the drying wood helps raise the humidity in the shop without need of a humidifier. In summer I leave the highbay doors open all day and the breeze pulls the moisture out of the shop so my tools don't rust. Also, the cyclone turns over the shop air at 1200cuft per minute, so I don't have problems with drying wood in the shop - but I don't recommend this for everybody, I have unique conditions. Eventually the blanks are turned at around 5-8% moisture content.

  4. spalting, that was the word I was looking for.

    Cool. Your shop is larger than my house. I do the woodworking out of my garage. The saw I have is nice. Once I got the fence and everything aligned I haven't had a problem. The fence is a delta T something, after Delta bought Beesmeyer (sp?) they came outwith this system. It's not high-end, but it's pretty good for the money. I also put my saw on wheels so I can move it around. All the other tools are hand helds right at the moment. Again, not a lot of space for work stations.

    When I win the MegaMillions tonight I'll be able to afford a better place and tools to make sawdust and chips. :)

  5. Yeah, my shop is pretty big. But after 20 years of working out of a shoe box, with a minimum tool set (limited by weight, the Navy will only move up to a certain limit based on paygrade, which of course you already know), when we decided to settle here we went looking for our retirement house. I specifically wanted a detached, dedicated shop. NOT a garage where we parked cars and boxes and bicycles. We looked at over 30 places, none of which we liked, then by a fluke we found this place. It's a very large (5K plus feet of living space) Swiss style cedar house with an incredible view of Pioneer Peak from the thirty foot high sunroom. And then there is the detached heated and drywalled shop. The house has an attached two stall garage for my wife's convertible and the jeep, and room for the bicycles and other crap. If I sound like I'm bragging, I'm not - the place was pretty run down when we acquired it. None of the bathrooms worked, rotting floors, vintage 70's fixtures and carpet (that's right harvest gold and loam green, shudder), and worse the previous owners fancied themselves artists or something. The paint scheme was indescribable. Most of the house was papered in faded wall paper that looked like something from a saloon, a bad saloon. I had to replace every outlet and light fixture and install a water filtration system. The yard was like something you'd find around a long abandoned cemetery. On the other hand, if it hadn't been that way we probably couldn't have afforded it. I've worked my ass off for two years to get it reasonably presentable, new hardwood floors, finished basement, paint, paint and more paint. New trim. Removal of trash, debris, and dead trees from the yard and landscaping. I ripped out the old fireplace and build a new one. New windows. Etc and etc. The kitchen is next. Next spring new and bigger decks, and maybe a new steel forest green roof. But, hey, what else do I have to do?

  6. Oh, and nothing wrong with that saw. The Delta fence system is fine, once it is aligned. I've seen Delta saws that are thirty years old, still in perfect shape. Never buy cheap tools, that's my motto.


Comments on this blog are moderated. Each will be reviewed before being allowed to post. This may take a while. I don't allow personal attacks, trolling, or obnoxious stupidity. If you post anonymously and hide behind an IP blocker, I'm a lot more likely to consider you a troll. Be sure to read the commenting rules before you start typing. Really.