Thursday, August 12, 2010

Latest From the Shop – Lathed Turned Spalted Alaskan Birch

I’ve been out of town and away from the lathe for the last two weeks.

Right before I left I managed to finish a number of projects I’ve been working on.

Two of those projects are closed form bowls made from a fairly spectacular piece of spalted Alaskan birch burl that I’ve had working in my spalt pile for nearly a year. Spalting, for those of you new to my work and not familiar with turning or woodwork, is a fancy name for black leaf mold. Spalted woods are highly prized by turners for what I hope are fairly obvious reasons, but they can be difficult and dangerous to turn. You should use breathing protection with all turning, but most especially with spalted woods, the dust of which can make you very sick.


You can click on each picture to embiggen it.


This first piece is a large closed form, about 14” across with incredible grain and figure.  The wood was in an advanced state of decay, very very soft and difficult to turn. A bowl gouge, either a standard grind or a fingernail grind, would have simply torn the pulpy wood, so instead I used very sharp scrapers with a pronounced burr edge at low speed.  I turned the piece to final shape, reversed it and turned the foot, then allowed it to dry for several months. After drying, it was saturated with repeated applications of sanding sealer gel to harden the wood and finished with sand paper – ending up with 1200grit. The finish is ten coats of wipe-on satin poly.



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The second piece is also spalted Alaskan birch, cut from the same piece of burl as the first bowl. It’s an end cut and orientated 90 degrees away from the main burl – as such, the grain and figure are completely different from the first piece. The neck is a piece of Brazilian rosewood which I thought made an interesting contrast to the birch. The original blank was harder than the first piece, but very irregular and it was extremely difficult to shape initially without bashing my hands to pieces.  It was worth the difficulty though, I absolutely love the color of this piece and the contrast between the different sides. The schooling salmon are, of course, my signature design and in this case float above a textured opening in the piece.  It’s finished in simple Tung Oil. I’m very happy with how this piece came out.


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Those of you who happen to make it to the craft building at the Alaska State Fair this year, these two pieces will be part of my entry.

You may now commence weeping for the poor, poor competition.


  1. They're gorgeous.

    As to weeping for the other competitors, nah. It's a competition; by definition that means someone's going to win and someone's going to lose. If they're not emotionally capable of handling defeat they shouldn't have entered.

  2. Stunning.

    And as @Rens said, why weep for the competition? They shouldn't have bothered entering the competition if they can't handle losing to you.

  3. Beautiful pieces Jim, I truly love them - especially the one with the salmon leaping. That one is your game winner right there.

    I love the new look for the site, though oddly it doesn't always load right. I still miss the panoramic picture of the great white north though. :(

  4. Just tell the State Fair folk to have plenty of towels around your display- to wipe up the tears of envy and drool of desire.

    Lovely stuff!

  5. Wow. Every time I think I've seen just about every color there could be in a spalt piece, there's more...

    You gonna make a quilt or a truck cozy from all those purple and blue ribbons? :)

    bilin - when the water's hot enough to drop in da shrimps...

  6. You selling the rosewood topped one? (After the Fair, of course...)

    And where's my pen? (sad Natalie is sad, wants pen)

  7. NeuronDoc, I probably won't be selling that piece - but I may make you one like it.

    Your pen is finished. I'll mail it out tomorrow. Apologies for the delay.

  8. Nicely done. Hey and Tell the kid Happy Birthday for me will ya?

  9. I would love one like it. 'Twill be a b-day present for myself, methinks. I guess we'll talk specifics ahead of time. Looking forward to getting the pen. ::happydance::

  10. Beautiful work, and now I'm going to dig around and research spalted wood and its woodworking particulars. I'm in love with that first piece. If anyone here knows of someone hiring in Baton Rouge I'll make a serious inquiry.

  11. I just got back from a large county fair in backwoods california. You beat everything there - including the best in show - hands down.

    And as for your competitors, a song lyric comes to mind:

    "The devil bowed his head because he knew that he'd been beat.

    He laid that golden fiddle on the ground at Johnny's feet.

    Johnny said: 'Devil just come on back if you ever want to try again.

    I told you once, you son of a (gun), I'm the best that's ever been.'"


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