Making handles for your turning tools 2

Here is the second in a three part series showing how to make inexpensive, high quality turning handles. Again, there are a few random tips unrelated to turning handles because the video is part of a “tips” presentation to the Fraser Valley Wood turning Guild.

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Making handles for your turning tools 1

It’s been a while since I have posted here but it’s so hard to turn and type at the same time. 🙂 I recently had been asked to produce a video on “tips and tricks” for one of r the guilds to which I belong. Once I ad the video in hand it occurred to me that posting it to YouTube for viewing here was the next step.

Please excuse some of the totally irrelevant comments; these were meant for the intended audience, members of the Fraser Valley Woodturners Guild.

This video is the first of three parts dealing with making your own turning handles. The intent of the video was generally about helpful tips so you will see some random tips completely out of context with making handles, but they are nonetheless… helpful.

Making turning tool handles 1

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Hollow Turning With a Twist.

I thought I would share a project I have been working on recently that is different than many and uses a hollowing technique I haven’t used until now. The size of this project is a bit nuts but the concept may be something that might come in handy no matter what the size.

Some background

Some of you may have seen my spiral pieces cut from tall vase forms. The one below is my favourite, standing 22” tall. It now lives somewhere in the UK.

Fire in the Heart

Fire in the Heart

That form has morphed into several iterations, each one a spiral cut from a completed turning. In some cases, I have been able to use the negative space cut from the original for yet another piece, so that’s a cool bonus. Most of these pieces now go to a friend, Steve Smith, who is a native artist. Steve paints his very contemporary style on these pieces, which are themselves anything but traditional native forms. This has been a very rewarding collaboration for both of us. Quite honestly I feel that I gain the most, having learned so much from him about art, inspiration and life in general.

Photo 13

The project at hand

For several years I have had an idea of a wave-like form in my mind, but no surface treatment to take it to the next level. Recently it came out in its own time as something that would suit Steve’s style perfectly. He agreed with my ideas so I started the project immediately – by falling a large maple on Sumas Mountain.

The piece needed to be at least 36” long by at least 8” in diameter (so that Steve could paint the inside). Ideally the blank had to be centered with the pith in the middle to keep the dried piece from being oval. The stems from the tree I chose were perfect. I had the length and got 9” and 10” diameter pieces. At the moment the rest is taking up a lot of space beside my shop.


Hollowing: part one

The plan was to make a 33” long “pipe” with ½” wall thickness then cut a wave form from that (to my great satisfaction, I actually get two from each one). I started by turning a cylinder between centers. I used a faceplate since this was a very heavy piece. To begin the hollowing I set up a steady rest then removed the tailstock. After boring out the center I used a large hollowing rig to hollow the piece to the middle plus a bit.



Hollowing: part two

I removed the piece from the lathe and faceplate then affixed a blank to the faceplate and turned it as a “plug” for the hollow end. I glued the plug, complete with faceplate, into the piece using the lathe as a clamp. Once set, I proceeded to hollow the second half. Parting the completed piece from the plug was a bit of an adventure but everything went as planned with the steady rest and a giant taper center on the tailstock end controlling things.



Laying out the spiral

Mapping the spiral is the same technique used for marking out barley twists on spindles. I used the indexing head and divided the diameter into equal parts (24, I think) and marking the lines with the tool rest set exactly at center. I then divided the length into equal parts by using a set of dividers to step off. The trial and error method of making minute adjustments to the dividers to get to the exact destination didn’t really take all that long and achieved the end result I wanted. By using a flexible ruler (courtesy of Barry Wilkinson – Thanks, Barry) I was able to connect the dots (intersections) to get my cutting lines. The ends of the wave were drawn free form to give it at least a bit of an organic look. We were even able to use the waste pieces from the end of the waves for little shelf-mounted forms (See photo of pieces on counter top. Pardon the laundry.)



After waiting for a few weeks for the piece to dry, it was a matter of cutting carefully on the lines and sanding the pieces. And sanding. And sanding. And sanding some more. In the end, I did quite a bit of sanding. Times four. A couple of small turned buttons on the bottom keep the wave from crashing on the beach – or the floor.

The finished form

At this point in time the work is in Steve’s hands and I have no idea what he will come up with. My original inspiration was under-sea creatures on the inside and over-the-sea-creatures on the outside. Time will tell because he is very much an artist who works in the moment. There are four of these and it will take a couple of months at least for him to paint.


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AAW Symposium 2014

Thought I would take a minute to show everyone the pieces I will be taking down to the AAW Symposium in Phoenix this year. This is my first time in the Instant Gallery at a symposium. These won’t be for sale because I have an opportunity to be represented at the Vandusen Gardens this summer and these pieces will be highlighted. All three pieces employ multi-axis turning.

Ragtime 1

“Ragtime!” is an older piece but one of our favourites. Maple about 22″ tall.

Lau Chuang is in honour of my friend John Stubbs, a western Oriental calligraphy Master

“Lau Chuang” (Old John) after my friend John Stubbs, is an older piece but representative of my familiar colouring technique. John Stubbs – a westrerner – is a highly regarded Oriental calligraphy Master. Black walnut, maple and soapstone, about 8″ x 14″.

Exile 1 Exile 7 Exile 4

“Exile” is a new piece using a rock illusion technique I learned from Art Liestman. The title and concept for “Exile” came to me on  bike trip a couple of years ago when I was riding and enjoying the fact that I was back in the saddle after so many years. There was a time that I longed to ride but thought I never would again in my life. I had been in exile, but no more! The picture is of a road in southern Nevada, a classic view of which I will never tire. This piece took a couple of months on and off to complete. Maple, standing about 20″ tall.

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Collaboration with Steve Smith, Native Artist

An earlier piece turned for Steve. Approximately 22" tall.

An earlier piece turned for Steve. Approximately 22″ tall.

Over the last couple of years I have had the good fortune to be collaborating with Steve Smith, Native Artist. Steve paints traditional images however he imparts his own distinctive style in his work. I am beyond fortunate – more appropriately I am honoured to work with Steve. His outlook on life and art have had a significant impact on my own work. I originally turned “blank canvases” for Steve that were pretty standard fare for woodturning but the last while I have provided him with forms that were inspired by his work; pieces that I felt would work with his style.

Beginning March 22 the Steinbreuck Gallery in Seattle will be presenting an exclusive show of Steve’s work. I turned all the sculptural pieces in the show while the remainder – except a pair of running shoes 🙂 – are all flat panels. Several of the turned pieces have not been delivered yet so are not on the site at the present time. My personal favourite is “Here and Now” with “Love” being a close second.

This link is to their site advertising the show.

The first of my pieces painted by Steve in a frog theme. Approximately 16" tall.

The first of my pieces painted by Steve in a frog theme. Approximately 16″ tall.

IMG_6841 IMG_6842

Steve’s own website is This is a link to a very interesting video of Steve Well worth the few minutes to watch.

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The New Carbide Scrapers: an opinion

Carbide Tools“New” carbide scrapers is a bit of a stretch since they’ve been on the market for a couple of years at least. It’s just that they’re newer than traditional cutting tools.

I thought I would enter this post because I’ve already offered my opinion in writing to a tool retailer on these turning tools this morning. He thanked me for the most comprehensive explanation he had ever heard or read. Oddly enough, I was at another tool retailer this afternoon and the sales person asked me to help explain carbide tools to one of their customers. I warned him that the tool might not be what the customer needed and as it turned out, it wasn’t. He was happy that I had steered the customer toward joining  our guild and learning how to turn properly rather than buy a tool that wouldn’t solve his problem. The coincidence moved me to write the first post I’ve entered in a long time.

Tools such as Easy Wood and others offering a system of replaceable carbide cutters  have entered the market and in my view are simply appealing to a niche market made up of folks who scrape rather than cut in their normal turning process (as in, they haven’t yet learned how to turn with a controlled cut). While there is a place for carbide cutters like Mike Hunter’s Hunter Tools, designed for end grain cutting, the rest are no more sophisticated (other than specifically designed carbide material) than a normal scarper without the advantage of being able to grind the specific shape that you may require.

If you are considering purchasing these tools ask yourself why you need them. If you are having trouble with your turning, look first to your technique rather than the tool. If you see a specific job that they alone can accomplish, then go for it. So far, gross wood removal in bowl turning is the only thing that I have seen them excel at. Personally, I can remove wood equally as fast using a traditional bowl gouge. Do not expect any increase in control from these tools.

Following is my detailed response to Mike from Lee Valley Tools:

Hi Mike,

I am a member of WoW (World of Woodturners) which is a worldwide on-line site. Folks post pics of their work and there’s a Q&A and comment section as per usual on such sites. The question has been asked a couple of times for comments and opinions on the carbide tools from anyone who had tried them. The universal response is pretty much “Bought one, tried it and it’s sat on the rack unused since”. The way I see it, the clear advantage of carbides is very little to no sharpening required and all agree. The downside is that they still do nothing but scrape, and at best, a shear scrape. The one exception is the Hunter tools that have a carbide cup (or similar), therefore has an extremely positive rake. This makes them excellent for end grain work, so box turners often use them when turning end grain boxes.

In general, as I say, they are used in a scraping mode, so therefore are not of any use when trying to teach cutting over scraping. Typically, anyone whose opinion was that they stayed on the shelf were all turners who used proper cutting technique, so had no need for the carbides. Remember that in scarping, it’s impossible to use the bevel of the tool as a guide, so you just can’t teach anyone how to make a controlled cut. In general, they are a tool (there are others like this) that treat a symptom rather than the problem. In this case, they appeal to turners who scrape rather than cut so offer a better mousetrap for scraping where the true solution to the problem is to learn how to turn properly in the first place. As scrapers, for an experienced turner, they fall short because you can’t burnish a hook on the tool so can’t be used as effectively in shear scraping (even a simple ground scarper cuts with the burr left from grinding). Typically we all have a variety of scrapers that we have ground to our own weird likings for various jobs. Tool racks often have a variety of odd and strange shaped scrapers. Carbides don’t lend themselves well at all to reshaping unless you have a diamond wheel and even then, in a production environment they are usually sharpened with jigs (I was an apprentice machinist for a while and spent my allotted time in the tool room). Reshaping carbides kind of defeats their original intention.

Other than that, I think they’re the cat’s ass. 



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Why I Haven’t Been Posting

November Gallery Circle Craft 010

The title of this piece was “Back to School”. It, along with other wall mounted pieces, flew out of the gallery. I think I’m on to something.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been posting steadily.  Lots of stuff has been going on and I have been turning my brains out but nothing has appeared here.

Last November I mounted my first solo gallery show. It took me over a year to produce a body of work that would make a decent showing. The show was titled “Thinking Outside the Circle” and the theme was exactly that. Much of it wasn’t round and a lot of it was “off the wall” by being mounted on the wall rather than on a shelf or table. Consequently this took up a lot of time to not only turn and finish the pieces but also develop the concepts that I employed. There was a lot of shaving on the floor and a lot of one-off prototypes that never made it to the show. The end result is that the show took my work in a whole new direction. Something that I never expected but also something that I had been seeking for some time.

November Gallery Circle Craft 025

The title of this piece was “Last Days of Summer”. I had a few other “leaf” pieces as well.

November Gallery Circle Craft 006

An array of more “standard” pieces designed to be shown on horizontal surfaces.

November Gallery Into the Wind

“Into the Wind”. My new favourite form. They appear to lean in either direction depending on your angle of view.

We felt the show was a tremendous success, not because we sold well, but because the pieces that were “outside the circle” sold  very quickly so were obviously well accepted.

Oriental Brush holder 005

“Lau Chuang”. Oriental calligraphy brush rest, in honour of my friend, John Stubbs (Lau Chuang), an oriental calligraphy master.

Anyway, I’m back. Sort of. It seems I’m entering another crazy-busy phase. I have been invited by Pat Barker to show in her new gallery, The Pencil Studio, in Fort Langley. She does beautiful paint art herself and is passionate about my work. I’m hoping she is successful because she has put a lot of hard work into her new venture. I also have to prepare for three more shows in summer as well as probably a collaborative show next year with Steve Smith. That isn’t in the bag because we haven’t been accepted yet but we are optimistic. Steve is a native artist who I have been providing with “blank canvases” for his art. He has another turner who provides smaller turnings but I am working on large turnings (up to to 24″ tall) and forms that are more on the unique side. Like my three sided vessels that I hope to post about soon.

Bottom line is that I am still crazy busy but will try to post more often, especially regarding the newer stuff in my portfolio. Wow. Who would ever have thought that I had a “portfolio”.


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Help! What caused this?

Note the orientation of the flawed finish to the direction of rotation.

Note the orientation of the flawed finish to the direction of rotation.

A few days ago I got an email from a friend wondering what had caused some blotchy marks on his bowl. He wasn’t sure if it was the wood or the material he used for the finish. Upon seeing the photos I knew immediately that the problem was neither. The problem was with surface preparation. There are areas where the wood looks clean and the finish is very nice, however there were cloudy, white areas arranged in rings or layers relative to the direction of rotation. The immediate clues are the evident sanding scratches in the white areas. The white areas are torn end grain that has not been sanded off, allowing air to be trapped under the finish. If you look closely you will see that the white areas are in the end grain, right where tear-out occurs. He had applied sanding sealer in his process making the problem even worse. He was wondering at what stage to apply that product, which I also comment on in  my email response.

Always be ultra observant when checking your surface prior to applying a finish. The slightest flaw will be magnified tremendously and all your work and a beautiful piece of wood could be ruined. Following is my email in response to his query. Hopefully there is some information in there somewhere that that may be of some value.

Interior of bowl showing flaws in end grain areas.

Interior of bowl showing flaws in end grain areas.

“Dave, those are definitely tool marks. More specifically, they look like sanding marks. Do you hand sand while the lathe is running? That would explain the concentric rings. When sanding while the lathe is running it’s necessary to use either a random orbital sander or a self-driven rotary sander. A rotary sander powered by a drill works well also but sometimes is tough to get inside small bowls. That avoids the concentric rings because the sanding action crosses the the direction of rotation. In general, when sanding you try to sand at slight angles to the previous grit, even on flat work where you’re sanding with the grain. That way the ridges are knocked off by the next grit. If you continually sand in one direction, marks never get sanded off and can even be magnified. I prefer a low lathe speed and a bit higher sanding speed with a random orbital. Reaction sanders work well but you have to bring the lathe rpm up a bit to get the sanding disc rotating at a reasonable speed. The center area still has to be hand sanded. An alternative is to hand sand with the work rotating on the lathe then hand sand with the lathe off, being careful to sand across the concentric sanding rings to sand them off.  Sometimes hand sanding is the only way you can get rid of tear out. I’ve frozen my thumb in what seems a permanent bend working spots of tear-out. Rather than sanding the whole bowl, simply concentrate on the tear out, blending it in to the rest of the curve (hand or powered). Remember of course to go up in stages no more the 50% of the previous grit. i.e. 80, 120, 180 and so on. The poorly sanded areas may also be an indication of dull sandpaper. Always be sure you us sandpaper like somebody else bought it. 🙂

I try to finish-turn to a point where I can start with 120. That’s my goal – I don’t always make it. 🙁 I power sand with a 3″ random orbital to 320 then start with 320 by hand and continue on up – usually to 1000. Not to worry, each grit gets faster and faster. Three twenty shows up all the sins so really check things out at that point. Often I have to go back to 120 in spots and carry on from there. After 320, look at your work critically for spots like the ones in the photos. One way to pick them up is to spray it with water. The bad spots will stand out the first few moments when it’s wet. Unless I’m applying layers of dye and sanding between colours I always wet the piece after the last grit, let it dry then sand it again with that grit, hitting the wood at a bias to the grain to knock off the fuzzies that stand up.

As far as sanding sealer goes, I don’t use it that often because I can’t colour the wood because sanding sealer wouldn’t allow the dye to penetrate. When you use sanding sealer it’s after the last grit and then re sand after application, before continuing with your finish.  It does the same thing as the water – it stands the fuzzies up so they can get knocked off – but of course it also seals the wood. If you want to “pop” the grain, sanding sealer is not the way to go. It dries so fast that is stays on the surface. To emphasize the grain a finish must penetrate the grain to allow the end grain bits to absorb more than the flat grain bits. In that case an oil base product is the way to go – like Wipe on Poly, Tung and others.

 Sometimes finishes “go off” in the can over time. If that’s obvious (clumpy) then no problem. Sometimes it still looks fine because the change is so slow. In that case, Wipe on Poly won’t cure properly so stays tacky in some spots. Finish that has “gone off” can make the surface appear blotchy as well, but that’s not your problem here,  just GIO. I decant my finishes into smaller bottles so when it goes off I don’t toss as much.

The solution to your dilemma? If you have sanding sealer on it, strip it with lacquer thinner then re sand the piece with one of the alternatives noted earlier. I’m afraid that hand sanding may be the way to go. If elbow grease isn’t to your liking, paint may be an option. 🙂 “

There was a time when I rushed my work after I was finished turning. The fun part was over but the sanding and finishing was just a drudge. I eventually  learned that there was no joy in what I was doing because the end product… sucked. Take the time to sand your work to perfection. This alone will inspire you to use sharp tools and better tool control. 🙂 Learn to be a good finisher as well as a good turner. You will be far happier with your effort in the end.

Remember: “Good enough, isn’t”

Well, here’s an update.

After all the back and forth, Dave decided to bite the bullet and remove the original finish, re-sand the bowl by hand and finish it again as discussed in the email above. As you can see from the photos it was well worth the effort. I think it looks awesome. Now you an even see some figure in the wood.

IMG_0086 IMG_0085



All’s well that ends well. Remember, you only get out what you put in.

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A blast of colour

Well, I’m back. Haven’t posted for a while so I thought I would plug this in real quick-like.

This video is (almost) totally unrelated to turning. It is, however, completely related to what I do after I finish a turning. This is an awesome video; short, abstract and extremely powerful for such a simple visual effect. I use dyes extensively and the way the colours combine on screen reminded me very much of mixing and applying my dyes. I don’t usually have such cool music on at the time unfortunately.

Copy and paste the link below to your web browser.

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One for the Man in Motion

Rick Hansen Foundation 25th Anniversary Award

A couple of weeks ago I got an email from the Rick Hansen Foundation requesting a piece to use as a base to display a medal. And what a medal it is! Without size reference it’s not easy to see that it’s about 3″ in diameter and about 1/4″ thick. The medal is solid sterling silver and was minted by the Canadian Mint in Winnipeg. The medal commemorates the 25th anniversary of Rick’s world tour starting in 1985. Smaller versions were given to participants of the cross Canada relay held this last summer. This larger version was given to donors who donated over a certain amount. What that amount was, I have no idea. This particular medal was to be given to a couple who were significant donors to the Foundation. Normally they are presented in a beetle pine box but they wanted something a little extra for this donation.

They happened across my blog gallery and found a couple of pieces suitable for their purposes. Two pieces caught their attention: “Contrast” and “Harmony”. Both had four flat sides which provided space for text. After some deliberation and looking at a couple of other design ideas that I proposed, they settled on this design, which is very similar to “Contrast”.

I chose fiddle back maple to compliment their ribbon theme on the medal. Although I turned a thin bead outside the bowl form to emphasize the bowl, I felt it also represented his ’85 world tour.The laser engraving was done by Permel Engraving in Burnaby. I must say they did wonderful work and I enjoyed working with them.

Arlene and I delivered it today and they were very pleased. I have to say that I was very honoured to be chosen for this commission and very excited to have the opportunity to be a part of this presentation.

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