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.

Posted in Finishing | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Colouring wood, Finishing, General | 1 Comment

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.

Posted in General | Tagged | Leave a comment

Masking Made Easy

I’m not sure how many of you have turned pieces then finished them with a painted or dyed feature while the rest of the piece remains natural. It can be a bit of a pain to get it “just right”. If you are adept at painting freehand, you are in luck. For the rest of us, challenges abound. Typically it is desirable to bracket the feature with some type of turned element – say, a bead or a groove. Delineating between the two can be a problem if a sharp line is what you are after – and that is usually the case.

Note the fine V cut between the bead and the colour.

There are a couple of solutions. Take, for instance, a platter with a decorated rim. It is possible to finish turn the area to be painted but leave the turned element unfinished. Paint, dye or other can be applied then finish turn the bead or groove leaving a crisp edge. This is fine except for the drying time that keeps your lathe tied up while that happens, which can  mean days in the case of multiple coats. If you’re like me, you usually also want to get on with things. Not only that but the piece probably warps to a small degree in the meantime causing runout in the finish cut as in the example here. Another option is to finish turn the whole thing then mask the bead/groove before applying the colour. Typically there is leaking along the mask creating the need to re-turn that area slightly. Anyone who has remounted a piece after a day or more knows that things aren’t running in the same plane anymore and runout occurs in this instance as well, leaving an uneven cut at the edge. Sometimes you can get it close and sometimes, well…

Treating problems rather then symptoms is always a good practice. In this case, painting a clean line on a curved surface with a very long circumference can be very difficult and time consuming. In the case of spraying, masking is required. In the case of dyes, burning a line in a groove cauterizes the wood fibers preventing dye from spreading beyond the line. This is not a bad solution for dye and adds a feature line to boot. Masking seems to be a non-starter, because most finishes will leak under the tape, especially if it overlaps, which is unavoidable on compound curves. But wait… recently I purchased some “Frog Tape”. Touted as the wonder tape of the masking world I thought I would give it a try. Formulated to work with water based products, its adhesive reacts with water to create a solid barrier at the interface between the two. Damned if that doesn’t work!

Look closely to see the paint bleed on the right edge

The example here shows a clean edge on the left of the red paint (Frog Tape) and a rough edge on the right (regular masking tape). The blue colour is water based dye with Frog Tape on both sides. Applied sparingly, the tape provided a barrier on the left of the blue. Applied copiously it bled through the wood under the ape on the right. Clearly it works with dyes as long is it is applied sparingly rather than flooding the piece.

Rough edge on the right caused by bleeding under the tape.

On to the next problem. Typically as turners we are working with compound curves; areas that curve in more than one plane. Relatively wide tape will only bend in one plane or on very, very mild compound curves, hence we use short pieces, overlapping them to get our circle. The colour medium leaks under that lap no matter how good the tape is. The tape bends over compound curves to a relative degree; the width of the tape determining the severity of the curve

Note the mandrel and the revolving tailstock backing

Since the narrower the tape is the more radically it can form to compound curves, it would seem that a narrow tape is the answer – but they only sell it in 3/4″ width at the narrowest. I have found that tape 1/8″-3/16″ wide works on just about any compound curve I can throw at it. The solution; cut the tape to that width. Not long ago I came up with a method of accurately cutting tape into narrower widths with ease. By turning a mandrel in a chuck to hold the roll then backing it with a broad revolving center on  the tail stock to hold it true, the cut can be made very easily with a skew. It isn’t necessary to cut the whole roll, only enough to get the job done. The remaining tape on the other side of the cut is still suitable for other masking. If more is needed it’s a simple matter to cut more.

Note the clean edge of the narrow tape compared t the overlapping wider tape

Applying the narrower tape accurately in one long strip without overlaps is very easy. Since it’s probably not wide enough – especially if spraying – it’s a simple matter to then use short, wide pieces overlapping themselves to complete the job. Overlaps further away from the interface edge are not a consequence, even for spraying.

I experimented with a crackle faced platter using a base colour, a crackle medium, a top colour and finally a seal coat. That’s quite a pile of paint but it worked perfectly. The only issue I had was the thickness of paint bonding the finish to the tape. It was a simple matter to cut the finish at the tape edge with a sharp knife to separate the two. When removed, the line was as crisp as would ever have wanted.

Clean lines left by Frog tape after four layers of paint.

Remember that this tape works only with water based mediums. If using lacquers or oil based paints, the issue of leaking under the tape is still there but by using narrow tape to conform to the curve, at least the voids created by overlapping the tape are eliminated.

As always, you comments are welcomed.

Posted in Colouring wood, Finishing, General | 2 Comments

Another colouring class

Sunday class with finished projects

This past weekend I hosted eight students from the Fraser Valley Wood Turners Guild; four on Saturday and four on Sunday. As they say, a good time was had by all. We covered various ways of altering the colour of wood: dyes, lime/tint waxes, chemical treatments and faux finishes.

The class was mainly hands-on but we started with a power point presentation of several pieces representing many of the main methods and subtle twists used to create  the more unusual pieces.  After that, many test pieces were used to practice all the various ways in which dye can be applied as well as a day-long project applying lime wax properly. Probably the most important thing learned by all was the extent of preparation of a piece that is required. Everyone brought a previously turned piece prepared for colouring, so time was spent doing a little more sanding than was expected. Flaws are magnified exponentially by dye and liming, so we had lots of fun sanding tools marks and tear out. 🙂 Lunch was included so that made up for the extra work. 🙂

So this is what ring-porous wood looks like.

The main focus was on the use of dyes because that is where the most interest lies. We covered using a single colour and combining multiple colours – all on figured wood to enhance the shapes of the various types of figure. There was also considerable interest in lime waxing. This is one process that is greatly misunderstood so the record was set straight for a few folks. The use of ferrous sulphate and ammonia-fuming to ebonize woods containing tannin was something that most had never heard of or at least never seen before. To understand how to colour wood one must understand a lot about the methods, but also about wood itself. That was a surprise to some.

All in all, I think everyone’s ability to take their work to another level was greatly improved, which makes me very happy. One fellow from my previous class has progressed beyond all expectations. In fact, the student has become the teacher. Nothing could make me more happy than to be a catalyst in the progression in any turner’s journey.

As always, all comments appreciated.

Posted in Colouring wood, Finishing, General | Tagged , | Leave a comment

My Collaborator

My mentor, benefactor and collaborator helping me take a break from turning.

When I speak of the wood turnings that I do I usually refer them as “our” pieces. I feel that there is equal input from my wife Arlene in almost every piece. Often that input makes the difference between a so-so piece and one that really hits the mark. Some of them would never have been produced without her inspiration. At the very least I query her on my decisions regarding colour, form and texture to confirm that I am on the right track.

Arlene considers herself “not an artist”, but I beg to differ. Her understanding of colours and the way they work together indicates that she has a keen visual preference. At first, she didn’t understand the difference between a good and not-so-good form. I would bring pieces in that I felt were off in some way – perhaps a flat spot in a curve or a bottom that made the piece look heavy. By and by she began to understand the significance of form and now I can’t get away with anything. 🙂 Often when I am stumped on a design or technical snag, I will ask her opinion. I have found that she is what I like to refer to as “not all messed up by convention”. That is to say, as a non-wood turner, she doesn’t know that this or that can’t be done. Often my response will be, “No. That won’t work because … but… Hey. Wait a minute. You’re right. I could just…”. It’s often the fresh perspective that gets me over the hump. Her mind has even reached the place where she will say, “You know what you should do…”. Not bad for a non-artist.

Absolutely the most important part of our artistic partnership is her gift of time. And not just simply time itself, but the freedom of mind that lets my mind go where it has to to come up with the things that I do. In my past life I was unable to allow myself the time and freedom to engage an idea long enough to have it take flight. Our relationship is such that we are both unencumbered by any negative issues between ourselves, so there are no distractions. My time is free because my mind is free. What a  gift! For my part, when she is clearly suffering from cabin fever, we’re off to the pub for lunch or head out on the bikes for a  ride. Turning can wait in those cases. Not a bad trade: I win either way. 🙂

My freedom extends to my lathe. I love my lathe and only have it because she insisted that I get what I needed to do the job correctly. Her part of the bargain was that whenever she said she wanted to keep a piece, it was hers. Hence the “That’s Not Leaving The House” series. 🙂

I enjoy  wood turning and what we have accomplished together. I wouldn’t even be close to where I am without my “collaborative assistant”. I love my wife and my life. Thank you for everything, Arlene.

As always, comments and critiques are welcome.

Posted in General | Leave a comment

Now THAT’S a gouge.

2 1/2″ and 1″ gouges and 2″ skew (sharpened straight across). Note the lathe: 16″ by 10′ capacity.

Sounds like something Crocodile Dundee would have said if he was a wood turner. 🙂

My Grandfather was a wood turner and we had a huge lathe in the shop upstairs in our barn. I rescued it about 20 years ago. It’s now well over 100 years old and still operational, although I use it only rarely. I also have two gouges and a skew (sharpened straight across) that he used as well.

Recently I was contacted by email through the GVWG guild website  by Robert Walton of Robert Sorby Tools in England. He was searching for any magazines, periodicals and retail outlets in Canada that he didn’t have on his list. His list was obviously pretty complete because I couldn’t offer him anything he wasn’t already aware of. While I “had him on the line” I mentioned that I had some Sorby turning tools that were at least 100 years old. He said he would be interested in seeing them, so I sent him these and other photos showing him what I had (I am still amazed sometimes at our ability to communicate around the world like that).

I&H Sorby

He replied saying that he hoped that I wouldn’t be disappointed but that they weren’t actually Robert Sorby tools. They were in fact made by I&H Sorby who was actually another member of the Sorby family who also produced edge tools. They weren’t in business that long and were absorbed by Robert Sorby. How could I be disappointed since they were obviously relatively rare.

Robert was very kind and sent me a wee pamphlet on the history of the Sorby company the included a little bit about I&H Sorby. I am always in awe of old world countries and their rich history,  records of which predate the formation of our own country.

Big lathe, little lathe, big gouge.

A big thank you to Robert Walton of Robert Sorby Tools. I thought I would include this here for interest. The tools are displayed on my large lathe that I salvaged from the elements in a crumbling barn. The large gouge is also displayed on my Jet mini lathe just for perspective. I can assure you that it takes a real man to handle a real gouge like that. 🙂

As always, I welcome your comments.

Posted in General | Leave a comment

Something architectural for a change

The old and the new. Paint definitely required.

For many years my stock in trade was architectural projects. One-off replacements, one of a kind pieces and whole spindle jobs, one of which was the most unique design (with every spindle being slightly different than the rest) that the particular architect involved had ever seen.

A recent customer contacted me through the this website, looking for a wood turner to turn a new top for her newel post. They are renovating an older house in Vancouver and were unable to find anyone who had the tools and the skills to make a replacement for whatever had been on the top before.

I ran a couple of designs past her; one traditional and one contemporary. They picked the contemporary design which was also my personal choice, so that always helps the job along.

The piece called for some very large wood. In days gone by, large pieces of tight grain fir

The embossed moulding was a good find, tying the new to the old.

were readily available. This is a key requirement, eliminating any problems with cracking. Newels and legs of this size were always turned from the outer heartwood of trees no less than 4 feet in diameter. The grain lines at that point are almost straight so lend little stress to the equation; inner stress being the cause of all cracking and checking as the wood dries  (which  takes many years in this large dimension).

I had a project of my own years ago where I turned 7″ x 7″ columns (22 of ’em) for a house that I built. I bought some used Glue Lam beams  and had them milled into the material I required. The newels posts were made from the same material. Being laminated wood, anything made from it is paint grade only in most cases. I had some of this stuff in my storage (you never get rid of that sort of thing) so made the newel cap from that. Because I wasn’t turning the whole newel post I had to attach the cap to the post so needed something to hide the joint. The cap was made in two pieces, the first being a transition piece from square to round having a round mortice to accept the cap or crown. This  was screwed and glued to the post inside the mortice. The actual top had a round tenon that fit the mortice and  was glued in with some killer glue that basically made the two into one piece of wood. I was able to get some quarter round with some embossed beading that matched the quarter round in the panels on the post, tying the whole thing together.

Thanks, Helene, for the opportunity to tackle a project that took me back to my roots.

As always, comments and criticisms are welcome.

Posted in General | Tagged | Leave a comment

Keeping up… or, go big or go home as they say

Door. Note huge hinges and internal temp monitor.

My little fridge works pretty well for drying blanks and rough turned pieces but doesn’t quite have the blast for large volumes of stock, so I decided to build a kiln.

I had a bunch of thick styrofoam, a box of old freezer hardware (thanks, Dad), some random plywood and a couple of studs laying around. Ted Lightfoot offered me some steel clad 5″ foam  composite freezer panels he was going to throw out. All I had to buy was some adhesive and caulking foam. Basically my kiln cost $30 to build. The dehumidifier to run the whole thing cost $160. Naturally I had lots of angle iron around for mounting the dehu as well as some racking to make shelves (haven’t used that yet because everything I put in was too big to go on shelves.

I started by cleaning out one corner of the upstairs of my shopDehu on the door. Swings away to allow free access inside. – a very major undertaking. I sliced the foam with an electric wire heated by a battery charger into the thickness I needed to insulate the outside wall and rafters. I used Ted’s panel for the back, other side and door. The panels are self supporting so only had to cut them to size (and shape) and anchor them in place. I attached framing material to the edges of the panels to join them at the corner and provide something to attach the door hardware to the wall. The small portion over the door was framed in and insulated with the foam.The space is about 4 feet square and is insulated and sealed better than any house. Rocco (my wood guy) suggested I not get it too tight so I didn’t provide any gasket around the door except at the top.

Door away, allowing free access. Racks in back will be handy for small piecesAs you can see the hinges are huge and have no problem taking the weight of the dehu (it’s heavy), so keeping it off the floor to save space. I wired in a box from a neighbouring plug for internal power. I provided a drain through the wall for the dehumudifier.

The dehu generates a fair bit of heat, so raised the temp to the high 20’s (80F+) on it’s own. I put a fan in to circulate the air and just today I added a small space heater to bring the temp up a couple more degrees in the dead of winter.

I loaded it on October 6th. The first few days the humidity being driven off made it smell a little musty so I cracked the door until that settled down. I got a remote temp and humidity monitor from Costco so can check on things from the office. How cool is that? 🙂 At the present time the humidity is running around 38 – 40%: down from 60%. The temp is about 30+ degrees (90F+) with the heater providing a bit of a boost from the high 20’s (80F+).

The first load was really wet maple burl and semi-dry curly maple. I borrowed a moisture meter from a friend and the semi dry maple is now at 15% after two weeks. The burl is still off the scale but I weighed it and it is dropping as well. Rocco says his dries wood in about five weeks, so time will tell.

The amount of wood I can out through this kiln is definitely enough to keep up. 🙂

I had put the fridge in the guild newsletter to sell it, but I have changed my mind. It is very efficient and is excellent for roughed-out pieces and bowl blanks. Now to find a place for it. 🙁

Posted in General | Tagged | Leave a comment

Trying to keep up

Beer fridge? Nope. I can vary the bulbs to adjust the temp.

Recently I came upon a new wood supplier – or rather he came upon me. The burls that were the subject of a recent post are an example. I have at my disposal an endless supply of figured maple of the highest quality for about a third of what I usually have to pay. The only hitch is that it is all green. To that end I recently converted a fridge to dry bowl blanks and although it works fairly well, three months to dry is now too long. Between this incredible opportunity for beautiful wood and the increased volume of work that I am having to put out, it would seem that  I am going to have to find another means.

Considering that, I picked up a dehumidifier the other day and made plans to build a dry kiln using it as the drying mechanism. I should be able to build the kiln and have it in operation in a few days. Hopefully I will be putting wood through at a rate that I can have what I need when I need it..

As always, any comments or criticism are welcome.

Posted in General | Leave a comment