Robert Bishop is a professional woodturner from the High Wycombe area specialising in hollow forms whose favourite woods are monkey puzzle, yew and burrs of any type. He looks for interesting features in the wood which at one time would have been called defects by furniture makers. He prefers to call it “character” and can be burr, bark inclusions, branches and spalting.
He wondered if we knew the origin of the word “spalt”. As nobody seemed to he explained that when furniture makers of old found such fungal pattern they considered the wood “spoilt”. It’s a good story anyway.
Robert’s usual method is to rough turn wet wood outside then hollow the inside to a uniform wall thickness of about 15 mm then to allow it to dry slowly before re-mounting on the lathe to finish turning. He will have turned a tennon (spigot) at the base for re-mounting. The drying process has to be slowed down or the wood will split. Robert uses multi-layer paper sacks (from Ecosack ), turning the sack inside out every so often to allow the wet inside layer to dry. This can take months so you need a lot of space to store the work in progress. The wood will distort during drying so the wall thickness has to be large enough to allow re-turning but small enough to allow it to dry without splitting.
Clearly this process is too long for a one night demo so he just showed the rough turning process using a log of wet yew which he had already mounted on a faceplate. Those in the front row will have shared the buzz you get as the shavings come streaming off when turning wet wood with grain parallel to the axis. Best not to think about having to clear up the mess later.
For this initial shaping of the outside, Robert used a roughing gouge and a bowl gouge with a long grind.
Hollowing starts by drilling a deep hole with a sawtooth bit mounted in a Jacob’s chuck in the tailstock. Small items can be hollowed with a bowl gouge and scraper but for deep hollowing a specialist hollowing tool is required. These can be just long tools with a swan neck and scraping tip but the best have a cutting tip with an adjustable shield to control the depth of cut. It helps to have a tool rest with a vertical peg against which to lever the tool. These tools are not cheap. Robert had an eye watering collection ranging from medium size to enormous. I believe they were Hamlet Big Brother. He warned against tools with numerous adjustable links at the tip. They can create excessive twisting leverage and are prone to coming loose. (I entirely agree, but you don’t have to fit the links just because they are supplied. I wouldn’t reject the Munro tool just because it comes with a number of links – ed.)
Hollowing fills the cavity with shavings that need to be cleared out regularly. Robert had adapted a large plastic spoon with the sides cut off for this purpose.
Having been asked so often whether wooden vases can be filled with water for flowers, Robert came up with a neat answer. He uses an optional waterproof insert made from a plastic loo brush container.
There was just time for a look at the members’ gallery. Robert was brave enough to offer some criticism and advice about shapes and finishing. I hope people were not upset by this. I thought it was helpful. The gallery items can be seen on the website.
Sometimes I think we don’t appreciate the talent in our midst. Some of our best evenings are when our own members entertain us and for me this was a good example. I confess I have never made a pen, I don’t fancy the repetition nor the investment in jigs etc that is necessary to do the job efficiently, but I have to say that turned pens can be beautiful and there is obviously a large demand. Ron is very knowledgeable on the subject and the activity is a significant part of his business, Acorn Crafts at Weyhill Fairground.
Though the UK market seems very impressive, it is dwarfed by the demand in USA and it was from there that the first pen kits were introduced into the UK by Dale Nish in 1990.
Ron told the story of how George Bush wanted a presidential gift that was made in America but couldn’t find anything – everything was made in China! Dick Cheney was given the job and came up with hand-made pens incorporating an inlaid presidential seal. I’m not sure which lucky turner got the job but it was a great boost to the market for pens. (I wonder where the pen mechanisms were made though.)
When the British Company Planet introduced a flexible adjustable mandrel it avoided the need for a lot of different sized ones. This has been copied by Axminster and Sorby but Ron thinks the Planet version remains the best.
So on with the show. Pen kits are supplied with the mechanism fitting inside metal tubes. The tubes are inserted and glued into pen blanks and assembled onto a jig for turning between centres. The blanks can be made of any material which can be turned; wood, acrylic, bone…The procedure is the same though tool technique and finishing may vary. What makes a pen really saleable is an attractive material and a high standard of finish.
Ron was using olive wood for his first demo. This is one of his favourites, especially Bethlehem olive. Alarmed by the loss of olive trees which take hundreds of years to grow, the Israeli government now prohibits felling. But pruning is allowed though this has to be done by hand to minimise damage and trees do die, so there is a supply albeit at a price. Still, you don’t need much wood for a pen.
The tube must fit snugly into the drilled blank. Ron gently abrades the tube surface and uses a polyurethane glue which works better than superglue. Another pen expert, Ian Woodford, asked whether Ron uses plugs to keep excess glue from the inside of the tubes. Ron acknowledged that some do, using potato plugs, but he is just careful. For a 2 part pen, the blank is parted in 2. To maintain a matching grain, the inside of the inserts is marked with a felt pen at the mating ends. Turning between centres is straightforward with a gouge and a skew. Special sets of small tools are available of course but standard ones will do the job.
To avoid sanding marks, Ron sands along the axis without the lathe running, rotating slowly by hand. Ron favours Renaissance wax as a finish. It is synthetic wax which repels the skin oils so the finish is very durable. It can be used on almost any material. The British museum even uses it to protect stone and marble exhibits. Ron no longer uses cloth for buffing as it can snatch and remove fingers. Paper is preferred. Safety cloth is strong but tears when snagged though toilet or kitchen roll works for those on a tighter budget.
Once removed from the turning jig the tubes and mechanism parts are assembled and pressed together. Ron uses a jig from Miles Craft.
After the break Ron gave a critique on some of the items that caught his eye on the gallery table. You can see all the pictures on the website.
For his second demo Ron made a pen from acrylic. The method is similar though for finishing, Ron used micromesh, wet, first with the lathe rotating then with it stopped with an axial movement of the mesh to remove any sanding rings. Having wiped off the slurry, the pen was burnished with Profile 300 and 500 cutting compound.
If you are wondering about those bespoke inlaid designs like the corporate pen with a penguin logo, the blanks are made to order by Ken Nelson. I Googled Ken Nelson inlaid acrylic and found a comprehensive article in downloadable pdf format.
If this has whetted your appetite, you might like to talk to Ron about all those jigs and materials and even sign up for a course. www.thepenmakers.co.uk
We had a splendid evening with three demonstrations to choose from. There was a lot of discussion with a good exchange of ideas and comments.
Graham Barnard produced a neat little scoop out of cherry. His skill at using the skew for the final finish was a joy to watch. A small length of wood was hollowed at one end to form the spoon and then the handle was turned. The hollowed end was then cut diagonally with a saw and finished with a small sanding disc mounted in the lathe.
Graham then went on to turn a small spoon. A ball was turned at the end of a spindle and a sharpened metal vacuum cleaner pipe used to round it off! He then turned the handle and used a jam chuck to hollow the bowl of the spoon. The chuck had star saw cuts in the end and one of the segments cut out to accommodate the handle sticking out.
Mike Hazelden made a delightful apple using a small piece of pine and a bowl gouge wielded with deft skill. He made small light cuts to form the shape and produced an elegant apple shape.
Mike then turned a sphere between centres from a piece of maple. This was another demonstration of a deft touch as he kept addressing the wood with a bowl gouge to refine the shape, using used a gauge to check the roundness.
Mike’s sphere brought a smile to Harry’s face.
Thank you Mike I am sure it has encouraged us to attempt the same.
Denis Hilditch showed how to make long stemmed goblets under tension via a Power Point presentation. I am sure Denis would let members borrow his CD as I can’t do it justice here. Briefly, a cylinder is turned between centres and the outside of the goblet bowl is shaped at the tailstock end. A home-made steady is used to support the cylinder to hollow the bowl. The bowl and foot are clamped in wooden chucks at the head and tail stocks. Tension is applied before turning the stem very thin. The tension allows this to be done without breaking the stem. After finishing, the goblet is removed from the lathe and a deliberate bend put on the stem via string whilst drying. Thank you, Denis, for a very interesting and clever problem solving demonstration.
John Holden opened the last meeting of his 3 year stint as chairman with a few announcements.
He reminded members that our next meeting will be a Club Night on 6 May which is a Tuesday. When the first Monday falls on a bank holiday we have to reschedule the meeting. We used to make it the following Monday but the hall is usually booked at the Railway Institute. Postponement to the third Monday makes it too close to the following meeting and also creates a clash with Test Valley. So recently we have tried just postponing 1 night to the nearest Tuesday and it seems to have worked out quite well. The line-up will be Denis giving a presentation on work-holding for long stemmed goblets and Mike Haselden and Graham Barnard turning items of their choice to be announced on the night.
This October will be the 25th anniversary of the inaugural meeting of HWA. To mark the occasion Bob has booked Gary Rance for the October meeting. Gary has been a regular favourite at the Club over the years and I’m sure can be relied upon to make it a special evening.
So on with the AGM and John delivered the Chairman’s report:-
“Another year has passed and it is time to look back and remind ourselves of all that has happened in the last twelve months. Our membership remains stable and currently stands at 85 plus 1 honary member who you may have noticed helping with the raffle. We have had demonstrations by Tony Halcrow, Jean Turner, Stuart King, Mark Baker, Adrian Smith, Les Thorne, Paul Nesbitt and a scratch effort by myself. We had turn in with 4 lathes, a club Challenge and welcomed a crowd of visitors from The Minstead Training Trust, not forgetting the Christmas social and buggy challenge. I leave it up to you to decide which meeting was best, but I think we have had a good year and we owe a lot to our secretary for his hard work in arranging the program.
On outreach the association was represented at a number of events; in May the Scholing Valleys Summer Fair, in June the Alresford Village Fete, the Party in the Park (Kilham Lane) and in September at the Community Woodfair in Chandlers Ford. This latter event was somewhat damp but we managed to have a good day with plenty of interest from the public.
Last year I commented on the importance of the gallery at our monthly meetings and I said I would like to see more members bringing items for display.
So I went on the website and counted up how many different people had put items on the table and I was pleasantly surprised to count 40, a good number of whom are novices encouraged by Harry Woollhead. Keep up your good work in the novice corner, Harry. The other thing I found was that more than 150 items had been on the table. The standard is high, so keep it up. The winner for most items in the gallery is Adrian Smith with 15 pieces.
Another important area for the Association is the website so ably kept up to date by Phil Bristow. The site was visited 46000 times from 101 countries which I find quite amazing. Think of a country and someone from there will have looked at our site. Having contact details on the site means I am contacted from time to time by people seeking advice, offering wood, tools or seeking stalls for a village fete. The most bizarre came from an American who seemed to think we might know woodturners in Sicily. I pointed out you can search on the internet; it only came up with one name.
During the year the Association’s support for the Minstead Training Trust has continued and is now well established. The ongoing support from members is much appreciated and fund raising has been very successful and has contributed towards the purchase of equipment for the Minstead workshop. Alan Sturgess has the role of coordinator for the project and has done a great deal of work behind the scenes and has put in many hours to keep the show on the road.
Finally, I must pay tribute to everyone who without fail works to make our meetings happen. We are fortunate in having many members willing to do the jobs one can so easily take for granted. We are grateful to Derek Barkaway and Andi Saunders for taking over the shop when Geoff & Helen gave it up. Month by month the bookshop, the tea boys, the rafflers, the audio visual boys and others are there doing their thing. Also we must not forget the members of the committee who all pull their weight behind the scenes. So it has been a privilege to be chairman for the last 3 years and I have confidence in my successor who I am sure will do a great job.”
John then asked Alan Sturgess to give the Treasurer’s report. Here’s his summary:
Once again my grateful thanks to the committee and subcommittee members for staying within the agreed budget for the year and collecting monies on the HWA’s behalf. In fact due to a guest speaker cancelling in March at short notice the finances look better than expected. With an increase in raffle profit, funds are very healthy as we enter another year.
Bob Hope again achieved a very interesting and varied set of speakers and demonstrators at good value for money old fashioned prices and within the agreed budget for the year.
Committee members have hosted our committee meetings, saving the cost of hiring meeting rooms, potentially saving over £300. Generally our costs and our income are quite static and as such we are able to continue to hold the membership fee at £25 again which I hope you agree is good value.
As a general over view our income was £3,685 this is around £250 down on last year. Membership fees accounted for £2,032, the raffle and Club shop continue to do well and the library is now getting more use and showing a small profit. Likewise tea and coffee make a small profit. This year our novice and Saturday workshops were also in the black.
Expense was £3,103. Most expense items are very stable and moved with, or slightly below inflation. However we have increased our Insurance cover to encompass “Employers Liability” to safeguard any speakers or demonstrators who might not have sufficient cover. This gave an Income above expenditure of £581. If you were unable to attend the AGM and would like a full copy of the presented accounts please let me know.
Alan Sturgess, Treasurer
There followed further discussion of the recurring issue of signatories on Association cheques. Last year the motion to reduce the requirement to 1 signatory was defeated. The motion was originally brought because it was often difficult to get the 2 signatories together and the practice had been adopted for one to sign a batch of blank cheques in advance. The proposal now put to the meeting was for 3 nominated signatories, the treasurer, chairman and secretary, the signatures of any 2 of whom on a cheque will be valid. This proposal was passed without objection.
There being no opposing nominations, the officers were elected en bloc: Lynda Barkaway, Chair (John Holden standing down) Bob Hope and Alan Sturgess re-elected as Secretary and Treasurer respectively. The other committee members were then re-elected en bloc. New committee details are to be found on page 2.
John went on to present the awards to members.
The Les Revell trophy for novice of the year went to Robert Pearce (left). Well done Robert, we look forward to seeing more of your work on the gallery table. The trophy for member of the year went to Alan Sturgess (right) for his leading role in the Minstead Trainimg Project.
Without those helping with the novices, refreshments, raffle, shop, library and audio visual the Club would not function. Their contribution was recognised by gifts of bottles of wine. Many thanks to all of you.
After the AGM, Chris West gave us a preview of his presentation on Combo mills which he plans to use on his forthcoming visit to the USA. As most of you know, Chris is something of an expert in the design and making of mills and shakers. (You can borrow his first book from our library).
For the uninitiated, a combo mill (like the one pictured above) is a combined pepper grinder and salt shaker. Though the combo is more complicated than separate mills, one device does both jobs.
Chris says the public like fresh ground pepper but are happy to simply sprinkle salt these days, hence the popularity of the combo.
Chris went into a lot of detail about where to get mechanisms, dimensions, drill sizes etc. Failing to keep up with it all I was grateful that Chris has posted the presentation on his website. Go to www.westwoodturnery.co.uk, click on “about me” then look for “HWA Combo” at the bottom left of the page. If you don’t have the means to do this, ask me and I’ll print a copy for you.
A nice touch is to personalise your mill by turning your own knob for the top. You can insert a “dog tooth nut” to enable it to be screwed on to the grinder thread (picture below). Chris has offered to supply these nuts if you are interested.
Chris had brought along a variety of examples to inspire us and I look forward to seeing some innovation on the gallery table.
Phil Bristow had his arm twisted to give a critique of the gallery. Modestly claiming he wouldn’t know how to go about making a number of the items, he did the job thoughtfully and with humour.
There are consistently more gallery entries these days and of good quality too. Those novices who put their work on display are to be congratulated for not being shy. That’s the way to improve.
All the gallery items can be seen on the website.