The regular November slot for Les Thorne is as popular as ever judging from the attendance and gallery entries. It’s easy to see why. Les always has something interesting to do and say and does so in a compelling if sometimes provocative fashion.
Tonight his main course was about salt and pepper mills and there was a delicious dessert to follow.
It’s a pity our mill specialist Chris West wasn’t there to heckle, I think Les was actually looking forward to the banter, but in the event there was no shortage of that. So, on with the show…
Les tries to standardise designs and procedures as far as possible to reduce production time to a minimum. He has developed a particular design for his mills and makes them in batches of about 50. However he gives them a “bespoke” appearance by varying the finish. He always colours them because plain wooden mills are readily available and cheap. The coloured finish makes each one individual and helps to justify a price of about £60 a time.
He only uses the crush grind type mechanism in spite of the cost. These always work, so he gets no complaints, and are guaranteed for a long time. Even the occasional one replaced under warranty is turned into an earner since a new mill is required because the mechanism doesn’t come out and the mill is chargeable. Even O’Leary could learn something from this man!
The picture shows a section through a mill together with the mechanism. Les starts with a hexagonal blank (always worth taking the “corners” off a square section with a band saw to reduce turning time and initial vibration). Before turning, the blanks are drilled on the lathe using Forstner bits for the large holes and a twist drill for the straight through as that is much faster. Beware though, drilling on the lathe like this requires a powerful lathe with robust bearings and tailstock mechanism. The recess for the securing tabs on the grinder is cut with a modified thread chaser with teeth ground off but it is common practice to simply glue the grinder in place. Either way it is almost impossible to remove it once it is in.
Using the drilled hole to locate the blank, it is mounted between centres and driven by friction. The bead at the bottom is turned and shaped by sanding. This is quicker than cutting the bead. The bead is then spray painted black before the body is turned. This avoids the need for fiddly masking or brushwork because the overspray is removed.
The cap is turned with the capstan in position for support. The end grain at the top doesn’t stain well so it too is spray painted black. It’s also a nice contrast with the body stain.
The 2 parts are pushed together and stained with acrylic stains. Les applies different colours in turn, allowing each to dry and gently sanding with the grain between applications. The variation in wood hardness, particularly if there is a natural ripple produces a pleasing variation in colour density. Final finish is with multiple coats of acrylic clear gloss for a shiny hard wearing finish. Finally a button of black or white Corion is popped in the hole in the top to indicate salt or pepper. Les usually leaves this until the customer has selected the mills. He does not attempt to make matched pairs as experienced has taught him that people like to select them individually anyway.
The “dessert” was pure indulgence. Les doesn’t regard wet turning as commercially worthwhile (Bert Marsh might have disagreed) but it can be great fun and there’s plenty of wood around after the gales.
The joy of making streams of shavings from a log of holly was evident and prompted Steve Page to shelter under his brolly. (OK Les, we’ll clear it up). Shaping the inside first is a challenge to most people as you can’t see the shape but if you can get away with it, it leaves the easier task of turning the outside to a very thin wall thickness. Les made me promise not to use the more exciting images from the demo for fear of the pc brigade so I’ll just say this. It involved illuminating from the inside of the bowl with the house lights off. Great entertainment and a brilliant result.
There was just time for a few well chosen words about some of the items on the gallery table. A most impressive display of 19 items tonight, pictures of which can be seen on the website.
Post script. 36 hours later, the wet bowl had shrunk to give a delightful wavy edge, one of the things I love about wet turning. However, that large foot had split. I’m sure Les would have said the lesson is either don’t put such a foot on a wet bowl or make a separate one from contrasting dry wood.
Adrian’s first challenge was to get the lathe to work, but it did not take long to change a fuse. He started by passing round the three items shown in the gallery. Are they vases or hollow forms? The important feature is that the neck is very narrow and they are hollowed out from the bottom. He told me that the narrow neck was so that Mark Baker could not get his finger in and comment on the finish inside.
Adrian started with a prepared piece of Oak with chucking spigots at each end and had been pre-drilled part way from the designated top. He then roughed out the shape but did not make the neck too narrow as when re-mounted he needed the rigidity for the hollowing. Having roughed the shape the foot part was parted off creating a spigot to glue back into the base. He also marked with a pencil the alignment of the pieces so a grain match can easily be made later.
It was then time to do the hollowing by reversing the piece in the chuck, first with a gauge and then with a hollowing tool. With the small hollowing tool he used Adrian used a mole wrench clamped onto the stem to help control the tool, it can also double as a depth gauge (see photo).
Having done the hollowing with a wall thickness of approximately 5-6mm, the foot was carefully fitted and glued in. Then ‘using one he prepared earlier’ Adrian mounted the foot end in the chuck to refine the top to give a pleasing flared shaped and also finished the body shape. As he was planning to paint the piece it was sanded and then roughed slightly using a brass wire brush. The final part of the turning was to turn a mandrel to fit the neck so that the foot could be finished off.
The result was a most enjoyable and informative demonstration. Adrian’s enthusiasm and relaxed style was appreciated by all. He admitted never having had a lesson, that it was very difficult to turn with the lathe running backwards and he called his tools diamond ground as the bevels are multi-faceted! But he did emphasise the cutting edge must be sharp.
So, Adrian, thanks for a great evening.
Look in any number of museums and you will see pottery and metal vessels with shapes that are still in use today. In spite of modern design concepts these classical forms endure and when used in woodturning can be relied upon to produce a pleasing shape. (Well, I suppose that might depend on the Turner!) Interestingly many had no foot on which to stand; they were placed on sand or, in the case of an amphora, in a wire frame.
To illustrate the point, Mark had brought along several beautiful turned bowls finished to resemble bronze like the one in the photograph. The finish is a system using multiple applications of acid reactive paint. Very expensive apparently but the results are spectacular. Different finishes are possible including rusted iron.
Taking his cue from the classics, Mark’s demonstration was a lidded pot. He started with a piece of ash roughly cut to an octagonal shape to reduce the turning. This was mounted between centres to shape the outside and form a spigot for later reversing to hollow the inside. Mark likes to support his work using the tailstock even when mounted in a chuck. This is more secure and minimises vibration.
He touched on the use of scrapers. Although traditionalists might not approve because they allegedly do not produce as clean a surface as a gouge, some wood can defy efforts to cut with a gouge. Most people will also find it easier to refine a shape with a scraper. (The late, great Bert Marsh said that he hadn’t found a surface that couldn’t be improved by scraping. Good enough for me.- Editor). A scraper should trail which can be difficult to achieve in a confined space, so Mark likes negative rake scrapers where the top surface slopes down to the scraping edge. These will effectively trail even if used straight on to the wood.
Before reversing, the outside was decorated with a series of beads using a bead forming tool. Though the purists might look down their noses at such a tool, the alternative of cutting each bead with a beading tool is time consuming even if you have the skill. A bead forming tool will also produce identical beads though it is important not to cut the bead deep with it as the crown might tear out. The surface prior to beading should be the final level of the crowns of the beads. He used a parting tool to create flats between beads.
Mark apologised for not doing any sanding. He suffers from a dust allergy and his workshop is equipped with extraction and filtration. He admitted this is a most inconvenient condition for a professional wood worker. However, he gave a useful tip for cleaning up features like beads where sanding is time consuming and likely to remove sharp detail. He uses radial bristle brushes by 3M available in different grades of coarseness. (see photo).
After reversing the pot onto a chuck a slight adjustment was needed before doing the inside. Mark used a coring tool to remove a large plug of wood which subsequently became the lid. Such tools save wood and reduce shaving waste. The inside was hollowed with gouges, the bottom of the hollow needing a steep square grind to enable the bevel to rub. A ledge was left in the inside wall for the loose fitting lid to rest on.
Footnote: Old clay pots were finished with a variety of feet. Often they were simply parted off. A simple extension of this was to make a domed hollow in the base which was easy when the clay was still wet. More expensive pots featured a rim at the foot with parallel sides. The centre of the rim continued the curve of the pot. Mark showed how this can be done on a wooden pot. A scrap block in the chuck can be turned to take the rim of the pot with a pad of soft material in between. A microfibre towel makes an ideal pad or a piece of foam backed abrasive (with foam towards the pot of course). With the tailstock supporting the centre, the inside of the foot can be cut with a parting tool leaving a small area in the middle to be hand finished. This can be further developed by cutting away the rim to leave 3 feet on which the pot stands.
A helpful critique of the gallery rounded off a well presented and fascinating evening. All the gallery pictures can be seen on the website.
*Mark Baker is a professional Turner and Editor of Woodturning Magazine as well as a welcome regular visitor to the Club
There was quite a good turnout for the turn-in including a brand new member who said he had read all the back issues of Your Turn on the website. With so much time on his hands I look forward to seeing great progress with his turning!
There were 4 lathes operating: Harry Woollhead was doing goblets with twisted stems, Bob Hope square rimmed bowls, Roy Holder finial boxes and Keith Barnes was overseeing the “have a go” lathe. All were attracting plenty of attention.
We had a few more items on the gallery table this time; pictures of all of them can be seen on the website. I had my arm twisted to perform the dangerous task of doing the critique.
I’d just like to mention a few items. Firstly Robert Pearce’s oak box. I don’t think anyone would have guessed it was the first he had made and I look forward to seeing some more. John Holden explained how he made the twisted square hollow form to the bafflement of most of us, but it’s all in Dave Springett’s book. And the carved texturing on Ian Woodford’s salt & pepper mills I found really attractive.
With all this inspiration I hope we will see many more interesting items on the gallery table in the future.