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7 November – Les Thorne

13 November, 2016

When Andi couldn’t make it and asked me to do the report of the meeting I knew it was going to be an impossible task. The comments just pour out of Les. Les “owns” the November slot at HWA and never disappoints. He has an instinctive knack of using tools and a knowledge of what is going on at the cutting edge. He manages to explain it too with a relaxed, confident style and light hearted banter.


Of course it wasn’t always like that. Years ago I often used to escape from work and slip along to WJT at Alresford where Les’ father Bill held court and abused his customers. I say customers but it was more of a social gathering than a sales activity. Bill announced that his lad was thinking of doing woodturning professionally but he thought he wouldn’t make it.


But Les is as determined as his father and stuck to the task, making friends with and taking advice from the experts and taking on repetitive production jobs, turning his mind to reducing the time to actually make them profitable (and finish early to go fishing).

les-01-box-options   les-02-cheeky-grin-and-box-options

Les’ demo this time was a box like a Greek vase on a pedestal with a finial lid. He had written this up as an article for Good Woodworking, so when I fail to report the detail, maybe you can get a copy! He likes the magazine as it has a broader readership than just woodturners (and the editors are less picky than Woodturning) and MiterSawCorner’s post about cutting saws. A show of hands revealed only 3 readers in the audience. He showed 2 versions of the box and almost everyone preferred the one which is easier to make.


So he proceeded with a piece of oak (not a very suitable material for a box because of the porous end grain but he likes a challenge). A square section was turned to round between centres with a roughing gouge. The tool edge is ground to about 45o give or take 5 so it is not critical. He then used his version of a round skew to make chucking spigots at both ends, leaving a small diameter cylinder protruding at one end to become the tip of the finial.

les-03-turning-cylinder  les-04-turned-spigots

He partly cut in at the point of division between lid and base after some discussion about rules for the correct ratio, concluding there was no such thing, it just has to look “right”. He then mounted it in the chuck at the base end to allow him to shape the small onion top of the finial before parting off the lid.

les-05-division-point-note-finial-tipHe mounted the lid in the chuck gripping the spigot but with the top of the finial inside the jaws and this allowed him to turn the underside of the lid. He reduced the width of the remainder of the finial part leaving the final turning of it until later.

les-06-turning-inside-lid   les-07-reducing-finial

Putting the base in the chuck he then proceeded to hollow it. There was a lot about hollowing end grain using his “magnetic pencil” as a pointer to show the angle the gouge was being held, initially pushing the gouge into the centre and pivoting it on the rest. As the recess became deeper the shape had to deviate from a circular arc involving a combination of first pivoting then pulling, rolling the tool at the same time to prevent the wing digging in. A  case of easier done than said maybe.


Les addressed the thorny(!) problem of the pip in the middle. You can’t get rid of it until you understand what causes it. If you push the gouge too hard when starting the arc it will not start cutting until slightly off the centre (as the wood is not moving onto the tool at the centre) leaving a pip. The way to avoid it is to push the gouge in at the centre first, thereby drilling a small hole then start the arc without pushing. It will then just cut sideways from the hole. This time a case of easier said than done I think.

Les finished the inside with a fashionable negative rake scraper. This is simply a scraper with the top surface edge ground at an angle down towards the scraping edge. The benefit of this is that the scraping edge is always presented to the wood as though it were trailing even in a deep hole. This also makes it much more tolerant of the angle it is presented to the wood so there is much less chance of a catch.

He then cut the recess to suit the lid which he inserted and supported the finial tip with a hollow tailstock via a tissue pad to avoid damaging it. He then turned the remainder of the finial with gouge and skew.


Finally the base was turned to the Greek urn shape.


In between the lid and the base, we had the tea break and Les’ critique of the gallery. Just 9 items this time but they made up for lack of numbers by sheer size and quality. Some lovely pieces as can be seen from the pictures on the website. Mike Haselden’s wonderful huge Monkey Puzzle bowl and Chris Davey’s exquisite laminated lace bobbins took my eye.


With just minutes left, Les had some fun with the skew. He conceded there is an element of risk using a skew with spectacular catches waiting for the moment of distraction. You have to concentrate and keep the tool moving forward. Dig-ins occur when you pause.

There are 3 parts of the skew that can be used, the long point, the centre area and the short point. The central are gives the best finish (though all 3 can be very good) but is most sensitive to hesitation, the long point is the most tolerant. So concentrate, keep moving and keep the tool sharp.

As usual Les delivered an instructive and entertaining display. Let’s see some finial lidded urns on the gallery table after Christmas.

Dave Gibbard

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