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Les Thorne 2nd October

14 October, 2017

69 people turned up to see Les Thorne and brought along 22 quality items for the gallery table.

They patiently sat through the opening announcements before our popular megastar opened the show.


The main demo involved turning a platter from a maple blank, which had a nice ripple, and colouring the rim.

Mounted on a screw chuck the underside was turned using a pull cut with a bowl gouge with a long grind. The trick here is to get the tool angle right. With the flute too closed to the wood, the lower wing is just scraping and is unsupported. Rotating it clockwise gets the bevel rubbing but is unstable and prone to a massive dig-in (done that!). At an angle in between the bottom wing is supported by the bevel though still scraping and is stable. A finer finish is usually achieved with a push cut with the bevel fully rubbing and having turned the underside to an ogee shape with the pull cut Les went over the bed to finish with a push cut from centre to rim. 

The ogee curve is ancient and is defined as a curve consisting of 2 arcs in opposite senses. There are names for various versions of it like sigmoid and cyma which seem to depend on which sense comes first and the relative radius of each but basically it is an S shape and very pleasing to the eye.

(A little known legend has it that the name was first coined by Archimedes in another eureka moment. He had just seen a piece of stone carved with an S shape profile and was so overcome that he exclaimed “Oh Gee!” )


Les turned a spigot on the base, proud of the ogee, for chucking. He prefers a spigot to a recess. As he says, “why would you want a hole in the bottom of your bowl?” Removing a chucking recess to finish the bowl is difficult whilst a spigot can be used as a foot or simply removed. The only time a recess has merit is in the case of a pedestal bowl when it can be used to accept the top of the pedestal.


Reversing onto the spigot he trued up the top face with pull cuts and power sanded. Don’t be afraid to start sanding at 60 or 80 grit. And if painting or texturing, don’t bother to go finer than 240. He sprayed meths onto the surface prior to staining. This raises the grain to aid stain penetration.

When staining, some open grain wood like ash is prone to colour bleeding. It is a good idea to put a stopping feature (Les calls it a punctuation mark) like a groove. The groove can be filled with contrasting paint or sealer. Another way is to burn it with a pyrography tool to seal the grain. However, this was sycamore which has quite a close grain and not punctuation mark was used.

Spirit stains were applied in sequence, starting with the darkest and lightly sanded by hand in the direction of the ripple between coats. Les used blue, light blue, yellow then blue again and finally applying food safe oil and wiping off with the lathe rotating.

He then hollowed the centre to leave the rim alone stained. There was some discussion about the rule of thirds. The general consensus seemed to be the hollow size should be what looks right, which often does obey the rule.

You don’t want the gouge skidding back across the stained rim. The gouge should be presented to the surface with the bevel tangential to the edge of the hollow but of course there’s nothing for it to rub on at first. If worried about skidding back, put a stopping groove at this position. When hollowing, the gouge should swing round so that the bevel remains tangential to the surface otherwise the bottom of the bowl will be scraped by the tip of the gouge and give a poorer finish. Rubbing the bevel may not be possible in a deep hollow unless a gouge with a steep grind is used at the bottom. No such problem here as Les’s bowl had a fairly shallow hollow. Les used his “Tool Angle Indicator” (a pencil fixed to the end of the gouge with Blu Tac) to illustrate this argument.


Normally Les would reverse the bowl onto soft jaws to finish the foot but with time pressing he moved on to a quick demo of skew techniques. Les likes a rolled edge skew as it retains stiffness compared with an oval one but slides over the tool rest more easily than a rectangular one. There are 3 cutting positions – long point, short point and the centre in between. The centre gives the finest finish but is very sensitive to position and the slightest deviation can cause a sickening dig-in. The short point is safer and the finish is almost as good. The long point is safest and slightly the worst finish. He demonstrated cutting beads with the chisel in each position and recommended that you practice dig-ins to understand how they happen. Les in fact generally uses the long point as it is safe and the finish degradation is hardly discernible.


So, he asked, what is the point of the short point? You should buy the Les Thorne multi-purpose tool which is a round skew except the end is straight. That means you have 2 points to use and can go twice as long before re-sharpening. It is similar to the Gary Rance version but a bit smaller. In a scientifically controlled test (??) Les proceeded to demonstrate a dig-in every time with Gary’s but never with his! Proving, as he said, that the size of your tool doesn’t matter, it’s how you use it that counts.  




Les gave a critique of all the items on the very impressive gallery table just after tea break which was much appreciated. He showed that it can be done rather than just selecting a few items for comment. Some of us will have to get a bit slicker at critique technique. The entire gallery can be seen on the website.

Dave Gibbard




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