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2nd March – Martin Saban-Smith – Finishing

15 March, 2020

Martin is a Registered Professional Woodturner whose workshop is based in Four Marks, Hampshire. He has a friendly and informal approach to teaching, and he also films his creative woodturning on Social Media. Martin specialises in colouring his wooden creations and he also makes the popular Hampshire Sheen range of wax and oil finishes; he also blends the atmospheric Intrinsic Collection of coloured dyes. His workshop is fully equipped with 5 lathes each with a full set of tools for each one together with a host of other ‘creative’ tools for students and workshop members to use.

Martin was going to demonstrate how he makes and colours a thin-turned two-part bowl. For the base he selected a 5×3 inch Ash blank and for the bowl he had chosen a 10×3 inch Sycamore bowl blank.

Martin started by cleaning off the end of the blank using a 3/8ths Spindle gouge. He had decided that the Tail-stock end would be the bottom of the pedestal, and that he was going to make a Tennon at the other end that would later fit into the underside of the bowl blank. Martin then offered up the Sycamore bowl blank to gauge how tall to make the pedestal and how thick to make its diameter. Martin stated that he was going to make the diameter 1/3rd the diameter of the bowl.

He then set his callipers at 55mm, which is the size of the tenon he was going to make on the top of the pedestal, by using his Les Thorn 10mm Round skew tool. With the base and the tenon completed Martin proceeded to remove wood from the blank and shape the body of the pedestal to his satisfaction. His aim was to make a ‘fairly thin’ but pleasing shape and to do this he used what he called “Butcher-like rapid and deep cuts” keeping the bevel close to the wood and removing material quickly.

Initially the bottom part of the foot looked like a goblet, and he then started on the top part of the foot to create a shape that would complement his envisaged shape of the bowl. Martin then used fine cuts to shape the flutes but was careful not to make it too thin or it would look out of proportion.

Martin is a left-handed turner, and there was a question from a member regarding problems that this can cause. Martin stated that he has had to adapt his wood turning method to suit his left handedness. He stated that he needs to take extra care when working at the tail-stock end of the lathe as his gouge handle can often ‘snag’ or ‘catch’ the lathe bed or the tail-stock support and cause problems. He also stated he has had massive problems trying to acquire a ‘left-handed hammer’. So, if anybody has one….

When Martin was happy with the shape and finish of the pedestal, he sanded at 180 grit, then 240 and 400, he stated that he always jumps two grits as he gets better results this way, and he prefers to use Abranet rather than standard sandpaper. When sanding the cove, he emphasised that you need to do each side separately to ensure that the peak stayed sharp, but not too sharp that it is uncomfortable to hold.

When using 400 grit Abranet he always folds it in half and keeps it moving on the work piece to prevent heat build-up. The finer the grit you use the friction tends to “burnish” the wood, which seals it up and prevents coloured wax’s and dies from sticking. Martin always stops the lathe when he has finished with a grit and has a close check for tool marks or

scratches from the sanding before switching to the next grit Abranet.

He also gave the very good tip of using tissue (Kitchen Towel) in front of the wood, to catch the debris and reduce the amount of fine dust that is removed by the sanding action of the Abranet.

Martin decided that he was going to stain the pedestal with his signature Black dye, and the bowl with a Blue and Purple wax.

He applied the water-based dye by tipping some onto a piece of kitchen towel and rubbing it into the grain (do not apply it directly onto the wood as it tends to ‘blotch’ and will not spread uniformly). Martin also emphasised that you should not “press” the tissue into the grain as it absorbs the dye better if applied slowly. Martin states that he prefers to use water-based dyes over spirit-based ones as they dry slower, therefore giving you more time to work on the piece. He also stated that he doesn’t worry about any “dry spots” that he missed with the dyed cloth, as these will be sorted later. For the sake of expediency Martin dried the freshly dyed pedestal with his hot-air gun. He then used a single coat of slightly diluted Sander Sealer to seal the dye. The sander sealer also moistens the dye which helps it to fill in those dry spots and seal the grain.

Martin then gave the pedestal a coat of Purple wax over the Black, this gave it a deeper colour and covered any remaining dry spots. With the lathe on a medium speed he then buffed off the wax, as he only wanted it thinly on the grain, and brought it to a lovely sheen. Then using his Fluted Parting tool, he ‘undercut’ the tenon and parted it off, he then passed the completed pedestal around.

Martin then picked up the 10×3 inch Sycamore bowl blank and chose the “interesting” side to be the top (there was a slight grain discolouration on one side). He then attached a faceplate to the underside and placed it in the chuck.

We then stopped for a break during which Martin carried out the critique of the large number of members work that was on the display table. We then had tea and biscuits.

After tea break Martin started to shape the bowl to ‘round’ by using his ½ inch gouge, with the lathe at slow speed, and trying to keep the ‘interesting’ knotted aspect of the wood that was close to the rim. He then trued-up the front by using pull cuts and put in a 55mm recess (the same size as the tenon on the pedestal). He then ‘check fitted’ the joints to ensure they fitted snugly and put the dove tail in the recess.

Martin then started to ‘turn-away’ the underside of the bowl, ensuring that he left enough height to allow for the drop of the bowls rim for this he used pull cuts. As he was turning, we could all hear a ‘knocking’, this was the gouge bouncing on the knotted grain, Martin slowed the lathe to give better control of the cut and reduce the effect of the knocking. He carefully formed an undercut at the lip as a feature for the finished bowl. Martin stated that “finishing is key”, and he prefers sanding with his rotary sanding tool. He then explained his technique, which is to ‘offer the disc to the wood and tilt the pad to start the disc rotating against the piece’. Again, he started with 120 grit to remove any tool marks, and stopped to look for imperfections, then 180 and up through the grits.

When he was happy with both the shape of the bowl and with smooth finish, he removed the bowl from the lathe, took off the faceplate and reinserted the bowl onto the lathe via the recess. Martin determined how thick the wall of the bowl was and using his ½ inch gouge started to remove wood from the top lip to ‘mirror’ the shape of the undercut.

Martin used his fingers to test the thickness of the walls and marked any ‘high spots’ with a pencil so that he could see where they were and accurately remove them.

When he was “almost happy” Martin stopped removing thickness from the top-lip and started removing stock from the inside of the bowl to hollow the shape. He swapped to his 3/8-inch gouge for hollowing and used harsh cuts. At this point Martin’s gouge handle clipped the lathe bed causing a dig-in to the inside profile of the bowl which needed rectifying. To finish the shaping, Martin changed to a newer sharper gouge as the bowl had ‘hard spots’ causing the tool to bounce, again he remedied this by slowing the lathe down and by using shallower smoother cuts for more control.

When completely satisfied with the shape Martin used his power drill with a 120-grit pad, he also used his facemask as personal protection. His method for sanding was to start at the outside edge of the rim and ‘power sand’ up to the apex of the curved lip (again using paper towel to reduce the spread of the dust) then from the centre of the bowl and back to the apex, he then again stopped the lathe to check for flaws and scratch marks, when happy he used 180, 240, 400 grits. With the bowl now completed and finished to his satisfaction, Martin spoke about his colouring technique. He stated that he does NOT seal the bowl until his coloured dyes have penetrated, and that he starts with the darker colours first as this prevents ‘over darkening’ and changing the colours of the lighter dyes if they were applied first.

For this bowl Martin decided to start by putting Midnight Blue dye on to his paper towel and rubbing it in to the bowl by using pressure from the ‘tips of his fingers’ to apply the colour. Martin eased off the pressure and left part of the bowl void. He was not worried about any dry spots; he then gave this a ‘gentle warming’ with his hot air gun to help dry the dye. His next colour was Sky Blue, and with this he started in the void area and went partially on to the Midnight Blue, again he gave a quick drying with the hot air gun before applying his last colour. For this he chose Plum and rubbed that in. He used ONE COAT of each colour to initially colour the bowl to his satisfaction, and he ensured that each coat was dry before applying the next.

Martin then lightly sanded the ‘grain feature’ in order to highlight it. He chose Sky Blue dye to go over this area of interest. When he was happy with the colouring and in order to ‘encourage’ the colours to dry, and de-nib any raised grain, he turned on the lathe to medium speed and burnished the bowl with a cloth. Martin then used a solvent based Sander sealer to “pull off” some of the colour the wood and to accentuate the grain pattern, he then friction burnished the sealer.


Martin then applied Gloss sealing wax (a mixture of Microcrystalline and Carnauba wax). Carnauba wax reaches full hardness within 2-3 days, and the more coats you put on the deeper the sheen)

When he was happy with the finish Martin carefully used his hot air gun to melt the wax into the surface by using ‘glancing ‘but quick brush-like strokes to smooth the wax into the surface.

This was followed by a very light buffing (not a burnish), then another Gloss finishing wax over the entire bowl, and a final very cautious warming with the hot air gun.

Martin finished off the bowl by removing it from the lathe and CA gluing the pedestal into the tenon of the bowl to create a lovely coloured bowl.

                                                                       Dave Simpson (Editor).

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