wood turning hollow vessels
by Edric Florence

lathe: cherry log between centers  
Utilizing one of several wood lathes, a selected piece of wood - in this case, a large, partially-decayed cherry log - is placed between centers on the stocks of the machine (these are called, respectively, the "tail-stock" - facing you in this photo - and the "head-stock" - behind the log and not visible in this photo).

At this beginning stage, using a cutting tool known as a gouge held firmly on the tool rest, the outside of the piece is roughly formed by the spinning of the lathe to create the general form. The hand tools that I use are made from specially hardened steel that are sharpened and then honed to a very good edge.

wood grain and woodturning  
As the basic form begins to emerge, I carefully ascertain the nature of the raw wood, paying particular attention to any grain structures or natural defects such as bark inclusions or burls so that I can best reveal and often embellish these inherent and often unique and beautiful qualities.

At this point, I am still concentrating on the general essence of the piece of wood - awaiting later stages for critical refinement.

wood-turning cutting tool and arm brace  
Once I am satisfied with the outside shape and contours and have turned a form that I feel best reveals nature's own creativity, I begin work on the inside of the vessel. This is accomplished by removing the tail-stock of the lathe so that a small opening can be fashioned where the stock was attached to the log. Now, the piece of wood is secured to the lathe only by the head-stock, and is thus supported only from this one point. As such, a great amount of care and finesse are necessary to maintain the integrity of the form.

Through the opening, a specially made hand cutting tool with an arm brace is used to carefully turn away the inside of the work. After removing all the decayed material, the shell of the piece is tediously worked from the inside out to create a wall thickness of 1/8 inch or less. During this delicate and consuming maneuver, any uncertain move could destroy the entire piece due to the high rpms of the lathe needed because of the voids the cutting tool must pass through before coming again into contact with the wood on each rotation. A strong but very light touch is needed.

tung oil finish, sanding, hand-rubbing the wood turning  
After the turning is completed, the final steps include careful sanding, applying many successive coats of tung oil and hand-rubbing or buffing the final finish to bring out the deep richness and warmth of the wood. A large piece such as this can take as many as 15 to 25 hours of TLC to create.

The finished vessel is then carefully dried in a controlled environment, which for larger pieces, can extend over a period of months. Only when we are assured that the piece reflects our highest artistic standards, and has stabilized to the point that it will last indefinitely, is it then signed and dated (below).

 
An "Oh My" turning is not for everyone, but collectors of such pieces are very appreciative of the craftsmanship and vision involved, not to mention the uniqueness of each piece that can never be reproduced. A turning of this type will tax the artisan's abilities, patience, technique, and knowledge and is extremely difficult to execute. As the wood is turned "green" - in other words, not seasoned - it is elastic in nature and thus changes and expands or contracts depending on the rotation speed of the lathe and the rate at which both outer and inner surfaces are drying. Sometimes even a hair's breadth change in the turner's concentration and breathing can turn a potential masterpiece into thousands of flying shards in a fraction of a second.
finished hollow vessel turned from green wood

 


by Edric Florence

woodturning demonstration: natural-edge bowl on tail-stock  
In order to create a "Natural Edge" bowl, a log - or section of a log - usually starts out getting rough-trimmed by a band saw or chain saw prior to placing it on one of my lathes. The wood is placed on the lathe so that it will rotate around an axis that is perpendicular to long axis of the wood's growth. Thus, as the wood rotates, it presents face-grain, end-grain, face-grain and opposite end-grain to the cutting tool within a single revolution. In this way, the shape of the edge or lip of the bowl is defined by the natural shape of the bark or cambium edge of the trunk or branch of the tree. In this photo you can see that one of the original bark faces of the log (dark area on the far right) is rotating around the tail-stock of the lathe.

Utilizing one of my many hand tools, the piece is roughly formed by the spinning of the lathe to create the general outside form. The hand tools that I use are made from specially hardened steel that are sharpened and then honed to a very good edge. At this initial stage I start working on the outside surface of the bowl, as well as forming the foot or bottom of the bowl near the tail-stock, occasionally stopping the lathe to inspect the piece for voids, bark inclusions, uniqueness in grain patterns, or other unusual surprises in the particular piece of wood.

re-chuck the bowl on the lathe  

After the first cuttings (clearing the outer bark and first layers), I will have a better idea and insight as to what the end results might look like, and conclude whether or not the progress merits my continuing in making a Natural Edge Bowl or if I should completely change directions and save it for something else, later.

Once I'm satisfied with the outer surface, I now re-chuck the bowl on the lathe - turning it around so that the foot of the bowl is now held by the head-stock of the lathe (on the left in this photo) - and move the tail-stock out of the way so that I now can safely get to the inside of it. At this point I start cutting the inside of the bowl following the outside shape as a guide. As the basic bowl form begins to emerge, I'm also paying particular attention to any grain structures or natural defects such as bark inclusions, spalting or other hidden treasures so that I can best reveal and often embellish these inherent and often unique and beautiful qualities.

grinding custom-made bowl gouges & tool rest  
At this stage I'm now refining the inside walls of the bowl and - depending on the species of wood and final intended purpose of the finished product - I'm working towards a final wall thickness of 1/8 to 1/ 4 of an inch. This is a very delicate task requiring a great deal of skill and utmost concentration. This is compounded by the fact that when turning out the rim area of natural-edge pieces the cutting tool may be in contact with the wood only a fraction of the time in each revolution of the lathe (the rest of the time - because of the curving nature of the edge - the tool is literally hitting only "thin air").

In this photo with the lathe stopped, you can see that I am holding the cutting tool (I use specially ground custom-made bowl gouges for this work) very firmly in my hand and against the tool rest, which has been brought in as close to the work as possible to minimize vibration. Because the wood is so thin at this point and because I usually turn wood that is still green, it is very flexible as it spins on the lathe at high rpms. At this point, even the smallest twitch or slightest miscalculation can render hours of careful work into a thousand splinters in less than a hundredth of a second!

turning the foot of the bowl on the head-stock  
After an initial drying process the bowl is carefully sanded to remove any cutting marks or other imperfections. The bowl is then re-chucked so that I can finish the bottom or "foot" of the bowl. In this instance I'm turning a bottom that will match that particular bowl. A very careful eye and a delicate touch as well as precise re-centering of the piece between the tail-stock and the head-stock is crucial during this process, as the bowl may have changed shape slightly since the final turning of the inside.

In my work, no two bowls are the same and of course no two bottoms will be the same either. Time-wise - depending on the bowl and its overall shape - small bowls generally take between 2 to 4 hours to complete, larger bowls can take as much as 8 to 10 hours to complete and my three-footed bowls often take as much as 12 to 15 hours, usually over a period of months.

the woodturnings final finish: mineral oils, beeswax, tung oil, beeswax  
All of my bowls are signed, dated and noted as to the species of wood. After a very careful final drying process that may take several months and hand-rubbing or buffing the final finish to bring out richness of the wood and the full detail of its figure, the piece is almost complete.

Depending on the intended purpose of a particular bowl, I either finish the piece with a combination of mineral oils and beeswax, or Tung oils and lacquer. Only when we are assured that the piece reflects our highest artistic standards, and has stabilized to the point that it will last indefinitely, is it offered for sale.

 
On the right is an example of one of my finely crafted and finished natural-edge bowls. This piece is made from spalted maple wood. It measures approximately 8" x 10", yet - due to the delicate thinness of the turning - weighs only 14 ounces. Spalting is dark vein or alternating zones of color variation caused by a pattern of fungus or bacteria in the wood that once stabilized often looks like a pen and ink drawing through the wood. Almost all of my turned pieces are made from wood that I have found locally or bought or bartered for from other local collectors rather than ordered from wholesale suppliers (the usual source for many woodturners) of exotic and unusual woods.

Thus it is that each piece I make is unique to the special piece of wood, and I often will keep certain found treasures for many months or even years before I have an inspirational insight into how it can best be utilized. An unflawed piece of maple with such a large amount of beautifully patterned spalting as this is very rare, but is only one of the things that make this bowl so special and unique. The aesthetically pleasing lines, balanced shape, detailed craftsmanship and a light but durable finish that show off the luminescence and warmth of the wood all contribute as well to its beauty and value. You can see many other examples of my work in the gallery pages of this site.

Please feel free to contact me by at eflorence@comcast.net or by using our on-line Information Form.

Edric Florence: Master Woodturner

wood-turning: spalted maple natural-edge bowl


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