From Limbs to Clocks

12 Sticks That Didn't Become Firewood

12 Sticks That Didn’t Become Firewood

You may have seen this piece before, but not in its finished form. I will not detail how to make the clock from 12 limb segments; you can see the March issue of Woodturning Design Magazine for that information. But the weather is getting about right for roaming the woods, saw in hand, looking for the limbs you need to make a clock like this. Just remember that the pruning you do should benefit, rather than harm the stand of trees. My limbs were collected from fire killed juniper from the 2006 Casper Mountain fire.

One of the many joys of woodturning is the opportunity to use wood that would otherwise be considered waste wood. Anyone building a house, furniture, or cabinetry would not give an old, dead juniper a second look, unless they were incorporating some rustic design into the work. However, a turner can make use of those rejected woods, and create something stunning.

Ellis Hein, author of The Woodturner’s Project Book

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The Inevitable Or The Impossible

In 2004 I started working on a woodturning book. In 2006 Linden Publishing Company became interested. In 2008 the book was for sale. (Follow the link in the signature below for details.) Now the inevitable, or perhaps the impossible, has happened. I received a royalty check; small, but none the less welcome.

I have listened to a number of representatives of the publishing industry and successful authors explain that many books do not pay more than the advance received by the author. Ok, so I have achieved a milestone if not a record. And as satisfying as it is to have done so, it is also satisfying to be able to mail that check to the bank. This is especially true in today’s economy where one publisher told me, “We will pay you when we can,” for an article they had published. I will be glad to receive it, if I receive said payment.

Are any of you writers? Do you have aspirations of writing a book? I can point to at least two benefits. As a published author, I have more credibility when submitting articles for publication in magazines. The second benefit is that I enjoy my turning more. The process of writing and photographing my turning forces “production” into the background and brings process to the fore.

I have now crowed long enough. It may not be as much crowing as the Apostle Peter’s rooster, but this seems sufficient.

Ellis Hein, author of The Woodturner’s Project Book

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My cup of Tea

All the Fixings Ready to Hand.

All the Fixings Ready to Hand.

I don’t drink green tea, black tea, or coffee. I’m not interested in caffeine. But peppermint tea is altogether a different story. So this time of year it is nice to have mugs and tea balls close to hand.

This cup tree could be made out of turned stock, but this time I let the tree do the work for me. All I had to do was find the right branch. Yes, there was the necessary trimming, peeling, and installing the dowels. But again the tree did some of this. If you drill the holes and insert dry dowels while the cup tree is still green, it will shrink onto the dowels making them secure.

The two small legs were splayed out too much, so I tied them together to hold them in place while drying. I trimmed the legs to the right length so the cup tree is upright and all four hit on a level surface. Now all the fixings can be there waiting for you.

Ellis Hein, author of The Woodturner’s Project Book

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And Now Thyme

A Composite of Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme

A Composite of Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme

You have seen Parsley, Sage, and Rosemary. It is not time to unveil Thyme, or almost. The photo is a composite, you will see I had a different angle when I shot Thyme than when I shot the others. Why a composite? Because I have four pepper grinders and three mechanisms.

I am pleased with the effects of the pyrographic efforts and hope some of you will be inspired to try your hand at the art. Pepper grinders are sort of a commonplace item in kitchens, but one that is pyrographed with your favorite herb must be classed as a rare find.

We are getting the snow we have been missing for most of the winter now, so I get to watch the giant whirlwinds sweep along the downwind side of the ridge. In the last couple of days, the snowdrift that usually buries my upper fence has reached the tops of the posts. Whatever your weather, I hope you have happy and safe turning.

Ellis

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Competitions

Competitions must, of necessity, be a cold weather endeavor. I can tolerate holding onto cold turning tools for a little while, but I am uncomfortable doing much without the protection of my dust helmet. And the dust helmet does not keep my head warm. It has been cold, too cold to turn, so I have started thinking about entering some contests. Since posting about Thumbs Up I have been doing a lot of thinking, planning, organizing, and preparing. All these things that don’t require me to take off my warm cap.

At the heart of many competitions are good photographs. Do you routinely take photos of completed projects? If you ever want to enter competitions, many require photos of projects plus title, dimensions, and year completed. You will save yourself a lot of guess work if you make a habit of recording such data starting now. Even if you tell yourself, “I will never enter a competition in my life,” that may change. Just a few encouraging words from friends can quickly kill such a resolution.

And if you do enter something, competitions are not all about winning. Benefits can extend beyond prizes. They force us to expand our artistic vision and to grow. Turners are, by and large, an encouraging bunch. So you can reasonably expect helpful comments, even from competitors.

Ok, enough. If you have a warm shop, enjoy turning.

Ellis Hein, author of The Woodturner’s Project Book

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Thumbs Up

Thumbs Up

Thumbs Up

Thumbs are odd things. We could not get along without them. Yet they form such an ambiguous part of our speech. When we are particularly inept, we say, “I am all thumbs.” Or if something is particularly pleasing we give it “thumbs up.” This rustic, boxelder “thumb” belongs in the thumbs up category. Screw it onto the wall and you have a unique place to hang your hat, a cane, an umbrella, or many other things.

Many trees have a habit of growing limbs like these, so keep your eyes open for likely possibilities. You can flatten one side with the jointer, peal the bark or leave it on, shape it with a draw knife and spoke shave, and smooth it all with a cabinet scraper. You soon will have many thumbs up on your wall.

Ellis Hein, author of The Woodturner’s Project Book

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Chatter Work

Discrete rings of chatter work in aspen

Discrete rings of chatter work in aspen

Somebody, sometime, was working with a scraper that was too light for the job. Instead of throwing away the “ruined” piece of work with a resolution to get a scraper heavy enough to cut without vibrating, this person saw the potential in his “failure.” A new technique was born.

My inprovised chatter tool

My inprovised chatter tool

I have been playing with chatter work for a little while and like the effects. I do not have a commercial chatter tool. No doubt I could do more with one if I did. What I have is a reworked sawzall blade held in a pair of vice grips. This makes a good way of experimenting without paying for a new tool.
The tip of my tool

The tip of my tool

pinwheel pattern in aspen

Pinwheel pattern in aspen

I have tried a few different woods, all working end grain. I have produced some acceptable work with green boxelder (see The Chatterbox on a Taper), but generally it is too prone to pull grain. Aspen works a little better than boxelder, but it still can loose chunks of wood. Oak seems to work fine. It may be that a commercial tool would alleviate some of these problems.

Here are some photos of what I have produced recently. This piece of aspen shows a pin-wheel pattern. I had the tool rest angled such that the distance between the rest and the face of the aspen got progressively greater as I went from the center to the outside of the disc. I added a touch of red rouge to bring out the highlights.

chatter work on oak

chatter work on oak

On this piece of oak, I failed to produce any swirling effect. The lines seem to radiate straight out from the center. I used a flat surface on my pyrography tool to darken the raised portion to make them stand out.

I will have to keep trying to see what I can do. What are your experiences with chatter work?

Ellis Hein, author of The Woodturner’s Project Book

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Are You Going to Scarborough Fair?

Anyone seen rosemary and thyme?

Anyone seen rosemary and thyme?

Depending on how my imagination hits me, I alternate between smelling and tasting these herbs. But every time I see one of these pepper grinders I start humming or singing the old Simon and Garfunkel song.

Having gotten the first two done, I am anxious to finish the others. Rosemary is waiting for an oil finish. Thyme has been turned and is curing; it was turned from green wood. I am waiting for it to stop moving before doing the pyrography.

Speaking of thyme, it is time for me to start singing. Nothing clears the shop faster.

Ellis Hein, author of The Woodturner’s Project Book

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Pyrography and Pepper Grinders

Someone once pointed out that it was useless to try to compete with places like Wal-Mart when it comes to making pepper grinders. I have to agree. There is no way I can match their prices on the models they turn out. So I have taken the competition away by producing something not to be found at Wal-Mart. Their pepper grinders have a straight bore through the center with a limited capacity for pepper corns. Plus there is the issue of their boring design.

The red hourglass and red arcs

The red hourglass and red arcs

One of the enduring pleasures of woodturning lies in how lines are pulled and pushed out of shape by changing the profile of the curve. The red streaks running through the body and cap of this pepper grinder are a good case in point. Careful manipulation made a red hourglass in the body. I tried to repeat the pattern in the cap, but the diameter would have gotten too small. So the cap has two red arcs instead.

Pyrographed parsley on the pepper grinder

Pyrographed parsley on the pepper grinder

The other side of the pepper grinder body was mostly blank, making it a good place for some pyrography. After some looking, I hit upon a drawing of parsley. I penciled the sprig onto the body, burned in the lines, and Parsley the Pepper Grinder was born.

I made the pepper grinder from a box elder limb. The finish is a couple coats of walnut oil topped with beeswax.

Ellis Hein, author of The Woodturner’s Project Book

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More on Boxelder

Boxelder is great turned green. But, when turning seasoned wood, the grain around knots is brittle and breaks instead of cutting. Other sections of the grain wants to pull for no apparent reason. It seems more difficult to get a good finish behind the tool when turning seasoned boxelder than many other woods, which means a lot of sanding.

Boxelder vessel

A Small Boxelder Vessel

There are other features that make boxelder worth the extra work. Take for example this small vessel turned from a boxelder limb near a crotch where there were also other side limbs.

This vessel was turned green and allowed to cure. As it dried, several small cracks formed around the knots. I put glue into the cracks and sanded over them, mixing the dust into the glue in the cracks. They now form accent marks, highlighting the most interesting grain in the vessel. Boxelder often exhibits streaks of red in what seems a random pattern. These streaks, when they appear, can make a stunning contribution to your work; at worst, they don’t distract from it.

One of the nicest features of boxelder is that most people consider it trash. Many may be willing to let you have a few limbs. If this happens to you, keep your foot in the door by giving the limb-donor a nice vessel or bowl from one of their limbs. This is a small price to pay for the wood and may result in opportunities or sales in the future.

My usual finish has been beeswax because I am quite sensitive to anything with organic solvents. This vessel is finished with Tried and True linseed oil with a coat of beeswax over the top. My only criticism is that the linseed oil seemed to take forever to cure, a matter of weeks. I will have to try some other drying oils, such as walnut oil, and see if there is a difference. However, I do like the results of the oil and wax.

Ellis Hein, author of The Woodturner’s Project Book

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