Friday, May 03, 2013


The weather has been decent the last few days. The days have been sunny but just cool enough to discourage the bugs and encourage a sweater at sun down. The sun has been staying up giving us enough light to work or play outside until 8:30 pm. All in all, the perfect day if a little dry.

I've been taking advantage of this near perfect outdoor weather, too. Sunday I built a tall, narrow table just the perfect height and width to accommodate my two lathes. Not at the same time of course. With the table built I moved my large spindle lathe out of the garage and practised spindle turning on Monday.

I started out trying to create a small hollow cup, from some horse chestnut wood I saved from last year, but I figured out pretty quickly that I did not purchase the correct tools for cup turning. I bought several gouges but they are all designed for face plate work, the setup you use for making shallow bowls and plates. The piece turned into a rather lovely chess piece. Unfortunately, I don't need chess pieces and I am not good enough to make each piece look the same.

This of course gave me an idea. I contacted a friend of mine in the SCA who makes period game boards. One of the games he makes is Tafl, a Norse and Saxon board game that is played with several pieces that look the same and one piece that does not look the same. This is the King piece. All the other pieces on the board are either trying to protect the King or capture the king.

I explained that I needed to practise turning but that I wasn't able to make a full set that looked the same, but that I could make pieces that could be used for the King piece. He was very interested in receiving my practise pieces which makes me happy. I hate making things that have no purpose just because I have to spend time learning techniques and tool use.

The large lathe was purchased used from a coworker. From the beginning I have been a little afraid of it because my first attempt to use it last year resulted in the clamp giving way and a 8 inch diameter chunk of log flew up and hit me in the face. The bolt holding the sliding end to the rail had stripped out. After that experience I've been somewhat concerned that other pieces would fail. Sure enough the spike on the sliding pieces is not free spinning like it should, resulting in a god awful whine from the friction of the wood against the centre.

Earlier this year I purchased a small lathe from Canadian Tire. I chose it because it was small, had a faceplate attachment, and best of all was on sale for half of it's normal cost. Canadian Tire also just happened to be the only place in town that carried a lathe. My other option was a order one in from Lee Valley or Grizzly. To costly at the time, and in all honesty I didn't want to fork out money for something I may decide I dislike working with.

I pulled out my little lathe and have spent the last few afternoons turning different pieces from a variety of domestic wood. I have used Maple, Basswood, Cherry, Birch, and of course the Horse Chestnut. All of the pieces look somewhat like pawns from Chess, though they vary wildly in size and shape.

Basswood is extremely easy to turn, but can chip out badly at higher speeds. The Maple wasn't to bad either, though it did take longer than the basswood. I was surprised to find that cherry turns very nicely without putting to much stress on the tool edges. Birch is a lovely wood and as long as I kept my tools honed it turned nicely. The piece of Horse Chestnut was surprisingly easy to turn as well and the wood developed a darkness to it once it was oiled with tung oil.

I decided to oil most of the pieces to highlight to grain and natural colour of the wood. The Maple is the only piece I decided was to plain. I made two pieces in Maple, actually I made two pieces in each of the woods except the chestnut, and left one plain to be painted and the other I oiled. Once I deliver the initial offerings to Olaf Haroldsson I will have a better idea of what it is he wants.

Until then though, I will continue turning pieces and letting the tools and the wood dictate the final outcome of the piece. I think I might even switch over the the faceplate attachment and try my hand at making a small bowl. I have a rather nice piece of chestnut that I saved from last year's pruning and I think it will make a lovely bowl. This will also give me a chance to try out those really expensive gouges that I purchased just for bowl turning.

In hindsight maybe I should have purchased a good quality lathe and a few started tools rather than a bunch of expensive tools but a poor quality lathe. As they say hindsight is 20 / 20, though mine seems to be more limited than that.

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