Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Pics for AAW Magazine ...

Here are some pics of my own pieces that I have just sent to Carl Voss, editor of the American Association of Woodturners Magazine 'American Woodturner', with the hope of some of them being published in an article about 'up-and-comming' woodturners in South Africa (except for the last four images which were taken this evening, too late to be included on the CD). Carl, I have added the final four images in very large format so they can be downloaded directly from the blog for publication. I have also added significantly more text this morning (4 March) which you are welcome to use in the article if you find it appropriate.

Photo credits:
Images "IMGxxxx.jpg" - Ken Turner
Images "DSCNxxx.jpg" - Dennis Laidler


Spalted big leaf maple burl and African blackwood

160mm x 100mm

This is made from a blank that Andi Wolfe brought me on one of her trips

As with most spalted wood it was quite punky and needed a very deft touch with a very sharp gouge

This piece went to the home of a happy collector earlier this week

I have enjoyed turning hollow forms through narrow openings since I first got past the basic bowl turning stage. Topping off such vessels with a lid and finial in the style popularised by Cindy Drozda has lifted my efforts to a new level.


Pink ivory and African blackwood

approx 170mm x 110mm

Pink vory is very hard and fine grained. It cracks easily if eposed to excessive heat so the hollowing must be done gently and abrasive must be sharp and used gently to avoid surface checks


Pink ivory and African blackwood

approx 170mm x 110mm

The finial on this one is a definite improvement on the first one above


Norfolk Island Pine

280mm x 230mm

Variants of this classic vase shape are one of my favourite forms to turn from Norfolk Island Pine

The key to the success of these pieces is that the curve must flow, unbroken, from the neck to the base

The curvature can change along its length but must never be inturrupted by hint of a flat section


Norfolk Island Pine

280mm x 230mm

A beautiful pic of the same vessel as above

You can clearly see the difference that a professional lighting setup makes. Compare this picture with the one above which was taken using my rather amaturish lighting setup at home

The main problem is that at home I just don't have the space to set up all the backdrops, lights and filters without rearranging all the furniture in the lounge!

Thanks Ken for assisting with these quality images


Norfolk Island Pine

approx 290mm x 230mm

If one centres the log on the lathe, measuring from the bottom of the pits below each branch, one can often turn windows all the way around the vessel below each 'branch'

I usually judge the wall thickness of these bowls when turning them using the same backlighting technique as Merete Larsen shows in the book of the late Tony Boase, "Bowl turning techniques masterclass"



approx 300mm x 250mm

It was really hard to part with this wonderful character piece

It was sold recently and is now in transit to a collector in New York



approx 300mm x 250mm

Here is another view of the same piece

I retrieved this from the labourer's firewood pile at a forest reserve who's manager allows me to scratch around there occassionally. Its a few hours drive from Cape Town so I don't get there frequently.

The centre of this log was totally rotten and I mounted it on the lathe with a sense of resignation. I knew that it would turn out either a wonderful piece or 'turn into' a complete disaster. As it transpired I turned one of my favourite pieces of all time. This for me is is one of the joys of turning. Although one starts out with an idea in ones head the material often plays the final card, especially if one is turning near the limits of ones skill. As I've become more technically skillfull I'm focusing far more on the aesthetics of the work. Even a relatively straight forward natural edge bowl becomes an exercise in refining the profile of the piece, ballancing the wall thickness and foot size with the overall diameter. These aspects become more important than all the tools and techniques.

I've also discovered the joy of not turning everything as thin as possible! Bigger pieces with inclusions of natural bark and veld fire burned and other interesting natural textures demand 'mass' in the final product. As my good friend Dave Stevenson once described to me, holding a refined but massive thick walled character piece in his hands, "This is what I call a value for money bowl!"

I also find that my mood on the day determines which log or bowl blank I choose to mount on the lathe. The range of pieces illustrated in this post clearly illustrates this. Working as I do in environmental governance, one's stressed out work days are usually spent desperately trying to influence the crass, behaviour of developers, polluters, undisciplined consumers, the environmentally ill-informed and often the plain self-centered and greedy of our world. Just ocassionally one begins the weekend elated by some minor victory.

That's how it is when I enter the workshop, either ready to attack some great big whirling lump of wood on a Stubby 1000 with a huge sharp gouge or gently set up on the little Jet mini and intently tackle a fine finial to top off the latest small hollow vessel. In whatever mood I start the turning weekend, eventually all the sharp corners are knocked off and the whole process, big or small, becomes a more gentle reaxing process as one ends up spending a couple of hours with deft touches of tool on wood, drawing out the beauty of ones latest creation with fine abrasives and coats of special finish.

"Ja well no fine", as we say here in South Africa. It all really comes down to having good clean creative fun and sharing ones passion with other fortunate souls who share the same wacky passion. I have met some wonderful people, locally and worldwide, through my hobby.

With a group of seven other passionate local turners under the guiding hand of Izak Cronjee, one of the revered grandfathers of turning in South Africa, I am lucky enough to be part of Waterfront Woodturners. This is a group of turners who share a single outlet at the Red Shed Craft Workshop at the Cape Town Waterfront. This is the restored area around the harbour much frequented by visitors to our wonderful city.


Brazilian pepper (driftwood base, unknown)

300mm x 270mm

A fun sculptural piece that I turned recently

The colouring and burning technique was introduced to me by Carol Rix, a visiting turner from Nambour, outside Brisbane, Australia


Pink ivory and African blackwood

175mm x 145mm

Clearly inspired by the work of Cindy Drozda

This type of fine work is in total contrast to the big natural edge bowls that I am also so fond of turning

It's great for honing ones finer turning skills, particularly the finial

Pink ivory is very hard and fine grained. It cracks easily if exposed to excessive heat so the hollowing must be done gently and abrasive must be sharp and used gently to avoid surface checks


Walnut and African blackwood

185mm x 110mm

This piece is waiting to go to its new home in Columbus, Ohio

I exchanged it for a piece of equipment that Andi Wolfe brought over for me on her last trip from the USA

It wasn't quite finished before she left so I managed to enjoy it for an extra couple of months before sending it off to her

The walnut for this piece and the piece below were turned from the core of a veneer log that was imported into South Africa by a Cape Town timber merchant about 25 years ago. It was purchased by my brother-in-law many years ago who never did use it for the sculpture project he was planning and who subsequently passed it on to me. One can clearly see the impessions from the drive dogs on the veneer core in the photographs in an earlier post.

I have used an image of this piece on the front of my new private business card

On the back of the card is an image of the big ironwood natural edge bowl pictured earlier in this post

I'm really impressed by the work of Jo (Yolande) Glover of The Worx Promotions who designed the card for me

She is the daughter of Thys Carstens one of the other partners at Waterfront Woodturners

I can't wait for them to be delivered!



75mm x 135mm

I love the natural burn on this vessel

The walnut was extremely hard, dry and brittle and required great care when hollowing

I really wanted to avoid straining my back picking up lots of little pieces of walnut from the workshop floor!



230mm x 230mm

What a wonderful aroma in the workshop

This piece has been one of my first forays into carving on turning and I learned an enormous amount on this first attempt

I've done some other smaller pieces in similar style and am keen to do more



230mm x 230mm

A slightly different view of the same piece

Everyone who visits Waterfront Woodturners just loves to fondle this piece and deeply inhale the camphor aroma inside

I've learned not to finish the inside of camphor pieces with more than a single coat of finish in order not to seal away the aroma of this wonderful wood



68mm x 85mm

A small piece that still needs a lid - not finished yet - Carl please ignore this picture on the CD

Click on the four pictures below to upload the full size images - hopefully suitable for publication.


Cork oak

160mm x 320mm

This piece is the smallest of three cork oak bowls that I have turned recently

Cork oak grows well in our mediterranean climate here in the Western Cape and is fairly readily available from local 'tree fellas'

The log was the remains of a large tree bole that had been left standing after the rest of the tree had been removed. Ken Turner, another partner in Waterfront Woodturners, a retired photographer, and photographer of most of the pictures on this post kindly donated the log to me rather than cut it up to fit his smaller lathe. Wonderful people these turners.

The whole log was well spalted and rather punky. One turns the cork natural edge just like any other natural edge but very sharp tools and a deft cut are an absolute must. I lightly sharpened my gouge before each cut of the natural edge to keep use of abrasives to a minimum. However judicious power sanding definitely improved the inner and outer surface of the cork bark. I also used a substantial volume of CA to stabilise the bark and its contact with the wood proper. I can't wait to finish the two larger bowls from this log and then tackle the remaining bowl blanks.

Here is a link to an earlier post showing this bowl and the middle size bole in preparation
and another post showing the biggest one being turned. The big cork oak bowl is a 650mm diameter monster that I'm looking forward to finishing in the near future.


Norfolk Island Pine

265mm x 195mm

I love the pits under each branch even if they can't be developed into windows

Norfolk Island Pine when fresh is very pale (white/cream) and bland. I leave the logs standing outdoors in the rain and weather for a couple of months before using them to allow the spalting that results in the wonderful figuring shown in the piece opposite



165mm x 505mm

This large natural edge bowl was turned from a georgeous big avocado log also given to me by my good friend Ken Turner

Avocado is wonderful soft, fine grained wood with a pink colour that darkens with exposure. It is easy to work, cutting very cleanly with minimum tear out, but does move substantially as it dries. Its really not a problem if natural edge bowls move somewhat after turning, especially if the movement is symetrical. One must however re-turn the foot, so the piece stands firmly, and blend the curves to the outside of the bowl if there has been movement. However when turning a 'conventional' bowl it is very important to completely re-turn the thick walled partly turned bowl once it is totally dry and stable in order to end up with a pleasing product

You can see the big avocado log being processed into bowl blanks here, and the 'twin bowl blank' to the one from which this bowl was turned, being turned into a large conventional bowl here


European oak

103mm x 235mm

I was inspired to try turning oak after reading a book on the work of Jim Partridge

I love his simple black polished or sandblasted oak turnings, benches and outdoor sculptures and constructions

Being really attracted to the natural characteristics of wood itself I am very reluctant to artificially colour my turnings. However as with the sculptural piece pictured earlier in this post I do occasionally experiment. I must be brave when next I get my hands on a piece of oak and blacken it. On this theme, I also really admire the work of Liam Flynn. Those little red highlights he has applied to some of his recent black pieces really do it for me. (And now that I try to find such an image showing the red highlight - all gone!)

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Turnings in preparation ...

Here are some 'rough' pictures of some bowls that I have in preparation currently.
I'm calling them 'Portland' bowls as the proceeds from their sale at Waterfront Woodturners will be used to cover my expenses to get to the AAW 2007 Symposium in Portland at the end of June

Here is a batch of small quick sellers in wild olive, assegaai and yew

A nice avacado bowl with a natural edge top - 240mm diameter

Another more open natural edge avacado bowl - 260mm diameter

Here is a table full of items

Just one more coat of finish and most of them will be ready for the waterfront

From top left, clockwise, Norfolk Island Pine, cork oak, silky oak, milkwood, avocado and milkwood - an oak vessel in the centre

Another view of the table

A close up of the cork oak bowl - the smallest of a recent batch - 150mm high and 320 mm diameter

A big avacado natural edge bowl - 505mm diameter

A lovely big cork oak bowl just had it's first coat of finish today - 230mm high and 380mm diameter

Siegfried Schreiber woodturner ...

I've just discovered the woodturnings of Siegfried Schreiber.

Wonderful kinetic and meditative turnings.


His web site;

Video on YouTube of his exhibition at the Wood Turning Center

Part 1;
Part 2.

I absolutely love the minimalist theme of both his turnings and his web site

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Natural Edge Cork Oak Bowl ...

I'm exhausted this evening but had a very good day.
I have two days free for turning - no duty at Waterfront Woodturners.
An ideal opportunity to get stuck into this big piece.
This is a 650mm diameter natural edge cork oak bowl.
The biggest bowl I've ever turned.

You can see the pics and preparation of the bowl blank here

Chris helping me getting the monster blank up on the lathe

What would I do without my greatest helper (when he is occasionally around)

Now we got to get it straight so the wings of the bowl end up equal height

Only on a Stubby 1000 - and its not even bolted to the floor

Just manage the speed very carefully

Now this is why I bought a Stubby!

And just in case you are wondering about the shorts/knees and special 'safety' shoes just remember that the temperature is about 35deg C (95deg F) in the shade in Cape Town in February

Under my asbestos sheet workshop roof - who knows?

Part 1
Here is a short movie to show the blank rotating.
Pretty impressive isn't it.
The blank wasn't nearly as out of ballance as it appears visually.
I took great care to ballance it by carefully carving off pieces with a chainsaw.
As I worked around from the base towards the circumference I trimmed the bowl progressively with the chainsaw. This kept it in ballance and made the turning less rough.

Here is the outside of the bowl turned

It is beautifully spalted but rather punky

Sharp tools and a light cut were the order of the day

The blank turned down to 650mm diameter, having obviously started off somewhat larger

I got real brave and even cored out the centre with my Kelton

Fortunately the wood is pretty soft and punky so it wasn't too difficult

I also just removed a single core and used a wide kerf to avoid problems

Here is the centre ready to come out

It will be turned into a second bowl

Out it comes

The centre core removed

There was a great black void under part of the bark but unfortunately I had to sacrifice most of it in turning away the inside of the bowl

The deepest part remains however and there is still a lot of interest where the bark meets the wood

I spent the latter part of the evening turning out the inside so the wall thickness is somewhat thinner now but it was too late to photograph and I was too damn tired by then

More pix tomorrow

And the day afterwards I thinned the wall a little and finished off the inside shape

Look at that stunning bark

Complete with irridiscent green lichen in parts

Part 2
Here I make the last couple of cuts on the upper sections of the inside of the bowl.
This is a very delicate opperation as one is intermittantly cutting the soft corky bark on the wings and fresh air between them. It is critical to have a very sharp chisel. In fact at this stage I resharpen between every cut. One can't take a very shallow cut because there is just too much bounce on the chisel caused by the intermittent cutting. You can see that I had to move back and restart the cut because I started off taking too shallow a cut. One must also not take too big a cut as this will just nock of large chunks of the cork bark natural edge. So be bold but not too bold! One has to hold the bowl gouge very steady as it is advanced down the inside of the wings of the bowl and try and keep the depth of cut the same all the way down.

Part 3
Here I have moved the tool-rest a little deeper into the bowl to cut deeper than the wings. It's very important to cut a nice smooth curve between the wings of the bowl and the bottom, no ridges, no flat spots and a smooth curve from top to bottom.

Part 4
Showing the use of a very simple 'bloudraad' (fencing wire) wall thickness guage!

Part 5
Here I am turning the very base of the interior of the bowl.
The way to test the interior curve of the bowl is to run ones fingers from the wing to the centre. Fingers are even more sensitive to variations in curvature than eyes

I will insert a picture of the finished bowl in a couple of weeks. It's going to take me a while to sand and finish it

9 April 2007 - Easter Monday

Part 6
Well on the advice of Peter Nicolle I took my courage in both hands and remounted the bowl on the lathe to thin the wall. I had the feeling all along that that is what I should do but Peter's comment just tipped the scales. As it turns out the bowl has definitely been improved by thining the wall and deepening it somewhat

Once that was done and I had applied a few coats of finish I took another step forward in finishing the bowl today

I reverse chucked it on the lathe

Part 7
Here I am turning the foot of the bowl to remove the screw holes and leave a nice clean foot

Here is the foot of the bowl with most of the spiggot carved away

This is the end of proceedings on the lathe

After this the bowl was removed from the lathe and the remaining portion of the spiggot removed with a mini arbourtec before finally sanding it flush

The foot pyrographed with wood type, initials and bowl number

Part 8
This is just a general view of the bowl to show how it was reverse chucked on the lathe to have the foot turned just before the bowl was removed from the lathe for the last time

And here is the bowl in the workshop

A few more coats of finish to be applied and it will be ready for the AWSA 2007 Conference gallery at the end of April

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Flying to Pretoria ...

Just some interesting shots taken on my flight to Pretoria last evening

Table Mountain and the Cape Peninsula before sunset

Kayalitcha from the air

Kayalitcha and Macassar

The sandmines at Macassar - my guess is that that dunefield is doomed in the long term, much as I'd like to see what remains preserved as a nature reserve

Eerste River mouth

Such a stupid place to site wastewater treatment plant

Hexriver mountains - from left to right Buffelshoek Peak, Milner Ridge Peak and Milner Peak that we climed in October 2006 - see the blog posts posted by myself and Andi with lots of photographs from that climb

You can see the dam beyond from where we started the climb

Milner Ridge Peak just left of centre and Milner Peak just right of centre

Matroosberg at the end of the Hex mountains just before they peter out at the edge of the Great Karoo

Sunset as we near Johannesburg

There was a huge thunderstorm as we decended into Johannesburg

Below are a couple of pics of the lightning

I was just taking pics and hoping to catch the lightening

I got lucky a couple of times