It’s been as busy as ever in the woods this winter. Plenty of trees down as a result of the fierce winds so we’ve been clearing paths and processing firewood as well as holding weekly meetings to discuss our options regarding our planning application which needs to be completed by June this year. More of that another time… The last few weeks I’ve been running various workshops and courses. Spoon carving of course, but increasingly there has been interest in bowl turning and hook tool forging. Most recently I had a visit from a few talented spoon carvers. Jane Mickleborough and her husband Peter came from Brittany and Nigel Leach of Niggleberry Treen travelled from Bristol. They all forged hook tools for bowl turning on Saturday and Peter turned his first ever bowl on the pole lathe on Sunday while Jane and Nigel did some more forging and then some spoon carving.
Here’s Jane happily getting started on her first tool…
Jane continued forging while Peter and Nigel started grinding bevels on their tools.
Then they all took it in turns to hammer the tip of their tools in to a hook shape. Jane went first…
After all that work it’s easy to overheat the fine tip so once it’s been curled, any further heating and shaping needs to be done carefully. Tip down in to the forge reduces the risk of burning it…
First the tip is tapped down over the edge of the anvil.
Then it’s turned around and hammered lightly towards yourself to curl it round.
Then it’s back in the heat until it glows cherry red before quenching. Later the tools are tempered.
Nigel then Peter finished shaping their tools.
The next day Peter turned his first bowl. He had never used a pole lathe before and really enjoyed the process. He knew about roughing out bowl blanks as he does this for his wife Jane who turns bowls. I was interested in his process for making blanks which is more precise and mathematical than my approach. He measures out with square and pencil and uses a saw to remove the corners. I showed him how I do it by eye with just an axe and he had a go, but I suspect he will stick with his way which works nicely for him. Here he is having nearly turned the back of the bowl.
And hollowing inside.
Peter made a good deep bowl with a nice lip just below the rim.
The end of a good day with a nice first bowl.
Shortly after Jane, Peter and Nigel had visited I concluded a very nice project with a lovely couple who live on a smallholding. Jan had contacted me and asked if I could help her and her husband Dave learn to turn bowls on a pole lathe. They wanted to make their own lathe and forge their own tools too. So i went to meet them and see what they had in the way of timber on their land for the lathe. A large alder had blown down next to a stream and it looked just the right size for a bowl lathe. The only trouble was getting it from where it had fallen to their house. Dave had a plan to cut it to length and float it down the stream, then winch it out with his land rover. Amazingly it worked and the next time I visited we got to work converting the log in to a bowl making machine. Dave used a chainsaw mill to cut a plank for the bed of the lathe and then cut a channel for the head stock and tail stock to move in.
Angled holes were drilled for the legs and the end of the log was cut in half for the stocks, then shaped to fit the channel.
Wedges were shaped to hold the stocks in place and legs were cut to length and carved to slot in to the bed.
Here’s a photo of Jan and Dave taking photos of their work at the end of a long day.
The next day was spent forging tools and getting the metal centres ready for the lathe. We used the same 16mm round bar for the centres and the tools. Here are the centres; the top one is ready for the lathe. The ends are tapered and hammered in to square section to stop them moving when they are in the lathe. The ends were ground to 60 degree cones. The bowl blank and mandrel rotate on these so the smoother and more polished the finish on them the better.
Dave forging his first hook tool.
Jan making it look easy.
Then on my last visit it all came together. They had the tools and lathe ready and we roughed out a blank and between them they turned a lovely first bowl.
Dave got the hang of the technique really fast and quickly turned the back of the bowl.
Jan took over to turn a nice concave curve in the base of the bowl. Dave found this more challenging so perhaps they will make the perfect bowl turning team between them!
Undercutting the core…
‘Isn’t it my go now?’
Then the the mandrel and blank come off the lathe.
A firm grip and the moment of truth…
…snap…a bowl is born.
Jan and Dave were right to look so proud of this bowl. They had started with a fallen tree and a few bits of steel and now have the lathe, tools and skill to make many more bowls. This really is a very nice first bowl. I will miss going to their place and look forward to seeing them both again at the Bodger’s Ball in May.
Earlier last month I had a call from David Kuegler. He had turned a bowl with Robin Wood and been bitten by the bug but had hit a wall with certain aspects of the process and wanted some advice. Unsure at first what I could offer him i asked for a list of things he was struggling with and we worked through each point together. When I demonstrated ‘pulsing’ the tool through a series of arcs to do the roughing cuts on the back of the bowl, David had a go and said that this alone made all the difference. I use my body and arm to nudge the tool forward in rhythm with the treadle in a controlled and steady way with a slicing cut. My physical position in relation to the bowl changes constantly as the tool moves around the curve from the base to the rim to maintain the correct angle where the cutting edge meets the wood. This technique results in a nice smooth finish without the deep gouges and uneven surface associated with random lunges with the tool. This ‘pulsing’ is used in various ways around the bowl, both inside and outside and a variation is used while undercutting the core. It’s one of those things that get’s easier with practice.
While David used a curved knife to tidy up inside his bowl we discussed tools and forging and he has arranged to visit again to make a set of his own tools, tailored to his own requirements. I enjoyed his company and his dog enjoyed playing with my new lurcher pup so his next visit is something I’m looking forward to.
I have several commissions now which need some attention; bowls, plates and spoons and also a few hook tools which is a first for me, sales-wise. The birds are nesting and the snowdrops and daffodils are up. Elder coming in to leaf and baby rabbits munching the new herbage in the fields above the woods. I hope you all enjoy the spring and thanks for hanging in there through these long-winded posts.
So interesting, Sharif, and the photos help a non bowl turner like me understand the process more clearly
Glad it’s of interest!
and the tools work a treat! Many thanks Sharif!
That is good news Jane. I imagine it will take a while to get used to them as they will be different to the ones you had been using, but to hear they are doing the job makes me very happy….and it was such a pleasure. Happy turning..
I’m using them rather than my old ones now, and I have some ideas about modifications I want to make in the future…
Great Jane, glad to hear it. I have just bought more steel with intention to forge some new shapes for making lidded pots. Let me know the results of your modifications when you test them out….
Wonderful write up… And timely, as I am going to venture into pole lathe turning this spring—collecting info on lathe design and tool making as I await spring thaw (which is still 4 or more weeks out here in Michigan!). Any advice to a complete newbie? I see you have a few other articles (just glanced at the one on hook tool forging). Thanks for putting all of this info out there. Much appreciated!
Hi Mark, check out the APT website and the Bodgers ask and answer forum. Plenty on there to search through for lathe building info and advice for people new to turning. Get in touch with Jarrod Stonedahl too. My geography is bad but he is at least on the same bit of ground as you and may know of someone close to you able to offer advice. Enjoy the journey!
Very well, thank you. Yep, Jarrod is in the same general region, I’ll see what he has to offer as well. Very excited to start turning!
Sharif, Yes you are very patient & a good teacher.
Anyone thinking of turning bowls in this manner should get in touch. I’m left handed & have learnt right-handed, then go home & teach myself left-handed. If this sounds confusing it is to me too!
It is just an amazing feeling when you get coordinated & do a bit of the bowl when head,arms, hands, fingers, body & legs & feet are all working together. Will practice so can do it for a whole bowl. Yes when the right sound & the right whispers are coming from wood it’s pure joy. (ps. these photos now look all backwards to me now, thankfully I can flip them)
& next to make some left-handed hook tools, (& drink some local ale too) with a touch of George Lailey thrown in! With different bevel angles to suit hard & soft woods.
It’s amazing to eat from a bowl one has turned themselves, somehow the food tastes much better too!!
I may never become as skilled as Robin or yourself Sharif, the experience of trying brings a huge amount of joy. Thank you so much Sharif.
Thsnks David for the nice feedback. It’s a pleasure to be in the company of such an enthusiastic bowl turner as yourself. I learn so much from sharing what I know with others. Very grateful for that opportunity. Looking forward to seeing you again soon.
Great explanations and photographs. We’re going to have a go at making a bowl lathe at Wooplaw Community Woodlands this coming weekend as part of our green wood weekend. Thanks Sharif!
Thanks James, good luck with it all. Be good to hear how you get on with it.