a goal – to turn wooden bowls outside of the school woodshop. I set about this with two main tools: a chainsaw and a lathe. The chainsaw was Rob’s and the lathe belonged to an older local in Jackson. I cut a whole bunch of aspen in steamboat, made a jig in order to cut the pieces down to 12” circles to fit into the lathe.
I spent the better part of the next week troubleshooting the lathe. As soon as I mounted a 12” chunk of aspen and fired it up, the lathe started literally rattling across the floor; I knew something was up. I turned it off, discovered that it was missing many bolts and started repairing the lathe. Later, in the middle of turning a bowl, the motor flywheel flew off. Literally flew off. So I hammered it back on, made a makeshift woodruff key and continued on. After that, it was finally clear sailing turning bowls. That was until I broke Rob’s saw. Oh well. Fixed the saw the following week.
Getting back to Steamboat is always a great time. It is just nice to walk around town and recognize at least half of the people I see. I decided to stop by two of my favorite places, the high school wood shop where I spent most of my senior year building standup desks and a visit to my middle school shop teacher, Mr. J’s house and shop. At the high school, I checked out some of their newest projects, including making 6’ lathe turned walking sticks and welding bike frames. The hand painted posters around the shop showcase the attitude of the shop – chose a project and Dusty will make it his mission to help you get it going!
At Mr. J’s it is always inspiring to see his projects all taking shape. This visit, he had just finished a sailing dory, and was making plans to build a standup paddleboard. After comparing design ideas, he showed me his chicken coop, although I would call it more of a chicken fortress. Apparently, he got plain old sick of foxes getting his chickens. That’ll show them.
The next morning I headed north to cut wood for turning bowls back in Jackson. At school, I have so many woodworking tools at my fingertips that it is often hard to decide which to use. This summer, it is all going to be about making it work with as few tools as possible. Today, the tools were a chainsaw a skinny log bridge and a wax coating to prevent checking. After bucking a piece of wood to a size that I liked, I stood it on end and ripped it in half by plunging the tip and dragging the rip cut deeper little by little. Eventually the two halves would split apart and I would have two pieces. From there I hauled them up to the car across a teeny log bridge, and coated the grain with a wax sealant. From hauling heavy logs, to sawing for hours, if you know my fear of heights then you would guess that the hardest part of the day was carrying the log pieces across that damn little bridge!
Ben graduated Colorado School of Mines this May, and I had to come up with a graduation present. I hemmed and hawed for the better part of winter term, then the idea
came to me. Not necessary at all, but super cool, and I think that he will be able to use it for a long time. It even has his initials and the 10th Mountain Division logo on it! What do you think of the wooden flask?
Wood is an amazing thing. It is fascinating to trace the grain of a 400 grit sanded and finished piece of figured wood. Figured grain can be found in all trees if you know which pieces to keep and which ones to put in the firewood pile. Of course, the burl areas of a tree, where some disease or bug caused the tree to have a growth is the coolest grain, but there are many other areas that turn beautiful wood bowls. Where a trunk splits in two makes for incredible grain and an incredible shape if I turn the bowl bark side out.
Once I select a piece of wood, I need to split it either with a sledge and wedges or with a chainsaw. The latter makes a much nicer cut. Next, I coat the wood with wax to prevent it from cracking or checking. From here until the wood is dry, it is a battle of will: me and superglue versus woods tendency – a tenacious one – to want to crack in two.
I turn green wood. Green wood means that it is still wet, not kiln dried. The wood hasn’t dried and had a chance to move into its relaxed shape. In order to turn green wood, I wear some protection: a mask for the dust, a helmet similar to a police riot helmet in case the wood cracks in half and flies at me at 3,000 RPM, and an apron. The apron is to try to keep some of the wood shavings out of my pockets, underwear and every other place I dont want wood shavings. The other thing it does is keep some of the splatter off of me, because wet wood is, well, wet.
As the wood turns on the lathe, the gouge cuts the wood in giant strands. By the time I finish shaping the outside of a bowl, the pile of wood shavings at my feet is enough to make me slip and slide while I try to stay focused and maintain control over the cutting gouge. One false move and I could catch the gouge, causing it to pull out of my hands and fly across the room, make an ugly cut in my bowl, pull my hand
into the lathe, or in the worst case, cause enough sudden force on the green wood to crack it and fling it off the lathe and at my face. Needless to say, I stay pretty focused during the whole process. By the end of turning a bowl my forearms are pretty pumped, but the finished product makes it all worth it.