Tree of heaven…or maybe hell!

I’ve turned this nasty wood before, when I first started woodturning, and found it awkward and prone to pulling at the end grain. At the time I attributed this to my lack of proficiency and gave up.

A couple of weeks ago I was given some very large logs, cut down the pith, which had been cut a number of years ago. I decided to turn them today, into very large natural-edged bowls. What a mistake! Now it is possible that the wood was simply too far gone, but I suspect that the problem is the wood itself. The end grain pulled to a dreadful degree, and hoepfully I’m at least a little more proficient than I was at my first meeting with this awful wood.

A little research on the Tree of Heaven leads me to think that the problems are with the wood. And not just for woodturners. It ttranspires that the tree is a threat to all UK trees! How frightening is that?

Culled from an old Observer article:

Using a strategy called allelopathy, Ailanthus leaks toxins into the ground which prevent the germination and establishment of other species in its vicinity. It is very tolerant of pollution and soil disturbance and at home in an urban habitat, earning it the nickname ‘Ghetto Palm’ in New York.

Sightings of the plant in British cities, in particular on land near railway tracks, have increased rapidly in recent months, suggesting that Ailanthus may be readying itself for a major expansion of its territories.

Ailanthus is also fiercely resistant to human intervention and will respond to cutting by throwing out underground suckers which can damage pavements, drainage systems and building foundations. All parts of the tree produce a nauseating odour suggestive of rancid cashew nuts.

So not only does this tree not turn very well, it may also kill off the tree species that do turn well.

It’ll be a pleasure to burn what I have left at home. Though I suspect that it gives off little heat.

Back to what I love best…

At least for today!

I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to be starting fiddly commisions today. Everybody seems to be in full madness mode, and I needed a break, so I decided to spend the day turning something for myself.

A poplar tree was felled locally two days ago, and a large section of truck came my way. Now poplar isn’t my favourite wood to turn, but the growth rings seemed quite tight, and the cut from the chainsaw promised a reasonable finish, so onto the lathe went a 19″ diameter end-grain round.

This first one went well until it pulled off the lathe at a 3″ section of growth ring. Oh well. Next.

The second went very well all the way, making a lovely 19″ natural-edged end-grain bowl. I’ll see how it goes whilst it dries. Maybe a photo tomorrow. It was good to turn a wood I usually discount and find it turned very well indeed. Lots of tannin, so some tool blacking, and LOTS of sap flying about, but good fun none-the-less. A relaxing way to spend a day, but god my shoulders ache now.

After that a large section of conventionally cut Ash. This piece was dry and very hard, having some burr in it. On the bark side there was a perfect, though small semi-circular burr, which I cut off before hand, and will turn later. The remaining section was disced and turned. It’s not complete, but promises a pretty item when done. I’ll complete it tomorrow.

And now it’s time for a long hot bath, a good book, dinner, and then a glass, or two, of mulled wine. Well, it is nearly Christmas!

The truth about doing it for a living…

The truth about doing it for a living is that it’s relentless; you are bound to chase jobs to bring in the money to pay the bills…insurancs, business rates, commercial rent, consumables Etc., and not to forget the NI and Revenue slices of your dwindling cake. And the whole process can begin to feel like a merry-go-round. If you didn’t do it for a living you wouldn’t need to sell work to pay the rent, rates Etc., and could carry on regardless in the home workshop.

The other, and possibly more obvious, difference is what you turn and why. I suppose I’m quite fortunate that I get to turn (possibly) more of what I want to turn than some full-time turners. I don’t, for instance, spend days each week turning MDF clock surrounds for a regular order book entry. But then maybe I should! The truth is though, that you get to turn less and less of what you want to, and are obligated by financial imperative, to turn what you know will sell well, and at a profit commensurate with survival. And that can be a bind some days.

I am coming up to the second anniversary of having the “gallery” and workshop, and it’s been a long two years in some ways, and seems to have flown in others. I know it’s made me more tired than I’ve ever been in my life…but that could just be my age! And it’s also made me far more aware of the value of certain things. Friendship, support, people who you can rely on when you need a hand with something, all have been invaluable to me during this last two years.

For once I’m actually looking forward to a few days off at Christmas, which must be indicative of something!, but Christmas is a worrying time for the woodturner who makes his living at it. The leaner months of the year are looming. But I’ll do exactly what I did this time last year…carry on turning and let it sort itself out! Not very planned (at all), and not at all logical, but it worked last year!

This January I intend to spend some playing with ideas that I haven’t had the chance to explore, there’s also the pressing matter of extending the workshop, two physically huge projects to complete on commission, and some tools I need to make for an idea I have. So lots to do during the lull that January is.

Today is going to be spent away from the workshop. The van did its “van thing” last week AGAIN! and dropped a suspension strut. I lost my temper a little and went and bought a car, well an estate actually, but then I repaired the van yesterday whilst suffereing from the awful manflu that’s going around, and now it’s all working again I don’t know if I want the estate! but I’ll tax it today and see later. And then I have to go and view an entire workshop with a view to buying the tools and equipment. At least that will be fun! More tools! When is that not good fun?

Tomorrow? I have a huge Maple burr that’s going to take some work, and tool steel, to make something of…but it’ll be worth it I hope.

A nice end to a long day…

It was Workshop night for our club this evening, and I thought I’d miss it due to a late appointment at the Doctor’s surgery. Anyway I made it alright, and was surprised with a gift! Another club member, and fellow villager, Graham, had given a book to another member, Colin, to pass on to me. No big thing you might think. But you’d be wrong! The book is “The Reading Lathe – A link with the Anglo Saxon Migration – By Philip H Dixon.

It’s a fantastic little book, and one I didn’t already have in my collection. The problem is now that I know I’ll take it to bed with me, I know I’ll begin reading it, and I have a suspicion that I’ll carry on until it’s finished. And I shouldn’t. But how could you resist?

So thanks to Graham and Colin for the much appreciated addition. I did look for a cover shot but couldn’t find one. Maybe I’ll scan it if I get the chance this side of Christmas. The ISBN for anybody interested is as follows: 1-873295-65-0

It’s worth getting hold of just for the photographs alone.

On a cold and frosty morning…

So it was frosty yesterday, but no worries, get turning and you’ll soon warm up, I thought. But I was warmer, incandescent in fact, before a shaving had hit my arm. Turn key and nothing! A long run with a heavy van later I was being towed by a kind friend. I missed a Doctor appointment, spent most of the remainder of day replacing the silencer – which I’m convinced some moron had spot welded to the back box! – and little turning. But a day’s charging did have it starting.

So this morning at seven, with a heavier frost, I went out to tempt fate. But three tries and it was away. Good. I’m even more inclined to become the first woodturner to routinely use a horse & cart. A neighbour with a farmer daughter informs me this morning that there’s a car on its roof down one of the local lanes I use. I wonder if all UK residents should be forced to go and live in Sweden for at least one winter? Why are we so incapable of dealing with snow and ice? And how do the Swedes cope with disharged car batteries? And can I have one of whatever they use to comabt it please!

So today will be a MAJOR catchup day. There’s lots to do and not enough time to do it. Hey Ho. Oh well, onto a 17″ D 1/2″ clock bezel. That should be fun.

Long week, dodgy starters, and a surprise at the end…

When you routinely work seven days a week the concept of the weekend is quickly lost to you. They’re just another two days. So in effect every week is long because there’s no natural break in the pattern of work. But this last seven or eight days has been especially long and hard.

There have been awkward commissions to complete, stock to make for a weekend event, and then, just as my luck goes, another ******y starter motor decided to die just as I am packing the van for the event. And it’s Friday. Late Friday. Shops closed late Friday. So what to do?

Now the vilage where I live, in East Anglia, is not renound for its hills, so bump starting a heavy diesel van, fully ladden with stock and display stuff was HARD work. But I managed and thought I’d worry about getting it back home at the end of the day. As it turns out a helping hand from the Sole Bay Cheese man (purveyor of fantastic local and European cheeses!) made getting home possible.

A hastily ordered starter, and a record breaking fitting by torch light had me back starting by the key on Saturday evening. So Sunday was a more comfortable start.

And the surprise at the end of the weekend was a very successful event. Two of my favorite large pieces sold, and more besides. So a very worthwhile event.

Now all I have to do today is: get Ellie ready and take her to school, unload the van and rebuild the gallery display, return the old starter for a refund, do the banking, go and collect a new washing machine (never let SWMBO do the washing…they have no respect for load capacity and bearings don’t like it!), take the old washing machine to the dump, and then get busy with replacing some stock items for my last event of the year, start/complete a number of commissioned pieces to be collected this week (Eeeek!), and take a load of shavings over to the stables. Nice easy day then.

Want to earn your living from Woodturning? Don’t bother!!