There’s always a penalty to pay…

After three days playing with very old Oak fence posts…pictures to follow…there was a penalty to pay…gavel & block sets…

These aren’t exactly my cup of tea. In fact, it’s not too much to say that they bore me to tears. Repetition turning is good for a number of things, and certainly has its place in the range of a turners work, but for me it’s not high on the list of things I like to do. Today it was half a dozen gavel & block sets. B&B work. So after these I surely must be due another few days play time?

For those that are interested, these are “pocket sets”…the gavel is only 5″ long, the head 3″, and the blocks 2 1/2” diameter with a reverse-turned sounding hollow on the under side.

The customer was happy, so that’s good.





And just because it’s so pretty…the Russian vine on a neighbouring building…


The Dreidel Box…

I can’t remember where I first came across the Dreidel box, possibly a book, possibly a website, but they appealed to me because of the multiple uses, the history, and the cultural aspect. I’ve made a good number over the last few years, but mainly for the personal pleasure of making them.

After watching Eli make his a few weeks ago, and making one myself at a demonstration (finished the other projects early and it was an off-the-cuff project) my interest was awakened again.

There’s a lot of information on the web about the Dreidel, a few snippets from several websites follow…

A dreidel is a four-sided top with a Hebrew letter on each side. The four letters, nun, gimel, hey, and shin, stand for the phrase Nes gadol hayah sham, or “A great miracle happened here.”

Twice in Jewish history this small object saved the Jewish people.  During Greco-Roman times when it was prohibited for Jews to teach and study Torah, it was noted in historical documents that a Torah teacher would sit on the ground with children and play with the spinning top, as if they were simply playing a game.  However, the game was a facade for Torah lessons that were actually taking place.  During the Nazi occupation of Europe, the spinning dreidel was also used for teaching Jewish children and keeping Torah study continuous and alive in this way. 

The frivolity of game playing, the silliness of being on the ground, the lessons learned, the fun of winning, remembering the bravery of the Maccabees – the dreidel represents overcoming mighty oppressors who have forbidden us to continue with Judaism.  The dreidel in history contains a larger spiritual message besides merely playing a game.

One of the great things about these objects as a project, is that they only require a small piece of stock, maybe 3″ by 2″ by 2″.

The other day I was filling a sack with off-cuts for the fire when I picked up this piece of Ash with the bark still on it…



On the spur I decided to turn a dreidel out of it rather than burn the wood…


Scribe circles either end when using irregular stock, this gives a better use of the wood…and then once a spigot is formed for the four-jaw chuck it’s a simple matter of turning the top first, parting it off, fitting the top into the box and finishing the box. Texturing and colouring is added for interest as the top spins…



After making this Dreidel, which went with Ellie to school, it occured to me that there is little in this that relates to the “real” Dreidel.  So I played about, used a texturing device that Eli uses on some of his work (Jerusalem stone texture), and came up with this…

5The Hebrew characters are pyrographed into the wood…

67And, of course, it must spin!

These are a simple project, but difficult to get just right. The proportions, the spin, the feel, are all important. But for me, there is the cultural significance also which seems to call for attention. I think I’ll play some more with these when time allows…I think there’s a lot that could be done with them…maybe design one with other cultural uses? Who knows. Either way they make a pleasant distraction from the norm.

Weekend away…

The gallery & workshop were closed this weekend. On Saturday I was demonstrating at the Thameside Woodturners Seminar Day. They have a great venue in The Fold, and old school house converted into a community resourse which runs as the Billericay Arts Association. It seemed that every room was occupied by a different group doing some kind of artistic endeavour.

I think the day went reasonably well; four projects completed and two of them went away with delegates at the end. That was different!I enjoyed the day, and especially the lunch which was layed on. I’ve mentioned in earlier posts how difficult demonstrating can be because you have no idea what levels your audience are at, and how difficult it can be to cater to all needs. A consequence of this is that you are bound to leave some thinking it was lacking in some way, and others that you’ve raised the bar too high. But there’s little you can do about that. I just hope I managed a happy medium.

It was SWMBO’s birthday on Sunday, so after my long day on Saturday, she wanted me to have a day off to visit our biggest local fair at the Henham estate…so off we went to look at woodturners, bodgers, basket makers and a wide range of other crafts and arts…and a fair amount of tat too!

There were two very good bodgers whom I sadly didn;t get the chance to speak to, my F.I.L. always has a stand there, and a number of friends from the circuit. It was nice catching up with the many I bumped into during the day…although I did get told off for spending time chatting and SWMBO wondered where I knew all these people from! But we had a good day. Ellie had her hair braided, we went on a simulator ride which simulated something you could not actually do in real life (is that possible, even?), watched the old tractor parade and the heavy horses, had some local food, played a few silly fairground games (which I was hopless at!), and had a good day.

Interestingly, or worryingly, most of the traders I knew were reporting a VERY slow weekend…lots of visitors (I think they estimated close to 30,000), but not much money passing hands. I thought the effects of the CC were starting to flag. Maybe not. Oh well…all we can do is carry on trying to eak a living and hope that Mr Brown and his cohorts don’t pozidrive us all into a wall.

A thought occurs…if this was France, would the French artisans put up with it? Non! I think that all the french artists, crafters, makers, artisans would do something on mass…perhaps agree to all lay down tools, brushes Etc.,  one monday morning, and simultaineously go and sign on. I wonder what that would do to the unemployment figures in the UK? How many makers/artists/crafters are there in the UK today? I feel a search coming on…

On a serious note, it does seem an awful shame that a group, artists/makers/crafters Etc., who are willing, through the love or necessity of what they do, to work for a subsistance living, have so little supporting them. I know that the government can’t force people to buy the output, but they could make the circumstances easier for the group by providing free business rates Etc. After all, many provide a valuable local resource for tourism, help to maintain some kind of cultural heritage, help to develop new cultural initiatives, and often breathe life into dying communities.

But who cares.

Back to work.

What do woodturners want from a Blog?

My one-time obsession with the “stats” page has long since passed away, but I just looked at the page for the first time in ages. 49 visitors yesterday, coming from links elsewhere, searches, and bookmarks. It does make me wonder what we want from a Blog? What is it that woodturners want from a wood turning Blog? Tips? Techniques? General chit-chat?

If you find your way here, drop me a line to let me know what it is you’d like to see and I’ll try my best to provide some user-defined content.

The search engine history seems to indicate a major interest in bowl coring (which I’ve already covered in some detail), which is interesting. Why the current interest? Maybe the credit crunch is making people think about their wood use? Maybe turners are waking up to the fact that certain woods are in getting scarce (and expensive) and simply wish to get the best from what they buy? No bad thing. And coring is certainly a cost-effective method of using a wood blank. The equipment may seem expensive, but, as I’ve said before, you will recoup the cost very quickly. Happy coring.

I actually had a day off today…

and how did I spend it?

Well, I was invited by Gabor Lacko to watch a demonstration by Israeli turner Eli Avisera down in Ilford. As I hadn’t managed to watch any of the demonstrators at the AWGB seminar, and Eli was one of them, I thought I’d drive down and have a Busmans holiday.

Despite the long journey I’m glad I went. Eli is a great turner, and his “tips” could have filled a chapter of a book. I’ll post more tomorrow…or the day after…and some pics.

A change is as good as a rest…

Sometimes it’s good to have a change from the norm. Especially when you feel bogged down and listless. Which I do at present.

So I thought I’d get around to making a full-sized greenwood chair. In order that it’s not a total step away from the lathe, I used the lathe to turn the tennons on the rails and stretchers. I could have used the veritas tennon cutter, a great tool, but the lathe also makes things round, and once you’ve mastered turning matching tennons it’s a easy process to repeat.

The chair isn’t completed yet, it needs trimming up, sanding, and oiling, but this at least shows the chair pretty much as it will appear when finished.

It made a nice change, and the process is very relaxing and stress-free…if you mess us a component you simply cut another and start again.

greenwood chair in hazel and cedar

greenwood chair in hazel and cedar

I enjoyed making the first chair (see earlier post), and enjoyed this one even more. And it’s not wasted time, because it leads you on to other thought paths…here’s an example…but first the story!

Many, many months ago I roughed out a large batch of oak bowls and set them aside to season. Time passes and wood seasons, but during this time your turning habits change also. Having pulled down a few bowls and found them to be dry I realised that they would now be considered worthless! Too dull. Too traditional. Too little scope for making them something other than the usual. Disgusted I threw the bowl into a hedge.

Time slipped away once more. Spring and summer came and went, and autumn showed its face with the leaves dropping from the trees. One day, whilst walking by the same hedge, something caught my eye. The hedge had consumed the bowl. Grown into and through it. And a Turning bird had taken advantage and used the bowl as its nest. Sadly the Turning bird must have been disturbed and flown the nest, leaving the eggs cold and alone.

Saddened by such a sight, I cut the bowl free of the hazel hedge and took it into the workshop. The eggs had unaccountably petrified. Which is odd. I placed the bowl on a log outside the workshop, and decided that it was worth keeping as a reminder of the sad course of events that had occured. The result is the Turning Bird’s Nest…



And if you believe that…!