Tumble Weed Monday…

I don’t go into the unit most Mondays now; using the day for paperwork, accounts, mail and other assorted admin type work. But today I had a few things to do, so went in. The centre was like a ghost town. Not a soul about all day. This is never a good thing…unless you want peace and quiet that it is. 

I took a photo of a job last week and forgot to post it here. The turned item is a 17″ clock bezel which required turning on both sides. Not the simplest of tasks at the best of times. But even more difficult when the client decides that it requires altering due to a design change…how do you remount a 17″ delicate bezel to re-turn a section of it? Cole jaws too small, jam chuck wasteful at this size, and nothing to pick up the center from…humm 

The massive chuck on the big lathe of course! I changed the jaws set and picked up the internal straight edge using the outside of the jaws as reference. Bingo! 


I recently bought a Gast pump on eBay to make a vacuum chucking system with, and had got so far but still had a leak on the bearing. This morning I went down to my local Marine supplies place and had a chat about fittings and bearings. “No problem” was the response. £12 later and all the bits and pieces were gathered.


A 3/8 hose connector fitted snuggly into the bearing and was fixed with araldite, a recess was turned into the existing aluminium hand wheel on the lathe (I rarely use the hand wheel) and the bearing glued in the same way. A rubber washer fits between hand wheel and the headstock just to be certain of maintaining vacuum pressure. A vacuum chuck was made up of layers of MDF, sealed, and mounted on a board with one of the M33 nuts detailed in an earlier post. The whole thing was sealed again, and has since been over-painted to ensure the air-tightness of the whole rig. This first chuck has a ring of flat rubber as the seal between chuck and workpiece, but the next will have a split rubber hose, and I’ll compare results later. 



And once set up a trial run was called for. I mounted another piece of 18mm MDF and made the back plate for a second vacuum chuck using the M33 nut again, sealed in with araldite.




I haven’t got the vacuum gauge and dust filter inline yet, it should be delivered tomorrow, but the system works a treat and even with a couple of heavy and aggressive cuts to test the hold, all was well. It should prove a real boon overall. Even better as I managed to get all the hose fittings and hoses from my Father-In-Law for nothing! My Mother-in-law may not like him hoarding “rubbish”, but I do!

And it does go to prove that they really do come in useful one day

Crafts Council…

On Friday I had an interesting conversation with Monica Grose-Hodge, secretary of the Art Workers Guild. Monica was commissioning a set of wooden table plates, and we got to talking about craft in the UK, and her position on the Guild obviously came  up. It transpired that we have mutual acquaintances, and, it seems, mutual concerns about craft in the UK. As a result of her concerns, Monica told me that she had signed up to the HCA, and had attended the meeting at the V&A which sadly I had to miss due to serious family illness.

The HCA  is primarily concerned with crafts which easily, but not exclusively, fall into the heritage definition, a position driven by the fact that the built heritage, and the natural heritage are already catered for, whilst the tangible crafts skills have been wholly ignored.

It would seem that there  is a growing movement of people concerned, and vocal, about the state of crafts in the UK; it’s current condition, its future, its development and the ignored potential.  As Woodturners we often imagine that we are alone in being left out of the loop, and consider ourselves the poor relation to many other arts and crafts in terms of recognition and our place in the Grand Scheme. Not so, apparently. The situation is the same for other crafts in the UK.

Inevitably we touched upon the Crafts Council and its role in promoting craft.  The Crafts Council are running an initiative called Craft Matters, which has some ambitious aims, and is asking for people to sign up for it to show support. On her Blog on the Art Workers Guild website Monica asks some cutting questions about the initiative which started me thinking.

Coincidently, I attended a meeting in London last week where Crafts Council Chair, Joanna Foster CBE, gave a presentation. The presentation was professional and polished, as you might expect, but to my ears didn’t speak to the jobbing maker. This may be a failing on my part of course, but that is how I felt on the day.

One of the common complaints I hear about the CC is the elitist image: graduate makers cosseted by a publicly funded body. How true is this? Well a look at the CC collection may provide a few hints, and the online directory, a resource for which makers pay an administrative fee for inclusion in, is clearly not representative of direct involvement of the CC, and merely an indicator of those makers willing to part with £15 for the opportunity to appear on the CC’s website, and maybe pick up some work as a result. I may well try it myself! But how many of those listed have had active support from the CC?

Is the CC doing anything for crafts at ground level? Does it do anything for makers who haven’t come through the art school route? Does it do anything for jobbing makers hacking out a meagre living from sheds and workshops across the country? My feeling is that it does not.  Another feeling is that its name alone should provide that it does.

I can understand the rationale that dictates that they represent the best of craft, and as a consequence individual makers, but do not understand why some crafts fail to gain recognition and support, and why the focus necessarily has to be on the contemporary and innovative. (And after viewing the index I do wonder about the criteria used for both qualifications). Surely every craft has its premiere practitioners?

So if the CC doesn’t represent crafts in the broad sense, who does? And does anybody care?

Goldsmith’s: But Is It Art?

Goldsmiths: But Is It Art?

Three students in the final year of their MA at Goldsmiths, working towards their degree show, and in part two, beyond into “real” life.

After watching the two shows I hope the title was intended to be ironic. If not, let me answer the question: not in the main part, no!

Aside from an almost hysterical moment when the camera catches Charles Saatchi skip away out of shot, there was, as you might expect, nothing to laugh at in the two programs, but plenty to make you wince, and squirm in your seat. One artist is so unaware of what he is doing he rambles forever and never manages to explain any of his “works” to even a vague degree. “It’s very difficult to explain” he repeats throughout the two episodes.

You made the damned thing!

Of course, the reason could well be that there is no explanation to his “work”, it being simply a random collection of objects loosely cobbled together with no thought what so ever. Although in his defence, he does state on a number of occasions that the “thinking” is exhausting, and that “builders” would probably laugh at that.

I’ve got news for you: it’s bloody hysterical to a woodturner, too.

Another graduate, and best in show winner, makes her “work” from stolen objects in an attempt to highlight questions of ownership. I’ve news for you to, Miss. If you stole them, there is clearly no question to answer. They were not yours to begin with, and having stolen them they remain objects owned by somebody else. The same student later details what amounts to an insurance fraud to a running camera. I hope the loss adjusters were watching.

The one student who, for reasons not specified, is not in the second part, ( I suspect he watched the first and ran away to take the offered job in Moscow) actually seemed to have some talent, integrity, and vision, seemed to be the only one who actually knew what it was he was trying to say with his “work”. Although at one point, troubled and dissatisfied with what he had painted, his tutor actually seemed to be trying to impose a definition and rationale upon him.

Despite the huge disappointment these programs engender, I still enjoy them for the rare fleeting glimpse of something genuine and appealing (such as the unattributed photographs of a crowd scene shot from above), but on the whole I was left feeling as if something had been stolen from me; perhaps the belief that contemporary artists are in the main honest and sincere?

I’m sure that the two-part programme was/is a success for the film makers, but for anybody with an interest, and appreciation of contemporary art, it was surely a disaster. Or was it perhaps a remake of the Emperor’s Clothes disguised as a documentary on contemporary art?  

Available on BBC iPlayer here It’s in two parts, so make sure you watch both.

Mop Up…

It was a busy week last week, and I’ve had little opportunity to post. 

Thursday I was at a meeting of the Worshipful Company of Turners in London. Friday I was also in London for a meeting and then a family day doing the galleries and sights. 

We lived in London, but moved to Suffolk five years ago, and being back in the city was bitter-sweet. There’s an awful lot to miss about London, but even more that isn’t missed. I have to say that seeing police officers walking about with automatic weapons on the hip and in the crook of the arm was most unpleasant. 

Having so many galleries to choose from is wonderful, and we made the most of it with a long day of hopping from one to another. 

My first choice is always Tate Modern. My favourites are there, and I never tire of seeing them…Alberto Geocometti’s sculptures are stunning and moving objects which I have loved from the first time I saw them.


Annish Kapor has also become a firm favourite, and his work always has me thinking about the possibilities of turned work… 


Giuseppe Penone’s work Trees of Twelve Metres may be of general interest to woodturners and woodworkers. 

Penone took industrial balks of wood, 12m long and about 50cm square, and used chisels to remove layers of wood until the “tree” was re-revealed within. When you first see these you imagine a de-barked tree has been stuck into a large balk of machined timber, but the truth is staggering in its scope and ingenuity. I love these pieces of work and can only marvel at the work involved and the imaginationwhich spawned them. They also pose questions for woodturners which I am certain you will all appreciate.




Tate Modern isn’t to everybody’s taste, I know. And you will be amazed at some of the exhibits and what passes for art. But it’s a huge, rich, wonderful celebration of a place, filled with wonderful works. Saatchi may come in for some stick, but you can’t argue that providing such a resource free of charge is an amazing act of altruism. 

I always come away tired and inspired, and also a little mystified at some of the “works” on show. Some of the artists must rock themselves to sleep with laughter after selling. But then who am I to comment. 

Doctors next week. My ear problem has returned with a vengeance and I can hardly hear a thing. Annoying as well as painful.

First Impressions…

I’ve completed the first turning on the big lathe, so what are my first impressions…

It does exactly what you want a large lathe to do; it copes with heavy, out-of-balance blanks without a whisper of a complaint. It’s noisy, but that’s due to the wooden pulleys and is acceptable for that reason…and this may change shortly as a few modifications are indicated now the lathe has electronic variable speed: the pulleys are almost surplus to requirements, and could be replaced by a set of three machined aluminium pulleys driven directly from the motor. Next job.

It’s powerful and care needs to be taken when working…a bad catch would really be a bad catch!I chose a burr oak lump as the first blank – roughly cut with a chainsaw, not at all circular, out of balance, and very, very dry, and very, very hard. The blank was 18″ by 12″ at the start, and ended up at 14″ 1/4″ diameter and 9 1/4″ high, after shaping. Not wanting to waste the inner wood, I decided to core the blank, which was damned hard work, but worthwhile as I now have a fair-sized blank for another vessel. Cutting to 9″ deep for a core is quite aggressive, and the lathe never faltered. I did. But not the lathe.

Working such large pieces, with over-sized tools, is physically demanding, and you know you’ve been turning when you stop, so this will take some getting used to. And I need to get used to it because some of the lumps I have waiting are twice the size of the burr oak used for the first run.

The inverter and remote pod are a real boon. Having variable speed from 0 is a fantastic facility, and I will now re-program the DB1200 to start from 0.

This first piece is quite an ordinary shape, and not uncommon, just a plain and simple vessel. Dimensions are 14 1/4″ Diameter, 9 1/4″ high, and a wall thickness of 1 1/4″. Abraded to 240 grit, and Danish oiled…only one application so far. And whilst unable to weigh it today, it must weigh 10kg.

Big Lathe up and running…

The inverter and remote pod arrived today from www.drivesdirect.co.uk . My friend John was there to help out, and after stripping out all the old wiring, re-configuring the motor from star to delta, and re-wiring we were ready to configure the inverter to the motor and pod. A call to David at Drives Direct and in five minutes the lathe was ready for the first run.

I chose a large, 18″ by 12″, very dry oak burr as the test blank, bolted on a faceplate, managed to lift it onto the madrel, and all was set…

John insisted we “said a few words” in the style of a boat launch, so we did, and then off I went…

I still have to tidy up a few things, bolt the lathe down, and make some real room around the lathe, but I couldn’t resist trying her out. I have to say that it coped with the large out-of-balance lump without a hint of a problem. It was quite a scary moment turning it on and standing to the side with a 1″ bowl gouge, but after a few minutes it was just like working at the usual lathe…only physically harder due to the knocks and bangs of such a large lump of wood…

A short film of knitted together clips will at least give you a taste of the lathe…enjoy it…I did.

Inverter on the way…

The inverter and remote control pod are on the way, thanks to http://www.drivesdirect.co.uk/

If you are looking for a remote pod for your lathe, give them a call and they’re sure to be able to sort one out for you. It has been so nice to deal with a company that actually know what they are doing inside and out. They even understood the needs of woodturner using their equipment. Not just a warehouse and a till as so many companies are these days.

So the big lathe will be up and running by the end of the week!