End of year thoughts…

Another year is about to end, and in the tradition of woodturningblog I thought I’d do a year in review post.

The Blog year began on January 9th with what was to become a recurrent theme – an apology for lack of posts. In the same post I also questioned whether or not to continue with the blog. Well here I am one year on and the blog is still here. It is only due to the comments and emails I’ve received through the year that I continue to blog. Without the communications from readers it would be a pointless exercise and I’d stop in a heartbeat.

Overall it’s been a hard year and one I fully expect to be repeated in 2012. A notable number of makers, artists and craft workers have given up this year as strings were being pulled so tight that it began to cut off circulation. A number have diversified and begun to take on work which is not strictly in line with their original aspirations, and I did quite a bit of that myself in 2011. But then sometimes you have to just to be able to continue.

At the risk of repeating myself, our problem is that what we do in the main is at the luxury end of the market and our products are easily ignored when purse strings are also tightened. The choices for makers are to buckle down and live on far less, to drop prices considerably (which devalues the work, effort, skill and material), diversify, or accept defeat and find work elsewhere. All easy typed than done.

I had a hobby turner question my outlook during the year. “Well I’m still doing great!” he assured me. “I took over £350 last Saturday at a one day event.”

Of course he did. Nothing on his stall was priced at more than £20. And nothing on his stall was priced at anything like a realistic price for the materials, time and skill required to produce them. We can all sell £14 bowl blanks turned into bowls for £20. What we can’t then do is make a living doing it.

The back end of this year has thrown up a few promising developments and contacts, and I am working on a few approaches that I hope will redress the balance a little in 2012. I have been given some advice from a seriously successful source in the art/craft world, and have been implementing it over the past month or so, and hope to see results in the New Year. Some of the activities are necessarily away from the lathe and involve activities I’d far rather not be concerned with, but needs must.

So what do I expect from 2012?

Not a lot actually. I know what I’d like to do; I’d like to lock the workshop door and work. But that’s not possible in the real world. In the real world I’ll have to continue doing all the things I only do through expediency and hope I can find time and energy for the things I actually want to do.

What I have enjoyed this year has been the contact and exchange with Blog readers. Both public and private. It would be nice if more voiced opinions publicly, but I do understand the reticence of some to speak out for all to hear. Or “read” in the case of a blog.

Well, not a very upbeat blog post, but then it’s not been a very upbeat year. It’s been a year of bloody hard work with little reward for most makers, but tomorrow is another day and most of us will be around to carry on doing what we do regardless. Damn fools.

Bored, cold & alone…

So it’s been a bitterly cold day down at Riverside house. We even resorted to putting some (shock horror) Elm on the fire. It seemed so cold that even the wood didn’t feel inclined to give up its heat. I knew I was to be abandoned this evening, as the girls, Grandma, Mum and Daughter and Neice were off the pantomime, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to play with the potentially annoying (dental type noises) piercing unit from Woodart Products. If nothing else it might ease the boredom of the day.

So I took a 210mm square of sapele that I’d reclaimed from the firewood pile earlier in the day and turned a very quick round-bottomed square bowl. For no other reason than I couldn’t be bothered to a) find another piece of wood, b) cut it into a disc, and c) I thought the squareness might provide some counterpoint to the piercing. So the bowl, plate, dish, call it what you will, was turned, quickly abraded to 320 grit, and taken home to pierce.

I decided to try to make a conscious effort not to do the usual pattern you see far too often these days, so opted for a larger, more freeform pattern not dissimilar to ink blots. Another reason for the shapes was that such large pierced shapes would provide (perhaps) an even more fragile framework which would test the unit’s capabilities in an extreme situation. The thinking being that a fragile frame and a wildly vibrating tool would not make for a happy ending.

I used one of the two supplied cutters to do the work, and found it to be easily up to the job. The cutter not only pierces but will cut sideways once the cutter is through. The trick, like using a router, is to make sure you cut in the correct direction relative to the rotation of the cutter. The bugbear is when you hit a patch of wild grain, when the cutter wants to wander and skitter, but the variable speed control is a real boon here as reduced speed seemed to lead to better control.

I’d brought some small dremel-type sanding discs and stones to clean up the piercing, but found these were not needed in the end. The cutters produce a nice clean cut and only required a little 320 grit on the outside and inside of the plate to clean up some fuzz.

Compared with the other drive systems I’ve used (and again, I stress that I don’t do a lot of piercing) this unit was faultless in operation. The speed you can work was quite exceptional once you got the feel for it. It didn’t strain or struggle cutting through the 3-4mm sapele, and the action was almost like using a scroll/fret saw such was the control and capability. So all in all I was impressed with it and have already thought how I might use this machine in other ways and on other work pieces. I could see this as a welcome addition to the other off-lathe tools on the work bench.

Here are a few pics of the finished plate after some pyrography was done to the inner edges and upper surface over the piercing. The pictures aren’t terribly good but I’ll take better ones soon.

For those who can’t be bothered to look back for the pictures of the unit, here it is:

I don’t know if Woodart have it one the website yet, but an email may result in any queries being answered.


Often a contentious subject. Colour. But at the moment it would have to be blues. As in “having the blues”.

The dreaded MOT was yesterday and it left me les than happy. It transpires that the previous owner had a tracking problem that had damaged the front tyres on the inner edge and wall. So they addressed it by putting the damaged tyres on the back and two runners on the front. And then they too went the way of the others. Result…four new tyres to pass the MOT. Wonderful. Oh, and tracking of course.

But it didn’t end there. There was also a crack in the front offside coil spring and rear brakes are far from 100% efficient. So a new spring and a rear brake strip down. Could just be a wheel cylinder, but more likely the master. Or could be a few things…cylinder and shoes, cylinder, shoes and cable. Won’t know until it’s in pieces. And just to add that final note of humour…you need two new direction bulbs…they aren’t orange enough. No problem. There are two in the glovebox.

Why does this always happen when it’s freezing or pouring down? And just before Christmas.

So I’ll be having a blue period for a while. Well, it’ll make a change from red and black I suppose.

No turnery-type news to convey but I may do a yearly roundup and add a few thoughts before the end of the week.

Gentle rant and Pyrography vessels…

I’ve not had much to post about this last week as I’ve been busy trying to think of ways to offset the effects of global meltdown. No seriously. This last week alone I’ve heard of two full-time turners who have all but given up, one that’s taken a part-time job doing something else, and another couple who are borderline. Another reported NIL sales at a week-long event, and many more with tales of significantly reduced sales in this the very period that was always the safety margin for the dark months of winter ahead. Not good at all.

The problem is that most of what we do is at the luxury end of the scale of consumer purchasing (and I know I’ve been here before) and so it’s easy to forgo that new nest of bowls, hand-turned pen/clock/vase Etc., and settle on the bucket discount shops.

This is all the sadder when you see the drives to promote hand-made in various quarters. The Crafts Council and Government not least. (There’s a surprise on two counts!) But the truth is that no matter how many well-intentioned schemes are put into play, if consumers are scared they don’t buy.

So in order to stop my mind exploding with hair-brained schemes I decided to play.

I salvaged a couple of the hollowforms I made at Classic Hand Tools, re-worked them a little, and fired up the woodart pyro machine.

Now before I post pictures a warning…if you are weak of organ, steadfastly conservative (in turning matters), or just easily shocked and scared, then look away now. What follows may cause offence…(I’m not yet convinced it doesn’t cause it to me!)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Because someone will ask…10″ by 9″ (ish) Sycamore (spalted)

In the morning it may be black!

Wood Piercing Unit…

After checking with John at woodart-products I find I can mention the mysterious package after all, so today I had a play with it. But what is it?

I’ll tell you tomorrow…or the day after…or maybe next week…

Now that this picture of an ex hollowform has warmed you up I’ll tell you..

Woodart-products are about to launch a wood piercing unit onto the website, and John wanted my opinion on it. So here it is for what it’s worth…but before that an admission…I don’t do an awful lot of piercing, and so am not the best qualified to comment, but having half a brain and a little experience I thought it might be of some little value so here goes…

The driving unit is solidly built in a steel shell, and houses a variable speed control, forward/reverse switch, and a direct or foot-pedal control switch, along with a green neon operating indicator (which is important for those with hearing difficulties) and the socket for the handset.

The handset is lighter than many similar tools, and has an 1/8″ collet which locks and unlocks with a simple twist, but locks solidly. It will take all the standard dremel-type bits you may have, and comes supplied with two cutters for piercing.

Here’s the unit, handset and foot pedal (which works best on the floor rather than the bench!)

When I have pierced in the past I have used either the Axminster fordom-type drive with flexishaft, or the dremel, and whilst both do the job I have always had an issue with vibration – which can result in RSI – and noise; neither being what you could call quiet in operation, but the woodart unit is almost silent, and certainly does not cause concern, and likewise the vibration issue is barely even worth considering. It’s very user friendly in both respects.

So after trying the same cutter to a Dremel Multi, the Axminster and the woodart unit it was very quickly apparent which I would go for if I were using one for any length of time: the woodart without a doubt. It’s quiet, vibration is so low it’s not a problem, and there is no less power than either of the other two systems. The woodart has a top speed of 35,000 RPM, which I think is faster than the Axminster, and about the same as the Dremel (though I forgot to check!).

I used a dry natural-edged vessel in Sycamore to try the piercing on. It was probably a little thicker than you would produce to pierce, but it was handy and going on the fire anyway. Despite being thicker the unit cuts very easily and very cleanly. Here’s a shot of the piercing straight from the unit…

I’ve left this picture oversized so you can click on it for a closer look. There is no fuzziness to the cut which would require sanding afterwards; it’s clean and tidy right off the tool, which has to be a good thing. Delicate piercing won’t withstand too much abrading after all. But the picture also illustrates my own problem with piercing…it all looks the same! So…

Next time I’ll try and do  a whole vessel, and attempt to make the finished article NOT resemble a Pho or Richardson or Hanbury piece. Now there’s a challenge for you all…

In conclusion I think the unit is perfectly suited to piercing wood. Everthing you need is in the box – even a spare set of carbon brushes – and you can plug and play. If you are considering piercing then I would strongly recommend this unit over the others I have used. Had I known such a thing was available when I bought the fordom-type unit I think I’d have bought this instead…although I do use the reciprocating carver so maybe both!

Availablity and price can be obtained from John via: http://www.woodart-products.co.uk/