For most of it's history, wood turning was basically an industrial process. Wood turners made all sorts of household goods, chair and furniture parts, and other functional items. About 40 years ago a number of artists began to adapt it for artistic purposes. Steven Hogbin, Mark Lindquist, David Ellsworth, Bob Stockdale, to name a few, really took turning to artistic heights and have produced a number of beautiful and important works.
One of these artists, David Ellsworth, turns what he calls "spirit forms." This are round, sometimes spherical, other times more flattened or cylindrical shapes that are not functional pieces per se but instead are turned to emphasize the grain patterns and thus the natural beauty of the wood. The pieces he turns vary in size from very small, fit-in-your-hand sizes to pieces made from trunks of trees. And his pieces are hollow-he uses special tools to hollow them out.
I've been studying the forms that he has made and I've decided to try turning some myself. I love river stones. I've loved the shape and the surfaces of these kinds of stones all my life and I decided to see if I could combine some of Ellsworth's techniques (see his book Ellsworth on Woodturning) along with my own skills and turn some wood into shapes resembling river stones.
So I've been practicing lately with branches and other small pieces have collected over the past year and I'd like to share with you the piece I made today out of some scrap, laminated pine.
Here we go:
On one of my wood hunting expeditions I acquired a large laminated block of pine. I've since cut the block into more useable shapes and I had several small pieces left over. I've taken one of them and drilled a hole in the bottom so as to mount it on the Nova chuck on the lathe:
Pine is a soft wood and softwoods do require extra care. Your tools have to be very sharp and you have to turn at very high speeds. This is an example of a dull tool and a slow speed. You can see the tear out in the photograph:
Using the right tool is critical too. I started with a roughing gouge and ended up with my skew chisel. I sharpened it to razor sharp and turned the blank very slowly and gently for a minute. Note the difference in the results:
This photo shows the form with all the sides turned off and the ends rounded a bit. As this is pine and it's spinning very fast here, it's easy to turn off too much wood. Also note that the piece is still between centers to stabilize it and to dampen any vibration:
This photo shows the form with the bottom completed. I've removed the tailstock and now I'm turning just the top and shoulders of the piece. I proceeded very slowly at this stage as turning a piece of wood results in a lot of physical stress on the surface of the form. It can easily flip off the chuck and go flying across the wood shop! Again, tools have to be very sharp and the form is spinning at 900 rpm:
This is piece with all the cutting completed. I'll sand it to 800 grit:
Here are several photographs of the finished piece. It was finished with just wax and polished:
I oriented the top with the laminated end of the form and this produced concentric circles and the hole is in the "eye" of the wood.
Here is one last photo of this form with several other pieces:
I have a small block of bocote wood that I'm going to turn next. Stay tuned.