Friday, March 22, 2013

Three Sisters Project, continued: The white ash and cumaru plates

Hi Everyone,

I'm going to continue today with some work on the white ash and cumaru wood plates.

Here is the white ash plate as it's the easiest of the two turns:

The White Ash plate
I really enjoy turning white ash. It's got a lovely color that food looks great on, it's not as hard as some of our other domestic hardwoods here in the US, and it has a very bold grain pattern. It also turns very well. I'm often surprised that it isn't used by turners more than it is.

I found several pieces of it last week at my friends the cabinet makers at Forrest Wood Products in Oakdale and bought them both and I cut out a platter blank from one of the pieces:

Here is a photo of the blank on the lathe. I've penciled in the foot and also a tenon for the wood vice. I'm just going to make a very simple plate out of this as it has a lovely, busy grain pattern and I think this type of turn will emphasize that nicely. I'm going to set the camera down and turn the underside of the plate:

Here is the underside of the plate about 10 minutes later.  It's got a nice arc and I've smoothed with with my skew chisel. Time to flip it over and hollow out the top of the plate:

 Here is a photo of the finished plate. This type of a design can't have any surface imperfections. It must be smooth and have a nice arc and I think I've managed to get that in this plate:

 And here is a photo of the plate with some wood shavings on top in order to convey depth in the photograph. This will need a very smooth, fine sanding:

The Cumaru Wood plate
Cumaru wood is an imported hardwood from Brazil that is mostly used here in the US for flooring and decking. It is very very dense and it has an interlocking grain which makes machining it difficult to do. It tends to dull tools very rapidly and it is hard to work with. The upside of this wood is that it's really beautiful. It has a deep golden brown color and a beautiful grain pattern to it and I think it will make a neat plate.

I decided to make a square plate out of this particular piece. Square turnings are difficult to do as it's easy to accidently break off the corners while turning and like the white ash turn above, there can't be any surface defects left when done. A good even wall thickness is imperative too, to show off the arc of the turning. On top of this cumaru requires a fast turning speed and very sharp tools and a lot of patience to get a good result. Lastly, this is a very dangerous type of turning:

Here is a picture of the blank on the lathe. You can see the sharp corners. If one of those corners should hit my hand or arm while the blank is spinning, it could result in a very, very bad accident so set up with this type of turn is important and this certainly isn't a turning project for the inexperienced turner. (and here's my diclaimer: this is dangerous and so I'm not showing the process photos for this. Don't do this turn on your own.)

Here is a photo of the turn after about 15 minutes of turning. You can see how the surface is dished out. This hollowed area will have to be taken all the way to the edge of the blank without damaging the corners. This is more difficult than it sounds as I can't see the corners as they're spinning. All I can see is a shadow and so I have to very carefully sculpt away the wood at the edge. The total turn time for this was about 90 minutes. I did it very slowly.

Here are some photos of the finished plates from today's session. This is the cumaru wood plate. You can see how it appears "bent" and the corners are still there. The surface is really beat up and this is going to take quite a bit of sanding to fix:

This is the walnut plate. I've narrowed the rim somewhat and sanded it a little. I'm not sure if I'll eave the inner rim in place. I'll have to think more about this:

And here is the white ash plate with a small candle on it to convey depth. This also needs a lot more sanding:

All of the plates are going to need considerable sanding before finishing. I think all of these plates will look great with a coat of linseed oil on them so that's probably what I'll do. I'm going to do the sanding off line (not much to see there) and let you know when the plates are ready for oiling and we'll do that together so you can see the finished products.

I'm going to go and make dinner so I'll see you again next week. Thanks for dropping by the wood shop!



  1. These are amazing. I love how you can see the beautiful shape inside the wood and then show us the steps in releasing it. I don't always understand all the technical details but love hearing them, especially the challenges and dangers. Thank you so much for thinking of us and for making such amazing work.


  2. Hello Dina!
    Well, I'm glad you've dropped by the wood shop and taken a look at the project. Wood turning is an ancient art and is a combination of wood working, sculpting, and tool making and I'm one of about a dozen women in the US who do it professionally and online. I learned to how to turn wood many years ago-I had an uncle who was a shipwright and he had a lathe. When he died he left it to me. I don't have that lathe anymore but I do like the lathe I have and I have a full accompaniment of tools for it. And I really, really enjoy what I do.
    Drop by the shop anytime-I always have wood and there's always something going on!
    Thanks for your comment and take care,