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FAQs

I am often asked a number of questions about my woodturning process. I have starting this FAQ section to address some of these with my customers. If you have a question that does not appear here please use the contact me page and I will try to answer you as quickly as I can. Enjoy!

Q. How long does it take you to turn a bowl?

A. That is a hard question to answer because turning a bowl or other woodturned items is a staged process. Typically for my bowls, it takes a bit of time to source the material i.e. the tree might need to be found and felled, then cut up into manageable pieces for transport back to the shop. Once on my property the log or blocks might sit outside for some months before I get to them. Sometimes this is done on purpose to allow the wood to spalt and develop some interesting colour and patterns. When I am ready to process the log, individual bowl blanks are cut to length using a chainsaw and then those blocks are cut in half along the wood grain or cut into multiple pieces to deal with flaws or design features. The pith or centre of the tree section must be removed to avoid the cracking that would no doubt result from this section of the tree.  Often I will coat the ends or sometimes the entire block of wood with a paraffin wax emulsion to reduce pre-mature cracking of the wood. Each block is then cut to a symmetrical turning blank (round or square) using my bandsaw. Again, if the pieces will not be worked on soon, I will either coat them with sealant or store then for a short period in plastic bags or wet sawdust to slow the drying process and reduce cracking (checking). Once I have a number of prepared blanks, the pieces will be rough turned on the lathe to a greater thickness than the final product. The rough turned pieces are then sealed and set aside to dry slowly in a cool, shaded area for one to two years depending on the thickness of the piece. Rule of thumb for air drying a bowl blank is one year for each inch of bowl thickness. Bowls will warp and become out of round when drying (hopefully will not crack but that happens too) and that is why the rough turned blanks are thicker than the finished piece. You need the extra thickness when doing the final turning so you don’t run out of wood! When the bowl blank is dry enough, usually less than 12 % moisture content, the piece is put back on the lathe for final turning to thickness. The bowl is power sanded on the lathe and then removed for applying a food safe finish. At least 2 or more coats are required and the finish needs some time to cure before the bowl is ready to sell.

To make a long story short, a bowl can take from one to three years from start to finish. Actual turning time on the lathe accounts for a small fraction of the time, anywhere from 15 minutes to a full day depending on size and complexity. Of course if the bowl blank is purchased from a supplier and the blank is already dry, the time for me is reduced greatly but I prefer preparing and turning my own blanks. It is much more enjoyable!

Q. Can bowls and other woodturnings be made directly from green wood?

A. Yes, it is possible to take a fresh, wet piece of wood and make a bowl with much less time for the drying process. The trick is to turn the bowl thin enough so that the internal pressures from drying will not cause the wood to crack. Of course the bowl will warp, sometimes substantially as it dries or even while it is still on the lathe. That warping can result in design features for the item. The bottom of the bowl might need to be flattened again as the bowl dries because it will become out of round, but turning a bowl from green wood can be a lot of fun and it greatly reduces drying times. I sometimes use this process on my pieces, especially for live edge bowls that have asymmetrical rims anyway.

Q. Where do I get my wood for turning?

A. I have a number of sources I use for obtaining my turning blanks. If I am looking for exotic woods or a special piece that is already dry, I will purchase from specialty wood suppliers locally or out of town. There are a number I deal with and I have had good results with all. Most of the wood I use is purchased from local loggers, firewood dealers or arborists. Homeowners are another source of wood and I will often provide a finished item from the tree to the homeowner in exchange for the wood. I sometimes get random calls and offers of wood from clients or others and woodworking friends are another good source of material. I have a small woodlot on my property where I source some material as well. Any burl collectors out there? I can’t say no to a pretty burl!

Q. What kind of wood are you looking for?

A. Presently I have a large supply of wood that I am working through. However, I am usually enticed to acquire more depending on the species and grain pattern. Burls are especially hard to resist. A few years ago I prepared a list of desirable woods so I could spread the word among potential sources. Here is a description:

Burls - these are the proverbial “bumps on a log”!  They are growths that appear on the sides of trunks or around trunks and can also appear along roots.  Burls are more common on some trees than others with the most common occurring on maples, yellow birch, cedar, cherry, black spruce and less common on ashes, ironwood, white pine and others.  All are usable depending on firmness, freedom from major cracks and size.  Their value is dependent on quality, size and scarcity.  When the burls are cut from the tree I prefer that they have the associated trunk section attached, but this is not essential.

Crotches - These are the trunk sections directly below at least two major limbs.  If the wood is cut lengthwise down the trunk, but through the limb pith sections, some nice feather grain can be obtained.  I would need at least a foot of trunk beneath the crotch to be intact, or more if it is a larger tree, in order to get all this grain pattern.  Maples, oaks, poplars, cherry and sometimes other species are good for this.

Curly and Birdseye Figure - Most loggers are familiar with birdseye maple.  Sometimes this grain pattern can be found on other trees as well.  I am interested in good quality birdseye trees and/or sections of trunk leftover from log selection and felling.  Curly grain occurs most commonly in maple, ash and yellow birch.  It often occurs closer to the root flare but this is not always the case.  Here, I am interested in logs, sections of logs, or sometimes rough dimensioned lumber.

Spalted Wood - When green wood is exposed to the soil microbial organisms, usually fungi, invade the wood and start to break down the wood fibres.  If you get this wood before it has become too soft, these fungi often leave black lines that leave a very appealing design in the wood, almost like india ink drawings.  Maple, beech and birch and sometimes oak are good candidates.  Beech and white birch go soft quickly so you have to get them early in the process.

City Trees and Ornamentals - Some city trees and ornamentals provide unique woods for turning that you would not normally see.  Manitoba maple or boxelder can produce burls or odd shapes and the wood can take on a red colour from a fungus stain.  Carolina poplar can produce spectacular curly grain.  Of course trees such as black walnut, cherry, apple and other fruitwood are good for turning.  The same is true for ornamentals like lilac, russian olive, dogwood, locust etc.  I usually trade some of my bowls and other turnings for these types of woods.