Mark ( on December 18th, 2011

I’ve created a 4 part video series of myself turning a hollow form using green Cherry wood.  The videos show the complete process starting with a rough chunk of green Cherry, roughing it out, finalizing the outside shape and hollowing the inside.  Click on each video below to view.

Hollow Turning Part 1

Hollow Turning Part 2

Hollow Turning Part 3

Hollow Turning Part 4

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Mark ( on October 26th, 2010

I bet you were wondering when and/or if you’d see me writing about the Sculpted Rocking Chair build again here at the blog.  Well, wait no longer, at long last I’m back at it and writing about my progress.

In reality, I have been doing some smaller bits of work on the project as time has progressed.  I just have not had the time to write about it here.  Now, with some distractions out of the way and more time to send in the shop, I’m back at it with a vengeance!

The next step in the process was to tackle the headrest.  If you’ll recall after coopering the headrest it had been in hibernation for a while now.  There actually is a fair amount of work to be done with it before permanently attaching it to the chair.  However, as you can probably guess before doing that work I needed to make a jig to help facilitate the process!

The jig is actually a very useful one for cutting circles and/or arcs at the band saw.  You can see from the pictures that the jig consists of a base with a movable arm that holds a dowel pivot point.  In addition, for this task of cutting an arc along the front and rear faces of the headstock there is also a temporary carrier board with some scrap L-shaped supports to hold the piece while cutting.

The headstock arcs are cut using a 29 ½” radius on the jig.  I attached the rough piece to the supports with double stick tape and cut the rear arc first.  After that cut was made I shifted the carrier board so that the finished thickness of the headstock would be 1 ¼”.  I then cut the front face of the headstock again with the same 29 ½” radius.  You can see that on the second cut the band saw blade busted out from the piece and left me with a little extra clean-up to do.  I cleaned up the band saw marks with a sanding disk on the angle grinder for the coarser areas and then followed up with the random orbit sander at 120-grit.

With the front and rear arcs completed the next step was to trim the ends of the headstock to fit between the rear legs on the chair.  This was done with the same six-degree angle jig I made earlier to cut the rear legs.  This time it was used along with the sled on the table saw.  This was actually a bit of a tricky cut in that the front of the headstock wants to drop forward as you complete the cut.  I did this cutting in stages and crept up on the fit.  The six-degrees was close but not exact and that, coupled with some variance in the rear leg angles and flexing of the legs themselves, rendered a bit of fine tuning with a hand plane before a good fit was obtained.  To be honest, this was probably one of the more tricky parts of the build so far.  In the pictures you can see this process in various stages of completion.  What’s not shown is the drilling of holes in the headstock through the pre-existing holes in the rear legs to hold the headstock.  This was done with a long 1/8” drill bit (because I could not find a long 5/32” bit locally).  I then had to remove the headstock and enlarge the holes to 5/32” with a shorter bit.  While the headstock was mounted in the chair, I made marks to indicate where the tops of the rear legs and transitions into the legs were located.

The marks that I made helped with the next step of drawing arcs along the top and bottom of the headstock.  These were done with a shop-made trammel set at 41”.  I adjusted the far trammel point (with a fixed radius) until I was hitting the marks on each side of the headstock as I swung the arcs and drew them once it was hitting both marks.  These arcs marked the location of the next two cuts on the band saw.

With the headstock arcs cut I moved on to marking and drilling the headstock for the back braces.  I made a jig to locate each hole using those already routed into the seat.  These were evenly spaced across the headstock.  The holes were drilled in a two-step process at the drill press using a 25/64” drill bit.  The first hole for each ws drilled straight and the second hole was drilled at six degrees toward the front of the headstock.  This extra clearance allows the flexible back braces to move freely when the sitter leans against them.

Because there is a large radius along the top of the headrest I then made one last cut at the band saw.  This was to chamfer the top edge of the headrest so that I did not have as much material to grind away when shaping.  I did this by tilting the band saw table to 45 degrees and using a single point fence to help support the headstock while cutting.

In the final picture you can see the headstock after some rough shaping with the angle grinder and random orbit sander.  The headstock is not yet glued to the chair – it’s just held in place temporarily with screws.  Once all of the back brace processing is competed the headstock can be glued to the chair.

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Mark ( on October 4th, 2010

Well, the best laid plans to blog after each day of classes with Binh Pho at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking did not really pan out.  Sorry about that.  There was just too much going on and I was spending nights either in the shop or working on design ideas for pieces – and so it goes…

We began day 2 by being greeted with a display of some of Binh Pho’s work.  This was a great inspiration.  Binh’s work is truly magnificent and the pictures definitely do not do it justice.  The detail and intricacy of the work is something that can only be fully appreciated in person.  In the following pictures,  you can see the display that we were ale to look at for ideas and inspiration.

I had left off after day one – when we did thin-walled turning of face-grain-oriented bowl forms.  Day two started with a demo by Binh turning a taller end-grain-oriented hollow vessel.  The techniques here are very similar to those for turning a thin bowl.  However, since you are turning end-grain some different tools are used and the light used trick to measure thickness looses a bit of its effectiveness due to the depth of the vessel and amount of chips limiting your view as you turn.  Binh has a way around this that I’ll discuss later.

Binh uses a variety of hollowing tools for end-grain vessels.  These include: a spindle gouge, a Hunter Tool, a Rolly Munro hollowing tool and a Hugh McKay Boring Bar.  The first three tools are all readily available at woodturning outlets. The Hugh McKay tool is very unique and it allows Binh to turn his famous vessels with a vertical slab extending out of the top of the piece.  This tool allows the cutting head to be inserted straight through a hole in the top of the vessel and then bumped to angle it at either 45 degrees or 90 degrees from the shaft.  The original Hugh McKay patent has since been acquired by Deryl Duer (who assisted Binh during the week) and tools can be purchased directly from him.  Unfortunately, this tool is fairly expensive to manufacture and so the end customer cost s fairly high as well – still the tool does allow some very specific hollow turning that is not able to be accomplished as easily with any other tool.  Binh does not specifically favor any of these tools but uses all of them in particular areas  where they are most useful.

The hollowing is started by drilling a hole to the desired finished depth.  Material is then removed from the center out toward the rim – exactly opposite how you would turn a bowl because we are working on end grain for these forms.  This again is done in sections to the desired thickness as you move down the vessel.  One thing that Binh does to help with the measurement of wall thickness on these forms is to drill several 3/16″ holes into the form down one side.  Then as light is shined into the fom when stopped you can determine whether the walls are where you would like them.  Of course, this is only possible if you plan to pierce the piece later and some concept fof the design must be know so that you will drill into the right area.

The remainder of day two consisted of the class turning their own end-grain hollow forms.

For the rest of the week we moved on the surface design of turned pieces.  Binh uses three main techniques as part iof his surface design: piercing, texturing & burning, airbrushing and gilding.  Many of the initial techniques were demoed for us on a flat 1/16″ aircraft birch plywood panel.  These are very useful for prototyping designs and can be attractive in their own right.

Airbrushing was first as it is the most foreign to most woodturners.  Binh uses a dual-action airbrush that allows for separate flow of air and regulation of the amount oif paint applied.  The motion and hand control can be quite a challenge since you are moving your hand in fluid stokes while pushing doen the airbrush trigger for and and simultaneously pulling it back to regulate the amount of paint – let’s just say that I need to practice.  In the photos you can see Binh working on a demo panel.

There is a lot of masking and/or template shielding done for an airbrush design.  Things like masking tape and a clear tacky matt material called Frisket are used.  Every element of a design that requires a different color and/or treatment must be cut out with an X-acto knife and removed one at a time as paint is sprayed on.  Since we used transparent colors, darker colors are sprayed first and then lighter colors are added on top.  Needless to say, it is a time consuming process.

Binh often burns a thin outline around each element that he is going to airbrush or pierce.  This is done with a standard wood burning pen with a fine skew tip and minimal heat.  The desire is to just burn a faint line to define that part of the design.  Once the entire piece id designed and burned, then the painting and then piercing can begin.

Piercing is done last to keep the most integrity in the vessel or bowl while it is being handled for painting.  This is done with an air-powered dental NSK Presto tool that is actually used for dentistry – in fact the only difference between this tool and a dentists drill (which can also be used to pierce) is the form factor.  The NSK Presto is held like a pencil to allow you to almost draw on the wood.  The tool uses 1/16″ burs to pierce and/or carve the wood.  In addition to piercing through the wood the round-head burs can be used for various stippled effects on the surface.

In the pictures you can see the demo panel that Binh did during the class as well as a demo bowl that he did to show techniques on a round rather than flat surface.  The lower portion of the bowl is a peacock feather that is gold-leaf gilded in the center – a characteristic element of many of Binh’s designs.

After all of the turning during the first part of the week, I chose to work on a single panel and bowl design.  I tried to incorporate several of the techniques into both the panel and bowl for practice as well as future reference.  Below you can see several pictures of my work to the extent that I could complete it during the week.  The final bowl still needs the piercing to be completed at home.  Finally there is a class picture with everyone holding up their creations for the week.

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Mark ( on September 27th, 2010

Today was the my first day of class on turning Thin Walled Vessels and Surface Design with Binh Pho at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking.

The morning started with a demonstration by Binh on turning a thin walled open bowl and the afternoon was left for students to try their hands at the techniques learned.  Starting with a open form is best for learning the techniques of thin walled turning.  We will be moving on to larger and taller vessels in future days.  Taller forms will lend themselves better to the surface design techniques that we will employ to embellish the pieces.

In the pictures you can see Binh turning a thin walled open bowl as well as a selection of his tools.  Binh’s assistant for the week Daryl cut up green bowl blanks for the class.   There were a selection of Maple and Cherry blanks available.

For thin walled turning it is beneficial to shine a light source through the bowl to show the thickness of the walls.  Green wood is best for this due to its high moisture content and translucence – plus it’s just more fun to turn!   Another benefit to a light colored wood like Maple is that if airbrushed it will show translucent colors more accurately and if desired it can be bleached for an even more accurate color reproduction.

I turned two bowls.  One Maple and one Cherry.  The darkness of the cherry made it more difficult to turn to thin even wall thickness because the light did not show through the walls as readily as with the Maple.  In the pictures you can see my Maple bowl in various stages of completion.

These thin walled bowls (turned to a wall thickness of 1/16″) will dry fairly quickly if just kept in a paper bag for a week or two to moderate the release of moisture.  However, because we are going to do surface design and embellishment on them this week we needed a quicker dry time.  We used a microwave in intervals of 30 seconds cook and 20 minutes cool times.  If done carefully this will dry the piece quickly without cracking or burning.  The issue that must be dealt with is the distortion of the form as it dries – round bowls go oval as they dry.  The bowls can be massaged a bit as they cool to help with this distortion.  Otherwise, you live with it and/or use your embellishments to minimize or enhance it in the final design of the piece.

A couple of final shots showing my output for today’s class and a view of the nice laser-engraved name plate that each student receives to identify their workspace for the week and as a take-home memento of the class.

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Mark ( on September 15th, 2010

I am once again going off on a trip to visit the Marc Adams School of Woodworking. You’ll recall that I took my first class there (or anywhere, for that matter) last year when I built a Cherry Huntboard. I described the activities of that week in a series of posts starting here.

This year I am attending the school for another class from September 27-October 1, but, this time I am going in a completely different direction. I will be taking a turning and embellishment class with Binh Pho. Over the past year I have been doing more turning and I’ve also become increasingly interested in embellishments on turned pieces. The opportunity to work with Binh for a week was too enticing to pass up.

If you are not familiar with Binh’s life and work, it is a fascinating journey. Binh lived through some very difficult times as he escaped the communist takeover during the fall of Saigon in Vietnam. After a very eventful series of escape attempts and a period living on a small island with other refugees Binh finally made it to the US to reunite with his family. From there Binh was exposed to the art of woodturning and began to develop his turning skills and specialized embellishment techniques. The book he wrote about his life and work is truly a fascinating and inspiring read and I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested.

Binh’s work is characterized by very thin walls into which he pierces and and airbrushes designs. The objects that he creates transcend beyond functional turned items into true works of art. Binh uses all of his life experiences to influence how he embellishes his work with each piece telling a story.  The pictures of a few of his pieces that you see here are taken from his web site.

While I’m definitely interested in learning specific turning techniques during my week with Binh, I am most intrigued to learn how he uses specific turned forms and various embellishment techniques to compose a design reflecting a specific idea. I would like to be able to take those techniques and apply them to my work – both in turnings and in furniture.

I’m really looking forward to this class. It’s always fun to get away and immerse yourself in something that you love to do and learning from someone of the caliber artist that Binh is will be a real thrill.

You can come along for a virtual visit as well because I will be blogging about the adventure right here during my week away.  So, check back often.

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