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  • Roger Waterhouse

Misadventure in the turning shop


A few weeks ago my trusty woodsman cut down a large field maple. It was one that we had planted 25 years ago to fill a hole in the hedge. I never cease to be amazed by how quickly some trees grow, but this one was shading a whole bank and fighting with the beech and birch next to it. So it had to come down.

The timing was great. I had finished my pre-Christmas shows, had nothing urgent for the New Year, so had plenty of workshop time available for turning the green wood. My woodsman knows the type of pieces I am looking for and had sorted out some interesting forks and crutch pieces.

I turned several of these, first in the half log, and then in the full log incorporating the pith - thus giving me a deeper bowl, but risking splitting from the centre. For the most part they worked, some warping very nicely as they dried out.

I saved the biggest piece till last, knowing it would take me a couple of days' work. Just after the New Year I started on it. It was a crutch, which I knew would give me double grain patterns as well as stress wood and possible feathering. Here it is.

The piece was so heavy it took me all my strength to get it onto the table of my 8 foot bandsaw. The saw had a new blade in it, but even so it was taxed to the limit taking some 15 inch cuts out of the green wood. And despite the table being well oiled, manoeuvring the blank in a regular circle took more brute force than judgement.

Neverthelessless, I did it. But the next challenge was loading it in the lathe. Attaching my biggest faceplate to the wood was relatively straightforward, but I needed a system of blocks and levers to raise it to the level of the lathe spindle and finally bolt it on.

By now I had spent half a day, and was only just ready to start turning.

I began truing it up, and sure enough the double gain pattern began to emerge on one of the sides. Promising.

BUT. The bark where the forking had occurred seemed to go right down into the main trunk.

I checked, and it did. This was not one stem which had forked, but two stems which had grown together from the bole up.

Should I risk it? Turn the bowl, run superglue into the weak central bark and hope for the best? But I could invest another day and a half's work only to find that I had two half bowls.

I decided to test the strength of the centre on one of the slices I had cut off to make the circle.I split easily.

So, I demounted the wood from the lathe and removed the faceplate. Just to be sure, i got a wedge and tapped it lightly on the bark crack. This was the result.

I'm glad I didn't waste any more time. I did take each of the spilt halves and turn a pair of much smaller bowls. Interestingly, they each have three neatly drilled holes in the side where the screws from the big faceplate had gone.

You win some , you lose some!


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