Jun 182024
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Buying a new tool is a lovely day. If you’re like me, you’ve spent hours researching and making sure you’re making the right choice. I spend hours reading forums, watching videos, and trying out demonstration examples when possible. I consummate the relationship with a handful of numbers on a piece of plastic. 

Once home, I take every precaution that my new tool suffers no damage while unpacking. I cut the box open with the care used by surgeons upon making an initial incision. With the guts of the box exposed, I gingerly pull out the pieces, one by one, and lay them before me. With a scene reminiscent of an airplane crash investigation sprawled across an unused hangar, I take the manual and begin going over all of the parts. Do I have enough? How do they fit together? Do I need help with this? 

Over the next several hours, I start by cleansing every part of what can best be described as Cosmoline (shipping goop). Sometimes it’s really easy (likely it isn’t Cosmoline) and other times it’s an absolute pain in the ass. However, I’ve traded a portion of my life to purchase this tool, so I am not skipping steps now. Once all parts are clean, I play a game of slow-motion Tetris. Part A goes into Part B.  Part B connects to Part C… Once everything is assembled, I then spend several more hours applying coats of rust prevention product and making sure angles are what they should be.

Six months later, I start to notice something. That tool I purchased and spent so much time getting set up is starting to rust. I regularly strip and replace the rust prevention coating, so what’s going on? Unfortunately, my shop isn’t climate controlled. It’s a 2-car garage attached to my house. Temperatures jump up in the summer and sink down in the winter. In the summers, humidity is my enemy. In the winters, condensation is my enemy. In between those extremes, my own stupidity is the enemy. 

For instance, it was recently raining outside, and I needed to open the garage door to move something from my car into my house. It never crossed my mind that the weather stripping on the base of the garage door would drip water on to my table saw. To my surprise, when I went to start woodworking that weekend, my table saw was covered in polka dots of rust. Even though I religiously rust protect the surface, I discovered it doesn’t matter what prevention I’ve done when it’s just too much water to evaporate before that barrier is broken. 

Since my garage is not climate controlled, and I imagine a lot of us don’t have climate controlled shops, the one thing I have found really works well is a dehumidifier. If you can run a hose from it to drip outside of your shop, even better.  Manually dumping the bucket becomes an every third day task for me during the summer. However, it has substantially cut down on idle rust in my shop. Idle rust is what happens when temperatures fluctuate throughout the seasons, and aren’t from a specific cause like leaving a dripping wet cold Coke can on your cast iron table. 

For direct rust accidents, like that Coke can or a sweaty glove, the one thing I have learned is that it’s perfectly okay to resurface my cast iron. It won’t look as great as it did on day one when I spent so many hours setting it up,  but it will function. The key here is to re-surface the entire surface as evenly as possible. Simply scrubbing out the rust with a Scotchbrite pad will only leave a divot where that Coke can sat.  If it’s on the periphery of your table, and unlikely ever need to be square, fine.  If it’s somewhere wood will regularly come in contact with, you’re likely better off making sure that entire surface matches what you are taking off to get rid of that rust.

Here’s where things may get frustrating, and you may ask yourself if you are helping or damaging your cast iron top. Removing rust will make your cast iron top look different. The grit of the Scotchbrite pad you used will make the top look different than when you first set it up. Most often, the clean lines will turn into what can best be described as cloudy swirls. If this really bothers you, by all means go for higher grits to bring the sexy back. However, functionally, so long as the rust is gone, and the treatment/re-finishing was consistent, it will be fine. 

Finally, outside of goofy stuff like opening my garage door on a rainy day, the best way I’ve found to prevent rust build up is to clean my tools after using them. It won’t help as much as the seasons change, thus the dehumidifier recommendation, but it generally keeps the shop rust free. If you spent all night turning a bowl, wipe down your lathe with a dry cloth. If you cut some pickets out of 2×4’s from your local big box, wipe down all surfaces on your table saw when you’re done. While rust prevention options like Boeshield, Renaissance Wax, blah, blah, blah can help, ultimately, keeping your woodworking space clean will serve you much better when trying to prevent rust. That and a dehumidifier. 

May 092024
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With an historic preservation grant and vision for a return to the past elegance, the new owners of the Pentagöet Inn in Castine, Maine asked me to create and turn the four new newel posts they needed for the renovated main entrance from the street.

Their contractors did an impressive job, and the newel posts were smoothly incorporated.

The work progressed smoothly until they began to tie the new balustrade to the existing 8′ porch post which they discovered was totally rotten …

… base … middle section … and top.

Knowing they were feeling the pressure of time and weather (we had enjoyed an unusual string of December/January warm and dry days), I was able to acquire the 8′ long 2″X6″ Alaskan Yellow Cedar boards 

and glue them up (actual measure of 5 ½” X 6 ¼” in preparation for sawing to rough size on the bandsaw

to then joint two adjacent sides before surface planing to the final dimension of 4 ¾” X 4 ¾” that matches the existing posts and the newel posts.

Once the blank is mounted on the lathe (note an 8′ long laminated ~5X5 blank does not require a mid-blank steady rest.  The lathe runs well at about 400 – 500 RPM with no whip) 

and the 24″ tool rest is in place; the first cuts are to measure carefully for the square pommel-to-round transition points and cut them in using the long point of the skew. The transition at bottom and top are straight angled cuts; the transitions in the middle section are lamb’s tongue which is made using a middle size Sorby 12mm gouge.  When making restoration copies, the small details matter enormously.  While most people will not notice directly, the dissimilarity will register on at least an unconscious level.

The next step is to round and taper the full column length. I find that it helps me to have the source profile post in my sightline to help me keep my attention focused and the details registered.  In this case, I carefully placed the rotten post sections on a long board just on the far side of the new blank.

I worked with story-sticks to identify the various specific profile points of taper, bead, cove, (shoulder).

As with most turning, the best practice is to work on the larger diameters on the right (by the tailstock) before moving left (toward the headstock and power source).

Once the turning is completed, applying the primer coat is most efficiently done while the post is still between centers on the lathe.  I typically also prime the ends of outdoor posts with either primer or West System epoxy to help preserve the life of the post.

Delivering the post a week after they discovered they needed it was particularly satisfying, and the contractors put it in place that day, one day before we had an onset of cold and snow.

Doing a job like this is particularly rewarding as well as great publicity being so prominently a display of the work being done so visibly in the middle of our town. I look forward to the owner’s next phase in a year, when we will continue the restoration to the lower and upper balustrade, posts, and rails up Main Street to the right.

“Turning the Corner,” focuses on using woodturning on the lathe as a way of enhancing cabinetry, furniture designs, gallery products, and architectural installations.  We hope to inspire woodworkers to extend their skills into basic, novice, and advanced woodturning while discovering for themselves this particularly sensual and spiritually rewarding dimension of working with wood. Located in Castine, Maine, Highlands Woodturning gallery and shop offers woodturning classes and shop time, a gallery of woodturned art, custom woodturning for repairs, renovations, and architectural installations. You can email Temple at temple@highlandswoodturning.com. Take a look at Temple’s Website at http://www.highlandswoodturning.com/

May 082024
Turning the Corner: Pentagöet Inn Newel Posts
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Fresh from New York City, the new, young owners of the Pentagöet Inn in Castine, Maine arrived two summers ago to embrace the long history of the Town and especially their beautiful building in a way that is both impressive and sustainable.  Their vision and energy as owner/operators/hosts of this magnificent old-time, 130 year old […]

May 112023
Turning the Corner: Refining Turning Skills
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In the lull between the frenzy of December/January holidays and the activities of the anticipated winter, the shop is relatively quiet. The backlog of architectural copy/multiple orders have all been completed and shipped; I have almost caught up with the several Christmas gift certificate lessons of 2022; and my grandson helped me give the shop […]

Dec 212022
Turning the Corner: a follow-up
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In a recent Turning the Corner column, writer and woodturner Temple Blackwood detailed the turning process for creating a mouthpiece for a Hardy Tinfoil Phonograph. The process Temple used for turning the replicas was interesting enough to stand alone as its own article, but we had even more questions when we were done about the […]

Oct 272022
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Our contributor and prolific woodturner Temple Blackwood is being featured in a very cool online gallery, courtesy of the Witherle Memorial Library in his hometown of Castine, Maine. Take a look and prepare to be inspired!

Oct 252022
Turning the Corner: Restoring the Dark Queen
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As seems often to happen, I received an email from a stranger asking if I might be able to replicate a small a chess piece for a miniature set to replace a missing queen for his girl friend’s birthday.  Apparently the unusually small chess set was a favorite of hers that had been missing the […]