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
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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 wooden building, radiates an air of excitement, success, and intrinsic reward, and they have been honored properly by Hospitality Maine for their work..  At each phase of creative renovation effort, the interior and exterior are being transformed to preserve the history while thoughtfully and confidently moving into the next century.

One evening last summer while I dined there with family, I was invited to a sidebar discussion with the owners, introduced to their plan to restore the original but missing main entrance staircase funded by a significant grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. They asked if I would consider turning the four new newel posts they needed for the renovation later in the fall after they had received the necessary permits.  In early December, they received them, and they asked me to return for further discussion and a more specific look at what they wanted to accomplish. Their contractor had already begun replacing the rotted floor joists and flooring for the porch, and they hoped he could complete the new staircase by Christmas, the Maine weather having been unexpectedly cooperative.

The 38″ lower section of one of the original 8′ porch posts was the profile they wanted, and they had an architect’s drawing of what they would need for the new 42″ balustrade. They felt the drawing was not as close to the profile they wanted but would more closely represent what is required by the much newer codes.  While I was there, I pointed out to them the significant “repairs” to the lower section of porch post that were an attempt to disguise considerable rot with caulk and paint (not a good choice for a structural element).  I carefully measured the lower post and created a story-stick of what I thought the original profile would be working from that and the adjacent posts.   

The owners were fairly sure their architect had surveyed the porch and that while I needed to adapt the real profile (4 ¾” X 4 ¾”) to the taller design required to meet for code, the existing posts and rails would not be changed.  The architectural drawing called for a 5″ X 5″ blank which they did not want me to use, preferring to stick to the original 4 ¾” square profile.  All they needed from me was to create the four new newel posts for the new staircase balustrade that could be worked in smoothly with the existing posts and rails that framed the porch.

We discussed materials and pricing and together made the decision to have me glue up Alaskan Yellow Cedar (AYC) to make the turning blanks, the best readily-available, cost-effective choice for a long life outdoors.  I also understood initially that the newel posts should be two parts pinned through the new horizontal railing. 

AYC is readily available to us, is less expensive than Great Western Red Cedar, takes the water-resistant Titebond III glue well, and at 2″ X 6″ creates a blank (1 5/8″ X 5 ½”) that can be bandsawn, edge jointed, and surface planed to the desired 4 ¾” square blanks.

Working from both my story-stick of the lower post section as well as the architect’s drawing, I roughed the first blank, smoothed it, marked it, and finished the profile elements for the lower section using the Sorby continental 30mm roughing gouge, 32mm skew chisel, 10mm beading & parting tool.

With the first one complete, I reproduced it on the additional three lower blanks.

After I had cut and glued the eight blanks, I learned from the staircase contractor that they did not plan to pin through the horizontal rails after all.  This meant to me that I simply needed to adjust the length of the upper section and pin the two sections in the shop before delivering. Working with the additional blanks for the top section now adjusted to meet the overall height requirement, I turned the profile that I understood would be mounted above the horizonal rails and pinned through.

The most efficient way to get the new posts square and true was to glue the top and bottoms together as a unit at the bench using bench dogs and the end vice.

Fortunately, it all worked out well.  As is my custom, I primed the finished newel posts before delivering them on schedule – and understanding that with the cold weather they might not be painted very soon.

The contractors soon had them in place at the four corners of the emerging staircase, and very shortly thereafter they completed the remaining work on that portion of the job.

Unfortunately, when they began to tie the new staircase to the existing porch railing, they discovered that the first 8′ post had rotted beyond repair.  The caulk and paint “repairs””had masked an even larger problem that was beyond the scope of me replacing just the bottom section.  The rot went well up into the upper portion of the post.

Undeterred, the new owners asked me to turn a replacement post as soon as I could and to keep my story-stick handy for that anticipating their next restoration project on the other side of the new staircase next year.

“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 112023
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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 its annual deep cleaning (not that that will last very long).  As a result and benefitting from the unusually mild winter thus far, I have some rare discretionary time to work on projects of my own while I build inventory for the upcoming summer season.  (In reality, Downeast/mid-coast Maine is known for only having two seasons – “off-season” of 10 months and “summer” of two months (July and August) when our population and activities swell geometrically.) 

This year, I decided to hone my basic skills by turning a series of calabash bowls waiting within several elm logs and four beautiful black ash tree logs dropped off by a friend whose conscience would not allow him to split them for firewood.  To vary my occupation, I also planned to turn a number of natural-edge hearts (Valentine’s Day is coming) by tackling a sizable pile of likely crotch blanks I had accumulated for “later.”  Now has happily become “later,” and with the calendar and a recent visit to the local pharmacy in mind, the avalanche of Valentine’s Day gifting is nearly upon us.

The popular calabash bowl distinguishes itself from a standard bowl by its smoothly rounded bottom.  The starting blank should be green (pictured in elm), should be turned to a smooth finish using only the bowl gouge (not sanded), and the sustained thickness of the thin wall should extend all the way around the rounded bottom.  The interior of the bowl should be a matched copy of the outside profile.

A more typical bowl (pictured in ash) has a flat bottom to keep it from rocking on the tabletop and might even include a foot or other profile decoration. While the interior of the bowl will be gently rounded, there is usually a thickened section of the wall where the inner side curves more severely to the inside bottom and the exterior profile of that wall extends to the flattened table-top outside bottom surface frequently with a reverse curve.

The beauty of the calabash bowls is that it is truly a “once-turned” bowl from green. As the finished wood dries, the bowl warps to an irregular shape giving each its own unique profile. Each bowl is characterized by its natural color, grain, figure, as well as its warped profile.

The skill challenge for turning calabash bowls lies in first establishing a pleasingly rounded curve from the sides through the bottom on the outside that in the second step when the blank is reversed for hollowing is accurately copied through the bottom on the inside. When the bowl is reversed to turn away the tenon required by the chuck in the final step of the process, the turner is challenged to accurately predict (imagine) where that inside curve runs as the bowl gouge carves away the tenon to complete the rounded bottom.

Like so many woodturning projects, the sensual return of handling the smooth, finished surface – using the hand’s palm to stroke the outside curve and then tracing the inside curve with the hand’s back – is enormously rewarding.  The creative insights come from studying and trying to anticipate how the drying process of only a few days will re-designed the shapes and curves of the carefully carved profile. The eventually finished dry bowl, sometimes dramatic, sometimes subtle, affirms nature’s artistry well beyond the turner’s skill with the gouge.

Contrasting with the calabash bowl’s stringent tool-control and design discipline, the natural edge, heart shaped crotch pieces offer a different kind of challenge.  With these the final design begins with and is totally controlled by the selection and positioning of the blank at the beginning.  Many wood types lend themselves to making these, but oak, cherry, and maple seem to yield the most dramatic and pleasing results.  The goal is to display the clear outline of a bark-lined heart which at its center reveals the chaotic interweaving of grain where the two branches joined as the tree grew.  (Pictured – maple)

Identifying and harvesting the crotch in the woods is relatively easy, and the most desirable part is the swollen ridge of bark along the seam where the grain of the two branches converge/diverge (depending on your point of view). 

Ideally both branches should be of similar size, and the blank should be sawn on the bias before being trimmed to a rough circle for turning.

During my week of turning on my own for a few hours each day, I alternated between turning the green bowls of calabash and digging into my store of crotch/heart blanks.

Turning several bowls in the morning and several crotch/hearts in the afternoon encouraged me to explore different techniques and test the boundaries of my skills while building my inventory for the gallery and summer customers.  More importantly and beyond the simple pleasure of being free to spend the time turning, I know from experience that my sustained time practicing and experimenting with similar forms and projects leads me to a new level of performance.

Ultimately, the message I regularly offer my woodturning students as well as my readers is that focusing on each set of skills – regardless of the level of past achievement – and spending the time and effort practicing by setting new goals that replicate that rehearsal pays off in the clear gain over time.

In 1969, I vividly remember telling my (then) girlfriend (later wife) that I had decided I wanted to become “really good” at something that required skill in my life rather than hit-or-miss “pretty good” at many different kinds of things that I could see in others around me.  Fortunately, my wife and her mother, both of whom like me knew nothing about woodturning at that time, steadily encouraged and supported me from the beginning.  My adventure continues today as I happily spend hours each day working in my shop with the wood, the lathes, the tools, and a host of wonderful friends who share my passion.

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/

Dec 212022
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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 machinery the mouthpiece was used on. See below for more information about the Hardy Tinfoil Phonograph, sent in by Temple’s client, Lee from Virginia. Thank you Lee for the follow up!

“The Tinfoil Phonograph that I have is a “Hardy”. I have included below a page from “Tinfoil Phonographs” by Rene Rondeau who is the world expert on this subject. The example I have is a reproduction commissioned by the late Ray Phillips who was a big phonograph collector.

Click the image above to enlarge

You can find some interesting footage on YouTube of the Ray Phillips Hardy Tinfoil Phonograph (the one featured in the woodturning column). And I am including a few more photos below.

I also made a Tinfoil Phonograph out of junk about eleven years ago, that you can also see on YouTube. I have learned a lot since making this crude device.”

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 […]