Saturday, 18 December 2010

Sharpening Spindle Gouges

You sometimes see “Back to Basics” articles in magazines aimed at beginners and I impatiently think “Don’t they even know that?!”  You kind of assume that everyone will be up to speed.  However I’ve realised that you don’t know what you don’t know until someone tells you or you read it or hear about it somewhere.  I had a girl on a course with me a couple of years ago who didn’t know that trees lay down an annual ring of wood every year!

It has come to my attention that there are people turning on pole lathes who have not discovered the benefits of having a spindle gouge amongst their lathe tools or how to sharpen one correctly (no names or pack drill).

In spindle work - where the grain of the wood is parallel to the axis of the lathe bed - the spindle gouge is a valuable friend and is likely to be the tool that does most of the shaping after the initial use of the roughing out gouge.  The big difference between the two types of gouge is that the roughing gouge is ground straight across by simply rotating the handle whereas the spindle gouge has a ‘fingernail’ shape when viewed from above.  The fingernail shape is formed by swinging the handle about 25∘from side to side at the same time as rotating it against the stone.  This isn’t an easy thing to do and it does take a bit of practise to get right.  There are expensive jigs that you can buy or you could make your own or you can do it freehand, as I do, on a cheap dry grinder.  If you’re using a dry grinder for prolonged periods make sure to dip the tool regularly in cold water so you don’t burn the edge.

There is a lot of controversy surrounding woodturning tools and sharpening angles etc.  Some authorities say that the correct grinding angle for a spindle gouge is 30∘others say 35∘-  I had a look at my own and and they are almost 45∘.  My advice is to experiment and use whatever works for you and that you feel comfortable with.

I present the gouge to the stationary wheel, on the rest and flat on its back with the flute facing up.
Then I look from the side to check that the whole bevel surface is in contact with the wheel.  You could colour in the bevel with a felt pen to show the point of contact. 

Then switch on the grinder and as you start to rotate the tool anti-clockwise, swing the handle gradually to the left till the flute is vertical on its left edge.

Then rotate the handle clockwise as you swing it back to the flute horizontal position and keep going, swinging the handle to the right until the flute is vertical on its right edge.

It’s important to keep it in the same position on the stone - don’t let it ride up or down or you’ll end up with a multifaceted bevel - I keep my index finger in the same place on the back of the tool and use it as a stop against the rest.  It’s also important not to swing the handle more than the 25∘or you will end up with a pointed profile.  Keep grinding until you can feel a burr on the inside of the flute, have one bevel and a nice fingernail shape.

Life’s too short to bother honing your lathe gouges or removing the burr - use them straight off the grindstone.

You could also try putting “sharpening spindle gouges” into YouTube and see what comes up.  Also for beginners I recommend Keith Rowley’s classic book “Woodturning - A Foundation Course” - he even mentions bodgers and although the book is aimed at power lathe turners the principles involved all hold good for pole lathe turning as well.


Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Bodger Dice

I came up with this little game which is simple to make and fun to play specially at the moment with the long, cold nights.  At first I called it 'Bodger Dice' as it's played a bit like Poker Dice but I now sell it under the name 'Chunx'.  It's good for getting the young ones to engage in a bit of simple maths and can get quite heated!

Turn a 2" billet from some nice straight grained timber - normally I use Sweet Chestnut.  Make some V grooves 1cm apart.  Sorry to mix metric and imperial but hey...

Saw them off

 Split them into 8 pieces of pie

How to play...

If anyone out there can't make them but would like a set I sell them for £4 a set + postage.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Medieval Nail

 In my post of December 12th 2009 I wrote about a lump of Oak I'd been given which had come from the restoration of York Minster.  Yesterday I decided to make some Medieval style spoons with it.  You can hardly call it green woodwork when the wood may be 800 years old!
In the evening as I was clearing up I was dismayed to discover a chip in the edge of my Gransfors carving axe - couldn't think how it had got there.

I discovered the culprit this morning...

...a medieval nail hammered into that beam hundreds of years ago and concealed by the charring.

I'll have to regrind the axe and remember to use a froe next time I'm working old timber.  The Oak looks gorgeous though and not as hard to work as I'd expected.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

George Leslie Fawcett 1924-2010

My Dad passed away peacefully at home on Tuesday.
Hard to put my feelings into words but he will be sorely missed by all those that he knew and loved.
At his 86th Birthday Party in January 2010
As a young man in the RAF

Sunday, 31 October 2010

All Souls

Not sure if we always understand what we're celebrating but there's been about 60 demons, werewolves, vampires kids round tonight Trick or Treating.  Not many tricks though.

Vanessa and I each carved a lantern this time - guess which is witch.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

The 'Secret' of Sharpening...

I occasionally get asked when I'm demonstrating at shows how I manage to get my tools so sharp - "What's the secret" they ask.  "Move a bit closer and I'll tell you" - so they approach thinking I'm going to divulge some arcane mystery.  "Patience, Persistence and Practice - like everything else in life".  They usually go away looking a bit disappointed.

Anyhow I've had 3 course days this week and they all came to learn specifically how to obtain and maintain those razor sharp edges.

First up was Dennis on Wednesday who brought a load of tools for power lathe turning.
I think a lot of people like him end up abandoning their hobby because they can't get a decent edge. I don't know how he was even cutting anything with some of the gouges and his skew was a bit rusty.  We gave them a ride on the grinder, honed the skew and I got him to try them out on the lathe.  He started smiling and said how nice it was to use properly sharpened tools.  Still managed to make some massive digs with the skew though.

Maurice came the day after with an assortment of reasonably blunt implements.  Amongst other things, such as how to get a mirror polish on an axe blade, I showed him that a spindle gouge needs a finger-nail grind and not straight across...
He was impressed with the WorkSharp after regrinding a load of knackered chisels quickly and easily. I think he might buy one.

Jahit came today with a range of quite sharp tools and learned to take them up a notch using some of my own unorthodox methods and techniques.  He made an Ash handle to fit to one of his properly sharpened axes.

As I've got older I've got more patient and spend more time on getting those perfect edges on my tools.  It makes me more happy and confident in my work.  Sharpness is almost a spiritual state of mind.

Friday, 22 October 2010

First Bowl

Chris has been learning here for a couple of days.  He's an arborist in North London so has access to plenty of timber and wants another string to his bow. 

Yesterday he discovered some of the arts and mysteries of spindle turning and today made his first, very passable bowl from Alder.

I've still got 5 more course days to teach and on Sunday we're going to Clacton to run a workshop in Chris Southall's Chestnut coppice.  Let's hope the weather holds out or...

...are we in for another hard winter?

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Top Book

After not having had a decent book to read for ages (not that I've had much time to look at one in the last few months) suddenly 2 arrive in one day.
The first was The Top by D W Gould which I bought for a fiver from Amazon.

A very interesting tome - here are a couple of illustrations of contemporary Japanese tops...

Stuart King has just posted his film of me making a spinning top on YouTube.  He first shot it about five years ago and it's far superior, slicker and altogether more professional than mine.  Watch it here.

Stuart also has some other interesting videos on Youtube such as Trevor Austen making probably his last wooden rake at his wonderful old factory in Ashford, Kent and Ion Constantin turning a drinking flask on a pole lathe in Romania.

The second book was One & Other - the document of Antony Gormley's 4th Plinth idea in Trafalgar Square last year in which I took part.  I reserved a copy months ago and had forgotten it was due out in October.   It's a bit disappointing - my photo is there along with the other 2399 plinthers - but the bulk of it focuses on the people who took their clothes off or did something 'arty' plus a lot of intellectual analysis and wordy articles which my eye seems to skate off.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Conker Festival

This is the view we had on Sunday at our gig at the Hampstead Conker Festival.  It was held on Parliament Hill Fields in the south east corner of Hampstead Heath.
(That building between the Gerkin and Canary Wharf looks like it going to be a biggie.)

As a child I used to race to the conker trees to try and get the biggest and best but now they're mainly just left on the ground - I still can't resist picking some up.
Not sure who won but it was a beautiful sunny day and hordes of people came out.  We were a bit inundated and it was quite difficult to pack up at 4 o'clock.

I still haven't got a camera so I've 'borrowed' these images off the net.

Monday, 4 October 2010


Just inspecting a spoon made by Chris who came for a days introduction last week.  His wife Pat gave him the day as a birthday present and kept it a secret.  She drove him over and he really had no idea what he had come here to do - a real magical, mystery day...I told him we were going to do flower arranging!  He was quite good with his hands and made a rounders bat from Ash and an Alder spoon.  (She took this photo and sent it to me.  The camera still hasn't been fixed and I'm kind of missing it now.)

The Monty Don effect has really kicked in this month - I've got 8 course days.  Really short-sighted of the BBC not to recommision Mastercrafts because I've talked to loads of people who saw it - it really touched a nerve.
Can we think of 6 more crafts that would be suitable and interesting?  I'll start the ball rolling with...Ceramics.

The European Woodworking Show at Cressing Temple Barns was a gas.  The Barns themselves are definitely star of the show but despite the damp weather and the fact that dogs weren't allowed we had a good time, specially on Saturday.  We met loads of people we knew and managed to put quite a few names to faces and faces to names!
We stayed with Vanessa's sister Jackie, her husband Tim and niece Natalie in Chelmsford and they looked after Jed while we were at the show.  I think he might have got a bit spoilt with jaffa cakes and lying on the sofa etc...
Check out Barn the Spooncarvers new blog on the Links list.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Child Powered Lathe

A couple of shots taken at the schools part of Countryside Live by the Lee Valley Park's photographer...
Unfortunately the camera's gone wrong so it's gone back to the shop.

I like my child powered lathe.  For two days there is a never-ending queue of willing workers so I can't be accused of exploitation.

Mrs Treewright showing the kids how the spinning tops work...

I'll be demonstrating at The European Woodworking Show at Cressing Temple Barns this weekend.  It's a great venue and is shaping up to be an interesting show - might be worth a trip out?

Monday, 20 September 2010

Countryside Live x2

Looks like someone was enjoying herself having a go on the lathe yesterday at Highgate Wood.

We're going to the Lee Valley Park to do Countryside Live for the kids on Wednesday and Thursday then we're going back on Saturday and Sunday when it will be open to the public (£3 - free for kids).

We've decided to donate these to the Countryside Foundation for Education for their auction. 
I made them ages ago as a prop for the stall with Lime from Syon Park.  They've served us well but I think it's time to make some new things.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Early Autumn in Epping Forest

There are lots of different types of mushroom everywhere at the moment but which of these would you eat?
I'm not that fond of mushrooms anyway but if I was desperate would probably eat the first one as I'm pretty sure it's a Penny Bun.

Sunshine Plain was certainly living up to its name yesterday and we met the 4 English Longhorns that are put out by the City of London to graze there to keep the plain open.

We also spotted this Tree Sprite...
...looking for its young one.

Received this photo from Walter and Anna using the stool that I made for them earlier in the Summer. They were taking part in a living history event at a reconstructed medieval fishing village near Ostend in Belgium.
She said...
"The stool has been out and about a fair bit in these last few months and we still think it’s great and love it to bits.  There’s just a tiny bit of warp in it from drying out, but that’s absolutely fine and it’s solid as a rock.  Everyone in the York City Levy, our re-enactment group, thinks it’s fab."


We'll be at Highgate Wood Heritage Day tomorrow if any local blog readers wanted to pop by and say hello.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Cherry Wood

Went down to Tim Gatfield’s Cherry Wood Project with Jon Warwicker to help out on Volunteer Thursday.

We slept 2 nights in this wonderful little log cabin...

The aerial loo...

We worked on building legs and bracings to support the ends of the joists for a new, large yurt platform...
This sort of arrangement is necessary as the woods are on a steep slope.

The place is called St Catherine's and we went to the Catherine Wheel pub at the nearby village of Marshfield - quite appropriate as St Catherine is the patron saint of turners.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Party in the Woods

We had a great time at The Party in the Woods on Saturday.  It was in a clearing in the middle of Reffley Woods - a site owned by the Woodland Trust on the outskirts of King's Lynn.  The weather couldn't have been more perfect.

Jo was making willow dragonflies...
There was storytelling, fairy face painting and wandmaking, hurdlemaking, shelter building, African drumming in the woods, a cafe and three very fine musicians playing next to my lathes...

My freshly felled timber was dragged out of the woods to me courtesy of Bob the Cob...
This particular Birch butt proved to be the most awkward and intractable log I've ever had the misfortune to try and get into and led to a lot of sweating and swearing (2 axes and a froe were stuck in it at one point!) - thankfully the ash they brought later on was much more amenable and various items were turned including a new handle for Jeremy's lawn roller...
We had a couple of walks and paddles on the beach at Snettisham and all in all the weekend felt more like a mini-break rather than work.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Wotsit 2

Dave Malkin on the pitch next to us at Hainault at the weekend had this interesting looking gizmo...
Any ideas?

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Goblet turning & Tool Sharpening

Chris came yesterday and had a go at making a goblet - a first on one of my courses...

I had to find the goblet hooks and give them a sharpen as it's not something I've done for a few years.  I'd forgotten the bit about squinting one-eyed into the goblet at a tool edge you can hardly see!  Well done Chris.

Tom came on a sharpening course on Tuesday with a variety of chisels, knives, slashers, machetes, scythes and axes all of which went home with him 100% sharper than they had been.  We also managed to make a new handle for a lovely old pair of shears and sharpen them.  Unfortunately I forgot about the camera so there are no pics.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Geodesic Dome

I'm not going to list the series of disasters that made up our weekend at Mentmore Art, Craft & Design Show - that'd be far too negative...

Here's a series of photos of Jon's Dome going up on the Plot the other week instead.

Got a couple of guys coming on courses this week then we're off to the HeARTwood Festival at St Albans on Saturday and Hainault Forest Country Show on Sunday and Monday - so no peace for the wicked then!