And have it on Highway 61.

Wooden Bowl Turning with Robin Wood

Yup – i’m going to Minnesota this June to meet Robin Wood & learn some bowl turning. Got my packet from North House yesterday.

If you’ve read my blog awhile, you know I’m a fan. If you’re just getting here, be sure to read Robin’s blog. His was the inspiration when I started mine back in 2008.

Great stuff. Well done & very thoughtful.

The school looks to be a gas, I’ve heard great things about it.

Won’t that be something.



pole lathe

pole lathe

I know what you’re thinking…

What if Salvador Dali was a 17th-century turner…

dali 2




Dali Van Vliet


Here’s what you’d get…

penpoint stair


swash stairs


Here’s the machine. Now someone get to it, please.  Reference for this image is: Theatre des Instruments Mathematiques,

Jacques Besson (c.1571)

german swash

OK first thing to tell you is that I have been thinking about writing blog posts, but haven’t made any good photographs lately, so not much happening here. But there’s been lots going on. 

Update on the rosewood applied turning project, (  )  We’ve known the Boston joiners sometimes used tropical hardwoods for applied turnings for quite some time. Never having worked wood like this, I spoke to many woodworkers – and heard all sorts of nightmarish stories. It’s crazy expensive (nope, these are small bits I need,10 1/2″ long. bought blanks from Woodcraft. Maybe $12-15 each for Bolivian Rosewood and East Indian Rosewood), it will dull your tools something awful (the Bolivian rosewood was not too much of a problem in that regard), you’ll need to wash the surfaces w some noxious chemical to get the glue to hold the parts together prior to turning. (nope again. I even used the cheater liquid hide glue in a bottle, easy and it worked fine), and you’ll need to scrape the shapes on the lathe, rather than shave/turn them. This I assumed on my own, based on reading Moxon on turning “hard” woods like ebony. Nope one more time. My turning tools were pretty sharp, but nothing extreme, worked fine. It was the nicest piece of wood I have ever turned. I did wear long sleeves and gloves, just to be safe. I don’t want to find out that I am allergic to these weird woods. It’s clunky turning w gloves on though…I could hunt down some tight-fitting cotton gloves. It is a museum after all…

turning Bolivian Rosewood on pole lathe

turning Bolivian Rosewood on pole lathe


I had wondered, after hearing all the stories, if the pole lathe could handle the program. I never should have doubted – when I think back to the 17th-century challenges it makes sense that turning these things shouldn’t be much different from working other woods on the lathe. I doubt these joiners and turners were going to a lot of trouble. I usually operate on the assumption that there was a straight-forward way to get this work done…


b rosewood turning blank

using the skew to finsh the maximum diameter

b rosewood finished turning

just about done on the lathe

I used a polissoir I bought from  Don Williams to burnish the piece while it was spinning in the lathe. Great stuff all around. Now, for tomorrow – the East Indian Rosewood. 

sawing EI rosewood

sawing the blanks

planing EI rosewood

truing for gluing

glue up EI rosewood

glued up w oak filler

I can’t wait to turn it. Sawing it was weird – it felt like iron. the teeth of the saw barely left a mark. But it cut pretty easily. Very fine dust though…I carefully swept it up.

The other day I went to the MFA to research and study a turned bedstead in their collection. It will show up here later in the month of March…

Today I went to the North Bennett Street School  to give the furniture students there a dog & pony show – and then wandered around the shop looking at all their work. And took a total of about 3 photographs – I was kicking myself afterwards for not shooting a lot of stuff. That place is an amazing visit. Chock full of furniture, parts, woods, books, tools – it’s great. I hope to go back before too long. 

NBSS overall

wall o’ legs NBSS

box o ball & claws etc

box o;’ feet


I forget if it was last week or the week before, but I taught a carving workshop at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking recently.   We had a great time (I did at least, and I think the students did too) – here’s a few shots:


cvsww wall of samples

CVSWW wall of samples

designing w the gouges

using gouges to mark out the design

I thought I had a lot of carving tools

I thought I had a lot of carving tools

dedham panel


leslie diggin the posture

Leslie diggin the posture


I’ll be back there in September for another weekend of carving. Bob Van Dyke supplied near-perfect quartersawn oak. Amazing stuff.

In the meantime, I am still hoping for students out west at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking. Right now, it sounds like we need 6 more students for each workshop. Otherwise, these 2 classes will get cancelled. One is a week-long “make a joint stool” class… the other a 2-day class in carving. It would be a shame it we have to scrap it, the school and I have dedicated the time slot and can’t really make it up if it falls through.  I know time/money/logistics are all a concern for all of us. But I often get requests “When are you coming to X,Y, Z?” – I only get to come if we get students. I won’t harp about it again, just one last nudge if you know someone out that way, or wanting to visit out that way…dates are April 22-26 for the joinery class, and the 27th & 28th for the carving  


I have 2 more days to prep for my lecture/demos at the Winterthur Furniture Forum…  that’s what all the rosewood is about! 

applied turnings, Boston, 17th c

applied turnings, Boston, 17th c

This ain’t green woodworking. These applied turnings are on a chest of drawers from Boston, c. 1630s-1690s. I’m making some for a chest loosely based on the originals; the Boston joiners also used these turnings on cupboards, cabinets and joined chests, Some of them are “exotics” i.e. imported timbers from the Caribbean and other faraway places. I’ve seen rosewood and ebony used for these, I think. My notes are somewhere. (Or check American Furniture 2010 for an article I did with Robert Trent about the Boston joinery tradition – “Re-assessing the London Style Joinery and Turning of Seventeenth-Century Boston”) Often  these turnings are done in local maple instead. 

When I run across a straight-grained section of maple in the firewood pile, I split some out and save it for a time like this. The maple I’m working here was riven from green stock a long time ago, rough-planed, and stored in the shop until needed. Which is now.

riven and planed maple

riven and planed maple

I decided to practice on maple, and make my mistakes on that. The final ones will be in rosewood. Also not green woodworking.

The premise I operate on is that these turnings are made by gluing up two blanks with a thin piece between them. The function of this sacrificial piece is to prevent the points of the pole lathe from wedging the glued-up stock apart. Everyone I know who has made these used an electric lathe, with various types of drive centers/dead centers. If I just glue the two maple pieces together, the points of my lathe will, when tightened, wedge them apart. Not good. So here you see them centered on the oak strip, not bearing on the glue joint. 

lathe points on center strip of turning

lathe points on center strip of turning

So here’s what it looks like in stages. I true up the maple bits, these need to be dead-flat so you can glue them together. Likewise, make the center strip, In my shop, it’s usually oak. Hide glue is used to make a sandwich out of them.

ready to glue

ready to glue

Scribe the diameter on the end grain.

circle scribed on end grain

circle scribed on end grain

Next, I plane chamfers on the corners to get them nearly octagonal.



Then turn them. I have good photos of the originals, but I never measured their details. I have a good idea of the scale, so I am working out my proportions in the wood. I turned one pair and knew they were wrong – but I finished them anyway, so I could use them as a guide for the next pair.


roughing gouge

lg skew

shaping w skew The 2nd set came out better. By “better”

Here are both turnings. The bottom one is first. Too much taper, too exaggerated.   I find I have to get them off the lathe sometimes to see their shapes more clearly. I photographed them against the window and this showed me the details clearly. The second set is closer to the shapes in the originals. 



On the 2nd one, (top in photo) I almost had it just the way I wanted it,  the vase/cup near the top has its greater diameter too low, its widest point should be right near its top rim. So I put it back & trimmed it some. It’s overall too thick, next one will be more slender. But its proportions are what I am after. 




I have some Bolivian rosewood to work on next.

next blank is Bolivian Rosewood

next blank is Bolivian Rosewood

For planing that, I used this toothing plane that I got in the Alexander hoard.

bolivian rosewood

toothing plane

toothing plane iron

But this is not true rosewood, from the family Dalbergia. I have some East Indian rosewood on the way…need gloves for that stuff. Maybe a mask…


PS: here’s where I learned all I know about toothing planes –

November 22, 2012 is Thanksgiving day in the U.S. Simple for me to find what I am thankful for, because it’s also the birthday of my kids Rose & Daniel. Seven years old now. They showed me a couple of little toys they got this morning, a wolf and a hedgehog or something like it. These wooden toys are among the favorites in our household. The kids dragged out a number of others like them.

age 7

German toys

I had seen a photo in Robin Wood’s book about the “ring” turners who make similar toys in the German town of Seiffen, then I remembered that just the other day Robin posted a link to a youtube piece about how these toys are made. So I am copping it & posting it here in case you missed it. 


(here’s his blog link too – )

Then I found another video about Christian Werner’s workshop, the same one Robin visited many years ago, on this blog:

Notice that CNN calls him a “wood-spinner” – but we all know he’s a turner. 

I don’t think our toys are ring-turned, but regardless, for us, these toys are great. Nice that they are wooden, but best feature is that they are just figures that the kids have to apply all the story for…and when you let them, they do. No Disney story line, no action figure, no computer game to go with them. No T-shirt, pillowcase, DVD series, – none of that sort of junk that we find associated with so many toys…

Here’s where some of ours came from. 

Ostheimer animals and people

Holtztiger animals and people too

walnut book stand


Slowly I am coming around to almost liking some walnut…how’s that for a qualifying statement? Much of the stock I had last year was excellent quality – straight grain and clear. Around the shop I have been making boxes and boxes from it, practicing dovetails.

But one task that I really like it for is turned work. So I sawed out some blanks and made another book stand recently. Here’s a post about these creatures

Since that post I have seen another 17th-century example; essentially a joined & carved version. I am making some of that style for a magazine article soon…I’ll show it here on the blog after the article runs.

This walnut one is for sale. Price is $150 plus shipping. Email me if you are interested.

Overall height is roughly 18″ ; width is about 14 1/2″ – depth around 15″.

The last walnut one didn’t hang around long, though.

book stand


Here’s a view of the mechanism

book stand ratchet system

blank for turned "bosses"


Some of the applied turnings on the cupboard are nowadays called “bosses” (we have no idea what they were called in the 17th century). I make them by gluing two pieces of maple to a center strip, in this case, walnut. It takes a little fiddling around to get the thickness of the segments. In this one, I highlighted the circle that indicates the finished thickness of the bosses with a pencil – (the things I do for the blog, must be getting soft in my old age.) The glue is hide glue, which is easily reversible…

The next step is to turn it on the lathe; first the blank is made into a cylinder; then the length of the “bosses” is marked and then cut with a skew chisel.

turning in progress


skew chisel on ovals


For the skew chisel shot, I stopped the lathe & shot the photograph…but that’s the skew starting down to the end of that oval.

Then I split them off the center strip by striking a chisel with a mallet…after having steamed the finished turning a bit.

splitting the bosses off the blank


Now this batch is done, ready for painting & varnishing.

turned bosses in maple

turned book stand


Having pontificated recently about how much I like books, I thought it was apropos to show the book stand that I sometimes use. It’s based on an example Trent showed me in an historic house museum in Massachusetts. The original has stylistic features that clearly link it to 17th-century stuff. In all likelihood it is a period piece; it’s just the only one I have ever seen or heard of. I just have a nagging wish that I’d see another one…

Anyway, I adapted the size and format for this version; I changed the turning profiles, and just used an oil finish instead of the squiggle-painted finish of the original.  It consists of two uprights joined by round mortise & tenons on three rails. Between the 3 rails are two more rails whose tenons are loose-fitting. Thus these 2 can pivot. Into these 2 rails are fitted two pieces that allow the book rest to be adjusted higher or lower, a sort-of ratchet arrangement. The picture will make more sense than any long-winded description of mine. The shelf is butted up to the bottom ends of the uprights, and has two feet tenoned thru the bottom shelf, into mortises bored in the end grain of the uprights. I then peg these joints from behind. I forget if the original was pegged there or not.  

book stand rear view


detail of ratchet system


It’s built like a turned chair, mostly. the uprights are green wood, the rails’ tenons have been dried. There is a bit of comprimise when you get to the tenons that connect the ratchet parts to the pivoting rails. I often pin these, as well as glue them – because these rails have mostly dried to be fit to the stiles.

The one complaint is that the creature does not lie flat when stored…thus it takes up space. If you have lots of flat surfaces to spare, that’s fine. I keep one of these on my desk, and it collects all manner of junk; but when I have a lot of transcribing to do, it comes in handy.

On the bookstand is a new book, Early British Chairs and Seats 1500-1700 by Tobias Jellinek (Antique Collectors Club) …. Essentially a picture book, because the text is so annoying. But the pictures, for fans of English furniture are worth the trouble. I’m continually amazed at the breadth of English furntire of the 16th & 17th centuries…

marking the centers

marking the centers

The next step in the joined stools I am making is turning the stiles’ decoration. Here I am using a miter gauge to mark the centers on the stock. Once I locate the centers, I define them with a center punch and apply a bit of beeswax. Then they go on the pole lathe for turning.

 I wrap the cord twice around the midst of the stock, then line the stile up with the centers, & tighten the wedge that secures the tailstock.


wrap the cord

wrap the cord

Once I’m satisfied that the turning is mounted properly, then I check the toolrest, adjust it so it is as close to the turning as possible, and made tight. That can require some fumbling around with wedges & such, but only takes a minute.
Then I get the largest gouge I have, and begin to very lightly remove the corners off the stock. I have marked out the ends of the turned portion before it goes on the lathe – and at first the gouge is cutting well inside these marks. The idea is to get the stock roughed-out as quickly as possible. Once it’s round enough, it spins faster & easier on the lathe. My left hand moves the gouge laterally, my right hand rolls the gouge left & right, using the whole cutting edge in turn. Create the cylinder right up to the scribed lines, making a bevel up to these lines.
roughing cylinder with gouge

roughing cylinder with gouge

Now comes the hard part; cutting the transition from the square mortised blocks to the turned cylinder. Use a very sharp skew chisel, and with some practice it will come. First, I cut into the turned portion right up to the line of transition with the skew. Then I define the corners. I use the “long” point of the skew, and aim the tool just about directly in line with the mark I want to cut. My right hand is low, and the tool is aimed high at the stock. As it enters the wood, my right hand comes up, bringing the point of the tool down into the wood. Light cuts are key.

starting the skew cut

starting the skew cut

the skew cutting into the square

right hand comes up, tool begins cut in square

In general making this cut is a difficult one, but with practice it is manageable. There are a few movements that make it more predictable, and effective. Angling the handle left & right changes the relationship between the bevel and the wood, and this is useful as well.

After defining these transitions, I cut the rest of the pattern with a gouge and the skew.

shaping some of the details

shaping some of the details

The best thing to do is to turn the whole set in one session. That way you develop some consistency within the stool. I burnish the finished turning with a fistful of shavings when I am done.

turning stiles

turning stiles

Regarding the turner from the Stent panel. We have seen the entire panel earlier; (see ) and I posted these pictures earlier, but had no time for any notes. So, now for a couple of details.

Stent panel, turner

Stent panel, turner

Here is the turner, using his pole lathe to turn a large pillar for a cupboard, or perhaps a baluster for a table leg. Instead of a pair of uprights with two timbers forming the lathe bed, this example has a slab pierced with a slot in which the poppets are inserted. Note also the tool rest’s support, presumable wedged into this slot.

Robin Fawcett, a pole-lathe turner from the UK wondered if the cord should pass through the lathe instead of outside it. I mentioned that Jan Van Vliet’s turner uses the same configuration as this example.

Two things Robin – first, that cord is repaired on the panel, it fell off the wall during World War II. So the section between the lathe bed and the treadle is replaced. BUT, I think the cord is going where it belongs. See Van Vliet’s turner, the Dutch engraving 1635. It too runs the cord outside the lathe. This is what I have done for everything except bowls on my lathe. Works fine.

Alexander points out that Moxon describes this very arrangement as well:

“And Note, that the farther the Fore-end of the Treddle reaches out beond the Fore-side of the Lathe, the greater will the sweep of the Fore-end of the Treddle be, and consequently it will draw the more String down; and the more String comes down at one Tread, the more Revolutions of the Work is made at one Tread, and therefore it makes the greater riddance of theWork.”


Here’s the Van Vliet engraving again:

van Vliet's turner, 1635

van Vliet's turner, 1635


Stent panel, turner's tools

Stent panel, turner's tools

 here is a closer view of the tools hanging on the wall; a compass (period term is the clunky phrase “pair of compasses”, thanks JA) and two chisels and a gouge. One of the chisels has a flared cutting end. So does the gouge for that matter. A tool like this chages size over repeated sharpenings, getting progressively narrower…








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