This page contains the following topics with dates (scroll down to find each topic)
Thoughts on Sanding and Finishing (12/24/12)
Bowls at a Royal Dinner (10/11/12)
A Special Royal Honor (9/14/12)
Most Recent Turning, including an amazing Urn (7/19/12)
An Amazing Red Cedar Burl (7/5/12)
A Freshly Turned Aspen Burl (4/29/12)
Koa wood from Hawaii (4/5/12)
Finishing Flat Rimmed Tamarack Salad Bowls (3/27/12)
Wood Turning Lesson for 98 year old Guy (2/20/12)
How to Turn an Aspen Burl (1/27/12)
Good and Bad Things are Happening - truck crash (1/24/12)
Details on Turning Bark Edged Bowls (1/6/12)
Preserving Historic Trees (1/5/12)
Turning Air (1/1/12)
Some Thoughts on Sanding (12/24/12)
I spend more time on sanding and finishing then on turning. This is a fact but I would rather spend much more time on turning! I saw a youtube video about a master wood turner in Kaui'i who makes beautiful lathe turned bowls and hand sands to the point of bleeding fingers and finishes only by polishing, no oils of waxes. He obviously spends days sanding and polishing one bowl. His production must be low but his bowls are beautiful and such a natural finishing is wonderful. I have been thinking about this because, although I spend a lot of time sanding and finishing, I do use primarily a power sander and I do use a tung oil finish. I also do some hand sanding with the finer grits and between coats of tung oil, but seldom more than an hour per bowl. The main advantage of hand sanding is that you can sand mainly with the grain, and this helps hide sanding marks. Rotary power sanders always leave fine scratches across the grain. I try to remove these by ending with some hand sanding, but I can never remove all those fine sanding marks. My main goal is to complete my bowls in a reasonable time so they can be enjoyed by many people, so I compromise a bit on perfection. This always bothers me and I have often re-sanded bowls that show too many find scratches, but in the end I have to say DONE. I only see the imperfections during the finishing, not when I pick up a completed bowl from the shelf and admire the wood. I think this observation and frustration is shared by all artists. Now, what about using oils vs just buffing and polishing the bare wood. I have experimented with different
oils and with polishing with only mineral oil, but never just high
speed polishing of the bare wood. Oils really bring out the grain and
they seal and protect the wood. I decided on tung oil because it works and it has an amazing history as the oldest oil used to protect wood in Asia from the 13th century (see info below). The Hawaiians also used a similar tree oil (Kukui nut oil) for sealing and finishing their koa wood canoes. I feel this history of wood finishing is important. My
experience with high speed buffing with no oil (similar to burnishing)
has not been good. It tends to darken the wood and I never seem to get
the result I want. I also worry that a bowl finished this way can't be
used for serving food as it will get stained from use. The following information was copied from the web site of the Real Milk Paint Company
TUNG OIL HISTORY:
Pure Tung Oil was and is one of the first truly "Green"
finishes. It is all natural and contains zero VOC's.
Pure Tung oil (China wood oil) is an all-natural
finishing product that provides a tough, flexible and highly
water-resistant coating or wood finish. It is classed as
a drying oil along with linseed, poppy seed, safflower seed, walnut,
soybean, oiticica and a few other oils. Although it is
relatively new to the Western world, tung oil also known
as chinawood oil has been known for centuries to the
Chinese, and until this century, China was the main source
for the oil. It comes from the seed of the tung trees,
Aleurites fordii and Aleurites montana, deciduous trees
that are very susceptible to frost damage. This
vulnerability has restricted the cultivation of the tung trees
to China and South America. Tung oil (china wood oil)
received wide application in China: in the building
trades as a treatment for both stone and wooden
structures; in marine trades as a preservative and water
repellant on wooden boats. It is said to have been
introduced to the West by Marco Polo. From the 13th to
the 19th century, tung oil had only limited use in the
West. More recently, tung oil has gained favor over linseed oil
for wood finishing because it is faster drying and does not darken as much with age.
****************************************Bowls at a Royal Dinner (10/11/12)
I finally got some photos of my bowls on the head table at the gala dinner and celebration for the King and Queen of Sweden.
The dinner was at the Hilton Hotel in Minneapolis on October 6. The
photos were taken just before guests arrived. Photos were not allowed during the dinner.
Photo of the head table just before guests arrived. You can see one of my translucent birch bowls clearly and the large aspen burl bowl in the distance, right where the King and Queen will be sitting. The next image shows this bowl more clearly in the center of the head table.
The aspen burl bowl described in previous posts is sitting on a lighted stand, right in the center of the
head table. It was very nice to have some of my bowls displayed at this
special event. A big thanks goes to the American Swedish Institute for
A Special Royal Honor (9/14/12)
Five of my
wood bowls have been selected for display at the royal head table during the
celebration gala for Their Majesties, the King and Queen of Sweden, at the
Hilton Hotel in Minneaplis on October 6. I want to thank the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis for selecting some of my bowls for this very special honor.
Swedish jazz-dance orchestra
Kustbandet will perform at this sold out event. The evening will include a
program, elegant three-course meal, dancing, and camaraderie.
One of the bowls to be displayed was lathe turned
from a large aspen burl. This bowl is
shown in the preceding post of 9/11/12 below and is one of the best bowls I have made. The
others are smaller bark-edged translucent birch bowls to be illuminated with
small candles, similar to ones on the tables at the New Scenic Café in Duluth. Images of similar glowing bowls are shown on another page of this web site.
****************************************Most Recent Turning, including an amazing Urn (7/19/12)
have been turning a bunch of bowls this past two weeks from black
walnut, box elder and aspen burls. All of this wood is wet so a couple
of months drying is needed before sanding and finishing, but at least
the pipe line is starting to build. The box elder has a lot of red
"fire" staining from fungus and is really amazing. Look forward to
seeing these bowls in a couple of months. I have also been turning some
dry wood which can be finished right away, so you will see some more
bowls appearing in the "for sale" pages soon. My entire completed bowl inventory in my gallery is only four bowls and these will soon migrate to the New Scenic Cafe,
where the inventory is only about a dozen bowls. Sales have been so
strong that I can't keep up, which is good for business but not so good
for building up my supply of firewood for the coming winter. I also
currently have orders for half a dozen bowls! I want to keep this a fun
endeavor so please be patient if you are interested in a bowl. My
priority is to keep up the inventory at the New Scenic Cafe
and to fill commissioned pieces. The next entry describes a recently
commissioned red cedar bowl, and I just posted a smaller bowl made from
the same burl on the Burl Bowls for Sale Page.
I also just completed a special project that took a lot of time and
thought. I was commissioned to make a cremation urn for a family in
Minneapolis. I took on this project because the deceased was a special
person with a connection to Hovland. The family wanted the urn made of
birch from Hovland and they had specific design ideas. I learned a lot
about the person and had her in mind during the entire process. I
always think of the people while turning any commissioned piece. That
is part of the fun of turning a bowl or other piece. I generally only
think about the tree and how to best represent it, so this added thought
is nice. An image of the urn is shown below, but please be aware that I
am not in the business of making urns and do not intend to make another
one. I am not set up for deep hollowing and it took me a very long
time to hollow out this deep piece! The necklace draped on the urn was a
favorite of the person who will have this urn as their final resting
place. The urn was made from local birch and the top from a local birch
An Amazing Red Cedar Burl (7/5/12)
just turned an old red cedar burl that I got from people in Minneapolis
who commissioned a bowl from their beautiful burl. The bowl is a gift
from a friend for their wedding this coming weekend. I picked up the
burl in Minneapolis several weeks ago. It is really large, at least 2 x
3 ft, and heavy with a beautiful outer skin and a nice patina from over
20 years serving as the base of a table. Here is a photo of the burl.
is always tricky cutting such a burl since you do not know what lies
inside. Sometimes their are decayed areas or just punky wood. Cedar is
also a difficult wood to turn as the end grain easily tears and no
amount of sanding will repair the tears. I cut it into a large piece, I
think the hemisphere on the right. I could immediately see the wood was
beautiful with lots of flame (chatoyant glow). The bowl was turned
extra thick, with enthusiastic support of the bride and groom, to
preserve the amazing outer skin of the burl. They clearly wanted a form
that contained as much of the burly skin as possible since they had been
admiring it for years. The following photos show the completed bowl.
It is heavy and massive and shows the wood grain with all its flame as
well as the gnarly skin of the burl. The best view showing the wood
grain is the bottom view. This bowl will be a great center to a large
An Freshly Turned Aspen Burl (4/29/12)
just returned from two weeks exploring the canyons in Utah and Arizona.
A day before we left I got five new aspen burls from local loggers in
Hovland. You can imagine that these were on my mind during our entire
trip. I love turning new burls, and some of these were large and well
shaped. I selected the second largest one and cut the burl off the log.
The burl is shown in the first image below. The burl is about 15" in
diameter. It is always tricky to decide how to turn one of these burls.
Which part of the burl should be the top of the bowl? A wrong choice can
be costly. You do not know what is inside the burl so there is always a
gamble. A rotten spot in the base of a bowl will not be good, but OK if
in the hollowed out part. I also like to have a bark edge all the way
around the rim of the bowl. I decided to locate the base of the bowl on
the top (top part in burl image) of the burl. The most interesting
grain is usually located near the gnarly part of the burl, and the soft
rotten spots are often found near where the burl emerges from the main
log (but not always). I made the right choice with this burl, although I
hate losing wood trying to cut a good solid base. A beautiful bowl
started to emerge. I don't usually show images of freshly turned bowls,
since the real beauty of the wood grain generally only comes out after
sanding and oiling, but this bowl looked great right away. I can only
imagine how this one will look after it is finished. The images below
show the bowl right after turning. It now needs to dry for several
months (it is very wet) under close observation to make sure no cracking
happens. Burls usually do not crack while drying since their grain is
wild and random. I can't wait to turn more of the these burls. The
largest one is around 18" in diameter and nicely shaped. (addition on
May 1, 2012): I turned the larger aspen burl yesterday. The bowl came
out nicely (about 14" diameter, 3" ht) but the grain is not as amazing
as the one shown below. There were also some voids inside the burl
resulting in a different shape. I have a few more smaller aspen burls
that will be turned soon.
This bowl is about 12 " in diameter and about 3 " high
Koa wood from Hawaii (4/5/12)
Finishing Flat Rimmed Tamarack Salad Bowls (3/27/12)I
have standing orders for salad bowls so I often get motivated to make a
few. The main problem is finding a nice piece of large wood. I want a
bowl that has beautiful wood and is large enough for displaying creative
salads for dinner. My neighbor cut down a few tamarack trees and I know
how beautiful this wood can be. Best to find a tree that is almost
starting to decay so the amazing yellow, brown, red, and green colors
develop, and a bit of spalting would not hurt. I just finished one of
these bowls from this tree. Although I would like to have had a larger
tree, I managed to get bowls that are 10 - 11 inches in diameter. The
beautiful grain and colors make up for the small size. Here are a few
images of this bowl.
turned this bowl green and let it warp during drying. The finished
product is slightly warped, giving a natural charm. The dark red-brown
areas are unusual and spectacular. The grain of tamarack also has a nice
texture. Tamarack wood is very strong when dry so this will make an
excellent utility bowl that will last for ever. I finish salad bowls
with several coats of 100% pure tung oil mixed with citrus solvent to
aid drying. This finish is water resistant and tough, and completely
food safe. The tung oil and citrus solvent come from the Real Milk Paint Company.
Wood Turning Lesson for 98 year old Art (2/20/12)I enjoy teaching wood turning at the North House Folk School
and have a class coming up in a few weeks. Last year I met an older
gentleman who wanted to learn how to turn bark edged bowls. He already
was an experienced wood worker but only had a little wood turning
experience. Art is 98 years old and excited about life and especially
learning new things. Yesterday he came to my wood shop in Hovland for
the third time to learn how to turn a burl. We selected an aspen burl I
had in the shop and decided how to mount it on the lathe. The burl had
an unsymmetrical shape with many nodules. Here is a photo of the burl
still on the log.
mounted it on the Vega bowl lathe and Art started turning it. It is
wonderful to work with Art. He is so excited about learning and
fearless in trying new things. It is not easy to turn such an
unsymmetrical burl, but Art just attacked it and, with a little
guidance, made progress quickly. Here are a series of photos showing
Art turning the burl into a beautiful bowl.
Art with his aspen burl bowl
is always rewarding to see a student happy to learn and proud of their
accomplishment. I have spent most of my life teaching (chemistry) and
got a lot of my motivation from witnessing student's accomplishments. A
teacher can only guide and motivate. The student is 100% responsible
for learning. Art is certainly the oldest student I have guided, but his
excitement rivals that of the youngest. It is great to be part of this
and I expect Art to be back in a few months for another "lesson". He
lives in North Dakota. Sharing in Art's excitement about learning
certainly gives one a strong motivation for life long learning. He
certainly has figured out what life is all about and clearly enjoys
every second of it. News Flash (1/30/15): Art is still turning bowls and visits my shop a few times a year!!!!!
********************How to Turn an Aspen Burl (1/27/12)Yesterday
I turned the aspen burl described in the previous post. Each burl
presents a different challenge. This one took about 3 hours to turn.
The images and descriptions below will give you a good idea of what is
involved. The burl was cut recently so it is green and very wet. It is
easier to turn green wood and generally green wood is not split or
checked as much as dry wood. The first image shows the burl cut away
from its log and the second shows the burl mounted on the lathe. The
rounded (top in image) part of the burl will be the foot or bottom of
the bowl. The aspen burl ready to mount on lathe The burl mounted on the lathe
Side view of burl on the lathe
The foot of the bowl is marked
I mounted the burl using an Elio drive
on the head-stock part of the lathe and a rotating drive on the
tail-stock end. This permits the burl to be easily adjusted on the
lathe. It is important that the burl is correctly positioned and this
is a judgement call. I actually removed and remounted the burl several
times to get this right. The above right image shows the bottom of the
bowl smoothed and the foot marked with a black circle. The foot will be
used to reverse mount the burl so its size is important. The next
images show the outside (profile) of the bowl being shaped. The shape
is dictated by the wood. My goal is to keep the outside of the bowl as
close as possible to the nodules of the burl to preserve the swirling
grain figuring, but holes and splits sometimes mess things up. You will
see later that this burl was full of worm holes and some soft decayed
These images show the profile of the bowl being developed. Note the long worm holes at the bottom.
profile is completed and the bowl is removed and re-mounted in a
four-center chuck. The chuck grabs on to the foot and centers the bowl
in preparation for hollowing. I am using the Oneway Stronghold chuck
with number 3 profiled jaws which will hold the bowl very securely. The
top edge of the bowl preserves some of the outer bark of the burl, but I
could not maintain bark on the entire rim due to the shape of the
burl. If I kept bark all the way around rim, the bowl would not be very
deep. This would waste about half of the burl and I hate to do that.
The next two images show the completed profile with its foot and the
reverse mounted bowl ready for hollowing.
The completed profile with its foot The reverse mounted bowl ready for hollowing
I am using a Vega 2400 bowl lathe
that has a removable tail-stock. This makes hollowing much easier than
with a lathe with a long bed. The hollowing is easier than turning the
profile. The only decision is the thickness of the bowl. I generally
aim for about 3/8 " thickness with such burls. The wood had lots of
worm holes, soft areas, and split grain boundaries which would cause
problems with a thinner wall. The bark edge also is more impressive
with a thicker wall. The next images show the hollowing process and the
The start of the hollowing Top view of the bowl. Note the worm holes to the left.
The completed Bowl on the lathe The bowl removed from its chuck and all the turnings
bowl came out nicely with dimensions of 12" diameter and 5" depth. It
has a good feel and lots of wonderful figuring typical of aspen burls.
The worm holes add charm. This bowl will be wonderful once it is dried,
sanded, and oiled. It already shows some nice flame and spectacular
figuring. The final image below shows a close up of some of this, but
sanding and oiling will really add a depth and glow. I have omitted one
aspect of turning this piece. I used a lot of wood stabilizer (super
thin cyanoacrylate glue).
This is absolutely necessary to keep the wood in tact and to keep the
bark on the bowl. This glue hardens the soft areas, prevents the grain
boundaries from splitting, and keeps the bark on the rim while drying.
It is also does not clog sand paper! Drying a turned bowl, especially in
the dry winter months, is problematic. Wood turners have many methods
including kiln drying, slow drying in a bag or box with added humidity,
drying rapidly in a microwave oven, drying very slowly in a computer
controlled microwave oven, or just letting it dry out in the open. I
use the last method but keep a very close watch on the bowl. If a small
crack starts, a little thin cyanoacrylate glue will stop it. I
sometimes let the bowl dry in a paper bag but still observe it several
times a day. I have learned to predict where cracks may appear (and
each type of wood is different) and saturate these areas with the glue.
I have very few cracked bowls, and if a crack does happen, I work it
into the beauty of the bowl. Drilling small holes for spruce root
sutures can be a nice touch, or actually inlaying wood butterflies looks
classy but very time consuming. There is always a way to save a bowl
and this is the fun and challenge of wood turning. Wood is so beautiful
- how can one not have a good result!
Note the flame and figuring near the top, and the worm holes to the right and centerThis
bowl will dry for several months and then be sanded. The foot also has
to be re-turned for a proper size and shape. Sanding is the dark side of
bowl making. I will spend 2 to 3 hours sanding this bowl to a final
grit of 800. It is a tedious process but well worth it. I am always
amazed how the wood grain, colors, flame, and beauty are brought out at
the first application of oil to a sanded bowl. The down side here is
that the oil also shows sanding errors, those tiny or not so tiny
sanding swirls and marks. I have re-sanded bowls quite often, and you
need to do at least three grits and waste expensive sand paper due to
gumming up from the oil. Most people will never see these small sanding
marks, but I strangely feel that by leaving them I have compromised my
goal of best showing off the amazing beauty of the wood.
Good and Bad Things are Happening - truck crash (1/24/12)
is full of surprises. A few days ago I got a bunch of beautiful aspen
burls from local loggers. I always love getting new burls. Here is a
photo of one of these burls.
Aspen Burl of approx dimensions 15 x 12 inches
burl is nicely shaped and has lots of small nodules, which usually give
a spectacular grain figuring with lots of swirling rings. I have not
turned this one yet and will take some photos of the process and put
them in a later post. I suspect this burl will give a great bowl. I
will cut this burl from the log and smooth a small area on the near the
center of the burl as you are seeing it above. This position is where
the foot or bottom of the bowl will be. That should maximize the tiny
swirling effect. The top of the bowl will be the part of the burl
nearest the log. I plan to carve in (once on the lathe) toward the
center and then carve down along the shape of the burl toward the foot.
This will keep a nice bark edge. The burl is already roughly shaped
like a bowl so I will follow its shape, trying to maximize the the
figuring of the grain. My goal is to shape the bowl to best show off
the beauty of the burl. My next post will hopefully show all this in
pictures. One never knows what is inside a burl, maybe a large decayed
void or a big crack that makes the burl fly apart on the lathe. I think
this one is sound (by tapping on it and feeling its weight) but this is
unknown at this point.
Now for the bad news. I was driving my truck down to Duluth and the Scenic Cafe
to add a black walnut bowl to the display there. My wife was with me.
It was snowing and icy and we hit an icy spot and lost control, spun
around a few times, rolled over as we entered the ditch on the north
side of highway 61 right near the Carabou river. We slid down the ditch
toward the river but a large aspen tree stopped the truck on the edge
of a deep drop off toward the river. I think the tree knew how I feel
about trees, and made sure we did not drop down into the river. Anyway,
I will be thinking about this tree every time I turn and preserve a
piece of aspen, especially burls. It is also worth mentioning that we
had one of the aspen burls in the truck for a wood turner friend in
Minneapolis. We were very lucky to escape this accident with only a few
scratches and bruises but the truck is a total loss. The black walnut
bowl was flying around the cab during this slow motion event and of
course I grabbed it and kept it from being damaged. It is now back home
in Hovland. We were trapped in the truck after accident dangling from
the shoulder belts (truck was on its side), but people came by to help
us out very quickly. These very nice folks waited with us for 45 min
for any help to arrive. They took photos and will send them to us
soon. I will post some here when they arrive. This entire adventure
gives me a new respect for the icy roads on the north shore (especially
hills and curves) and for aspen trees. Now to replace the truck! It was
a 2004 Toyota Tundra with only 36,000 miles, rated the safest truck
that year for side impacts, and I will agree with that.
The following slide show has photos of the crashed truck. Photos provided by the people who helped us escape from the truck.
********************Details on Turning Bark Edged Bowls (1/6/12)
I teach a class at the North House Folk School on turning bark edged bowls. I wrote up a rather detailed document for this class. You can download this as a PDF file.
It contains a lot of tips and tricks. I strongly recommend this for
students taking my class, or for anyone interested in turning natural
and bark edged bowls. There is more information on this website about my
Preserving Historic Trees (1/5/12)One
of the students in my wood turning class was from Minnetonka and
discovered that one of the really old Bur Oak trees that grew near the
historic Burwell House
was taken down and pieces left lying on the ground. He collected some
of the more interesting pieces, especially crotches, and gave them to me
for turning. We agreed that it was important to preserve some of this
historic tree. I have sold several of these bowls but have a few more
drying. One may still be at the Scenic Cafe. Here are a few images of one that sold. It is 11 x 10 x 4 inches in size and clearly shows the crotch grain pattern.Bur Oak (mossycup white oak) from the old Minnetonka Mill historic area, not far from the old grist mill.
Turning Air (1/1/12)One
of the more challenging techniques in wood turning is turning a very
unsymmetrical piece. The turning tool is in contact with the wood only
part of the time, and you are just cutting air or empty space part of
the time. This is a bit scary the first time and requires a very steady
hand. You could get a spectacular catch if you jerk the gouge around.
I was amazed by the very unsymmetrical bowls (more like wings) that I
frequently saw in Hawaii. Don Albrecht,
a wood turner on the Big Island, is noted for turning such pieces. A
few years ago I experimented with turning very unsymmetrical bowls.
Here is an example of one of one of my first efforts from a very
unsymmetrical piece of red elm from Grand Marais, Minnesota. The edge of
this bowl is the natural outer edge of the log.
remember this bowl well since the spinning piece was like a dagger
whirling around ready to cut off my hand. It even made a loud noise as
it spun around, like an airplane propeller, and it was scary to turn.
As with most things, a bit of experience leads to confidence. I now
have no problem turning unsymmetrical bowls or pieces and even decided
to try turning a wing like piece. Here is an image of the wing I turned
some time ago.I
asked Don how he turns pieces like this and he told me he starts with a
curved branch, which he attaches to the headstock of the lathe in the
center of the curve, and just starts turning it into a flat wing like
object. The above wing was turned from a curved birch branch. This is
not really a bowl, but it can be a wonderful artistic piece. I never
sold this and gave it to the Scenic Cafe for display or maybe for
serving a piece of sushi. Turning this wing was a great training
exercise and gave me lots of confidence for turning air. I am always
looking for a special piece of wood with multiple wing like branches.
The root of a big tree could be perfect for this. I am still looking.
Meanwhile, I love turning unsymmetrical "bowl like" pieces from
beautiful wood. Here are two images of a recent one from a large maple
burl with spectacular wood grain and figuring.
top view:This piece has been at the Scenic Cafe
for over a year. It is for sale but since it does not look like a
bowl, it has not sold. This one is for a person who really appreciates
beautiful wood. If you get to the restaurant, take a look at it. This
would be perfect for display on a shelf.UPDATE (2/12): This bowl has sold so someone got a real collectors piece. I can see this bowl sitting on a shelf in a home where unusual art is displayed.