Turned Miniature Eisteddfod Chair

Sunday, March 6th, 2016

Having had the honour to be commissioned again to make a miniature chair for Cymdeithas Ceredigion‘s 2016 Eisteddfod I decided to put my all into making a turned miniature chair. Since turning is my main medium for working with wood it made sense to explore this method to make the chair. I’ve made chairs for Cymdeithas Ceredigion before, both a full size chair and two miniature chairs, however I used more traditional methods for these chairs. (The 2015 miniature chair, described here and here, was made out of Laburnum and the 2014 was made of Elm.)

I had a prototype turned chair floating around the workshop which I’d made a couple of years ago. I wasn’t happy with it but felt it did have possibilities. However, translating that into something I would be willing to allow to be presented as a prize was quite another matter. My projects almost always have the natural shape or figuring of the wood as the starting point. Even when asked to make something to exact criteria usually the specific wood plays a big part (apart from replicas for antiques which obviously need to fulfil a different brief). It is the beauty of the particular wood that I want to enhance by turning it from a lump of wood into a shape that is useful and hopefully pleasing to the eye. All my other chairs had been made in this way. The full size chair, made of Ash, used the natural shape the wood had grown and been planked, the miniature Elm chair used wood deliberately chosen and sawn to create an idea of arms using the way burrs grow out of wood and the idea behind the miniature Laburnum chair (and here) was keeping all the outer edge of the chair in the sapwood whilst the rest of the chair was heartwood. All three of these chairs also used as few pieces of wood as possible again to keep the emphasis on the wood rather than the manufacture.

turned miniature eisteddfod chairThe starting point of this miniature chair was different. It was the method of manufacture that was the starting point and so it had to be based on a circular form, since I don’t do multi axis and off-centre work. Then there was how to hold it on the lathe. And finally, since I haven’t made this sort of thing before, getting the design pleasing to the eye, the proportions appropriate and balanced from all angles whilst keeping it possible for me to physically make on the lathe. I am not good at sitting down with pen and paper anyway, but I really didn’t see ay point in doing that with this project as it wouldn’t make any difference how nice it looked if I couldn’t make it. So I resigned myself to making one, studying it, making another, putting them together, living with them, viewing them from every angle, putting them away for a while to let my sub-conscious have a chance to have an input. So I now have a line of miniature chairs on a high shelf in the workshop, gathering dust.

Turned Miniature Eisteddfod ChairI chose Ash for this chair. I deliberately chose a plain wood so it was the shape that was important. It is turned from a whole branch which means the top of the back and the arms have perfect concentric growth rings.

I never like leaving things to the last minute so I have been living with this chair for a while now before it goes. I critically examine it, wonder what it would be like with different legs, a lower back or more splayed, in a different wood and so on. In fact now I’ve started turning chairs I’d love to make more.

I have posted a video on Youtube here ac yng Nghymraeg yma.

Tale of an Ash Tree

Friday, February 19th, 2016

Ash coffee table My work often comes from trees where I know some of the story behind the wood. None more so than one particular Ash tree. There are so many different threads of different stories that I see when I look at a piece from this tree.

Once upon a time an Ash seed rooted itself in just the wrong place, on a river bank where there was almost no soil and under a cliff so there was almost no sun either. For a hundred and fifty years and more the Ash tree grew tall and thin as she stretched to reach more light, developing a buttress on one side to hold herself upright. But eventually a storm was just too much and she fell over, her roots wrapped round stones.This Ash tree fell right across the river, over a beautiful deep pool that was a favoured fishing site, making this pool useless for the fisherman who lived in a cottage just upstream.

Totally unconnected Huw had gone to see a neighbouring farmer about a repair job on an agricultural machine (Huw is a precision engineer) and bought a beautiful curved Oak trunk, suitable for lintels. The farmer had offered this little Ash tree to him as well. So they winched it over the river, sawing it every seven foot. After sawing the last bit the base, with the roots and stones still attached, had bounced back upright in the middle of the pool still spoiling the fishing. The neighbouring fisherman returned home, donned his chest waders and retied the winch wire to pull it out.

close up of Ash coffee tableI only heard about all this but it was obvious everyone had had fun. At that time we were looking after Huw’s mother with dementia and she couldn’t be left so we took it in turns to work. When we next had someone in for a few hours of respite Huw took me to see his treasures. The Oak didn’t move me but I loved this valiant little Ash tree right from the start. The marks on the bark showed there was ripple and the buttress was interesting. We took the planking chainsaw with us and planked one of the sections and brought it back straight away in the van, the rest coming later in a more substantial vehicle, probably the lorry Jim next door had at the time.

The tree also had meaning for me as it grew within half a mile from my birthplace. The fisherman it turned out knew my mother quite well too. And, rather more poignantly, within shouting distance of the tree is the main road where a dearly beloved friend was killed in a car accident.

This photo shows clearly how slowly the Ash tree grew. But what happened that one year?

Ash treeThe trunk was only about 18” diameter whereas I also had an Ash tree about the same age that was 4’ diameter as seen on the right. The close up of a bowl here clearly shows how slowly the tree grew. But what happened on that one year?


The photo in my profile in Good Woodworking (the third page on the left) shows the remaining three sections of the tree. Though I had been so pleased about getting this tree it had not felt essential to plank it straight away. Getting time together to plank became more and more difficult as Huw’s mother became frailer and we became more exhausted by the situation. I think this tree deteriorated more quickly too because of its unusual growth pattern, it was a very soft wood even when fresh. So most of it was too far gone when we managed to get to it. I was so pleased the first section had been planked straight away.

Ash tree bowlI can even remember where several pieces of it went as well. There is my coffee table shown above which I never sold as I wasn’t happy with the legs. Next door had a coffee table. I made a loving cup with two captive rings for a friend’s wedding.  There is even still one bowl in my Ash collection in Origin at the moment. And somewhere in my stash of wood I think there may, just may, be one plank left…



Wood Turning -Setting Up My Workshop 1

Friday, July 24th, 2015

My Wood Turning Workshop Starts to Take Shape


Some months ago I was visiting Roni and, as usual, could not wait to do a bit more wood turning. There I was turning a rather nice, if I do say so myself, mushroom when Roni asked why I did not set up my own workshop at home?

I had thought about it before and dismissed it on a couple of grounds.

Firstly there was the cost. Wood turning is not a cheap thing to set up. There is a lot of necessary kit.  A lathe for a start, have you seen how much those things cost!? Then there is extraction for the dust, gouges, saws of various types, sharpening wheels for the gouges, various oils and finishes, etc. the list goes on.  There is also a whole industry out there designed to sell the latest “must have” (for which read, “not actually must have at all” ) gadget. Even if you can resist the latest hollowing system, or the new and improved widget designed to make you a master turner that also makes tea and toast and predicts the lottery numbers wood turning is not a cheap pastime.

Secondly, there was the question of space. It is true that I have a garage but as with everyone I know it does not house a car. Instead it has all the stuff that can not go anywhere else barbeques, bicycles that are never used, half empty pots of paint that have crusts on them thicker than the earth’s. Christmas decorations that are no long used have been breeding on the shelves, there are record decks just waiting for me to set them up. There are all those things that are really necessary to maintain life that are never actually used…………..

There was also the attic (or what I laughing refer to as my office). However, the prospect of having wood dust cascading down through the house was too horrendous to consider, for more than 5 minutes.

However the seed of an idea was planted by Roni’s question. Now, how to make room, organise the area,and find the money?

Marketing Woodturning

Saturday, April 25th, 2015

Roni Roberts at workI have been woodturning for ten years now. In fact I even did a little before that, about fifteen years ago. However, most of this time I have also been a carer so not only was my time limited but also I never knew if I would have to drop everything else for a while if the person I was looking after needed more help. I therefore deliberately kept a low profile with the woodturning. I put my work into local shops and galleries and left them to sell on my behalf. I am grateful for this service. I do not begrudge shops their commission, I am a firm believer in the value of our high streets and independant shops and am as happy to provide them with my work as I am to shop there.

However, selling through other people meant that I lost out on the personal contact with my customers. Also, as I am passionate about trees, wood and woodworking I also felt the loss of a chance to explain to people that a particular bowl came from a tree that  grew a few miles away. I knew the exact spot, I knew why it had fallen or been felled, I had planked it up myself at home, delighted in it, stored it, dried it and worked it.

I am no longer a carer. This means that I can (and need to) dedicate myself more to the woodturning. However, marketing woodturning is a very different matter. I live in a very rural area therefore there aren’t that many shops/galleries around to display my work or population to buy. I need to go further afield to a certain extent. And I would like to share my enthusiasm for the wonders of local wood, woodturning and wood craft in general.

About eighteen months ago I finally got the internet for myself. I had always loved the idea of blogging about the wood as this would be a chance to tell the customers everything I’d never been able to in the shops. However, doing the writing has been a different matter. I feel self-concious, I don’t know how to express myself clearly, etc.

Then there has been all the technical problems – still ongoing. After all, I am not going to be able to learn all about the world of www overnight, am I? But I have taken a great leap forward. I made my first video and uploaded it to Youtube. Apologies about the quality – I still have lots to learn. But as my mother once said “We live on a learning planet.”

Cankered Ash

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015

Cankered Ash is a beautiful wood. Ash is so often beautiful anyway but Cankered Ash is wonderful. It has all the sorts of things I really enjoy with wood. It is unpredictable and moves after it has been turned – even if it is turned quite dry but especially if it is turned fresh. There must be a lot of stresses in it. It often has a particularly good colour and sheen to it, rich and deep. And, of course, it also has holes in it! Quite why they are appealing I don’t know but it isn’t only me. It seems that the more holes there are in a piece of wood the quicker it sells.

The most expensive bowl I have sold was a Cankered Ash bowl. It was £150. It was a very large bowl and had to be this price but it still seems like a lot of money to me, though I see plenty of wooden turned bowls on the internet for more. Anyway, I put it in a local gallery and went into the gallery about a week later. I couldn’t see the bowl and wondered what they’d done with it. I thought maybe due to its size it had to be moved. It just never occured to me that it had been snatched up within days but that was the case.

Cankered Ash bowlI have recently been turning some more Cankered Ash. When I came to photograph the bowl I just didn’t seem able to do it justice so I took a video. As soon as I’d started doing that I realised I could also show people who didn’t know what Cankered Ash looked like as I have an Ash tree in the garden which has Canker. So I have a video on Youtube about my latest Cankered Ash bowl.

Turning Mushrooms

Sunday, March 1st, 2015

Phil came to stay last weekend. Having taken to wood turning like a duck to water when he first tried, naturally he wanted to have a go again. (I, of course, expect everyone who tries their hand at turning to love it but suprisingly not everyone does.) When I asked Phil what he’d like to turn he said “mushrooms and earrings”. I was delighted at this. Something a bit different – where he could choose the design as they weren’t something I’d been making for ten years unlike the bowls. Years ago I’d made mushroom shaped nightlights and boxes where the top was the cap of the mushroom but I’d never made ornamental mushrooms or any type of jewellery.

Turned wooden mushroomsBoth Phil and I did a bit of research and he decided to go for mushrooms with a wide base to keep them stable – with a natural edge to the cap there is no guarantee they will be evenly balanced enough for a narrow stem so they would end up having to be put into another base.

In very little time Phil had turned 5 mushrooms of varying woods and slightly different designs – each having its own character. He then turned a larger one to go in the garden.

Time was now running short so Phil turned his hand to the earrings. This meant introducing him to different tools and different techniques. I pointed out that the greatest difficulty with turning a pair of earrings was the word “pair”. So we also looked at ways to help make a pair such as templates and callipers – also keeping in mind that handmade should allow for a slight variation. I chose Laburnam for Phil to turn as it is a close grained wood that is pretty and will take a high polish. Phil turned a pair of drop earrings with a simple but elegant shape. I would have been proud to wear them. Unfortunately we didn’t have the “findings”(what strange jargon! – meaning all the bits and bobs that would turn them into a pair of earrings) so I haven’t as yet seen them complete.

Turning Mushrooms, Phil’s View

The last time I visited Roni I turned a few bowls.  I loved it, although a source of heat in the workshop would be nice.  Anyway I was keen to do some more turning.  The question was what should I try to make?  I would like to turn some more bowls but I also wanted to extend my understanding of working on a lathe.  The answer was to try something entirely different, so I came to making jewellery and turning mushrooms.  My reasoning was simple, I like jewellery and have contemplated making it the past.  I had thought about making  steam punk items, there is something about the look that draws me to it.  The other thing that came to me was turning mushrooms.  They look good, are varied in their shapes and sizes and each one would be different.  Perfect.

Roni was supportive, as usual.  She also did say that jewellery would not be easy. The items are small, need to be balanced and well finished.  I should have listened to her.  I did make a pair of nice drops, but the frustration!  She started me off by practicing on a small piece of wood making some fine and delicate cuts and curves.  Me, being me, just wanted to get on with it!  If you ever want to start wood turning jewellery take my advice, practice and practice. Once you have mastered the techniques of creating good, precise curves and shapes then start making jewellery.

Getting the drops to be balanced took time, but it was worth it.  At one point I thought that I would just give up.  However, Roni made a cup of coffee and I had a cigarette.  I went back to it and under her guidance I finished them!

The mushrooms.  Well, I loved making them.  I am still in awe of what Roni does.  She sees the bowl in the wood and draws it out.  I began to understand how she feels when she looks at a piece of wood, not that I am claiming any of her talent, quite the reverse actually.  I just had a slight feeling of what it is that she does.  She gave me a branch and said “what does the mushroom in that look like?”  I looked and began to see the mushroom.  She said fine, then do it.

By the end of my stay I was planning where I could set up my own workshop in the garage!  I was also checking what excess equipment Roni has that I might be able to “borrow”.  I am sure that, after the workshop is set up, the first time I have piece of wood set up will be nerve racking.  What will be most nerve racking is not having Roni stood there to say that I can do it, make a calming cup of coffee and say something encouraging.

Thank you Roni.  Now, the next time I come down what I want to make is………………………


My Big Lathe

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

E. G. Wilson metal spinning lathe now adapted as a wood turning latheThis is my favourite lathe and was in fact the first lathe that I bought though I didn’t use it straight away. I can turn up to 24″ diameter on this lathe.

I love the history associated with this lathe. It started life as a metal spinning lathe – something I’d never even heard of when I first had the lathe. It was in a poor state and I had to derust then paint it. There was no tool rest and when I was asking Huw to make one for me I really didn’t know what I needed. This tool rest can be moved at a couple of different points wich is very useful. The middle section being something that Huw had (in case it came in handy at some point, I should think!) and adapted for this.

Roni Roberts turning a column on the EG Wilson lathe

it is obviously winter – I’m wearing plenty of layers!

This is a solid and heavy cast iron lathe. However, it is also firmly bolted to the concrete floor for turning Burr and otherwise out of balance big bowls. In many ways it is not as practical as could be. There is no hole in the head stock so I can’t put a centre in it. When I’m turning between centres I use the chuck shown with a centre bit in it. It is also rather short between centres for table legs (especially including the chuck and thread adapter). I am also thinking of getting rid of the front part of the bed. I had originally been reluctant to do this as it took some of the history away from it but now I feel the practicalities are more important. I would also like to make it variable speed. At the moment the lowest speed is 300rpm then it goes up to 850rpm which is such a big leap for a large out of balance bowl. So hopefully over the next few months there will be changes to this old E. G. Wilson.

Viceroy Short-bed Lathe

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015

Viceroy short bed latheThis Viceroy short bed lathe is a wonderful lathe. I can turn up to 16″ over the bed and if I wanted and needed I could also turn larger pieces on the outside. However since I have another, larger lathe I’ve never set this up for outboard turning.

This lathe has been converted to variable speed running from zero to about 1400 rpm. This is great as the belts for the different speeds are harder to change on this lathe than my little Scheppach. So I have an inverter mounted on the wall and a three phase motor. There was a three phase originally on the lathe but unfortunately not the right one for the job. Strange to my simple, unelectrical mind that three phase was needed when it runs off single phase!

The lathe was in the ceramics department of a college and they decided they didn’t need it and were just getting rid of it. A friend of mine who worked in the department wondered if the lathe would be of any use to me and carefully protected it against the weather and offered it to me which I was delighted about. I, with the help of my friend who had rescued it, had to get it into the back of the van I was using the day I visited. Needless to say it was very difficult but I was determined to succeed, especially as I had a suitable vehicle and was far from home making picking it up another day extremely difficult.

tailstock for ViceroyThere was no tail stock with the lathe. Huw contacted Viceroy and an elderly gentleman sent the plans for the tail stock for Huw to use to make one. I contacted Viceroy a few months later to send him a bowl turned on the lathe but was told he’d retired and no-one seemed to have an address for him. I was very sorry I hadn’t managed to thank him properly for his kindness. Just goes to show how important it is to reply promptly especially to thank someone! The wheel on the back Huw rescued from an ancient combination machine, the only part of which I bought was the planer-thicknesser which will plane 24″.

The Smallest Lathe

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

This is a ScScheppach bench mounted wood turning latheheppach (dmt450) 5 speed bench mounted wood turning lathe. This lathe was the first lathe I used seriously. And I did use it seriously considering it was a small inexpensive lathe. It was bolted well to the bench and within months I was turning bowls up to the maximum diameter of 10″ (150mm). And these weren’t always round bowls either. I had already been making furniture for several years so I knew how much I liked the natural edge and the beauty of the wood in its fullness, not cut into a straight line for my ease of use. I was very impressed with this lathe. It did everything I asked of it which was a lot. It was quite a long time later that I learned that these lathes are usually only used for turning things like pens and lace bobbins. I would never subject it to that sort of strain now I have more experience but it is still in use.

The lowest speed is 650 rpm and the highest is 3000 rpm. One of the things I started making early on was the Tea-light holders and the lowest speed on the lathe is rather high for drilling a hole this size. I think this is the only real frustration I found with the lathe. I’d never used variable speed so changing the speed with the belts felt easy enough.

When I bought this lathe in May 2005 from Timberman Huw and I were looking after his mother (with dementia) in their home and I was finding it frustrating as I couldn’t get a decent amount of time at my home in my workshop to make furniture. I put doors onto the covered area out the back of theirs (it was originally the coal hole) thereby turning it into a tiny shed. This had just enough room for the lathe on a bench, a cupboard underneath and a grinder. I started turning and never looked back. Every time Huw’s mother was comfortably settled I’d be out for an hour on the lathe. Initially it did add some stress to the already stressful situation of caring but it was also an escape. As I learned and became more confident with the tools, etc. the turning became a much needed form of relaxation. I was happy to spend more time there freeing Huw to have more time for his work and to socialise with others. The small shed was all I needed as I was able to keep my wood and saw my blanks at home.

After a few years I was able to swap this lathe for a rather larger lathe but that is another story…

Commissions 2

Friday, January 16th, 2015
turned finials for a commission

I especially enjoyed turning this set of finials.

Commissions come in all shapes and sizes. I enjoy the challenge of making replacement turnings for people. Most of my work is free form – I can choose what shape I want. Bowls, pots, vases, tea light holders. they are all things that give me the chance to look at a piece of wood and make the best I can from that particular piece of wood. If there is a rotten bit in the wood I can change the shape, it doesn’t matter. So it is good having the occasional challenge of turning something exactly like another piece. Since  the original was turned by someone else there is also the feeling of having to get inside his (sic!) skin, turning the piece with someone else’s hands.


Commissions for a replica usually mean replacement knobs or finials for a private individual. But not always. Sometimes I am asked to use my turning skills for a more unusual commission.

replacement ornamental turned discs for clock towerreplacement finial for clock towerCommision of repairing a clock towerA local carpenter was repairing the clock tower in a nearby town. When some of the turning work on this tower was rotten he asked me to replace the pieces.

Sometimes a picture says more than any amount of words. Here are the replacement pieces and in situ.

I have to admit to looking twice usually when I walk by.