Frequently Asked Questions (and Answers!)
How do I care for my bowl?
Most of my utlity bowls are simply finished with walnut oil. Some get a simple mixture of linseed oil and shellac. You can use these bowls for just about anything: bread, nuts, popcorn, salad, vegetables, etc.
Wash by hand with mild soap or just warm water. Don’t soak in water or wash in the dishwasher, and don’t put them in the microwave oven.
Occasionally, wipe on a light coat oil, like you might care for a wooden cutting board. I suggest walnut oil or sunflower oil, available in the grocery store. They are safe and won’t turn rancid. If you like the more natural look that comes without oiling your bowl, that’s ok too.
Some bowls have “worm holes” or other natural features. Be careful with liquids like salad dressing, as it may collect in the holes.
How about those Shot Barrels?
The Shot Barrels I make are like a small whisky barrel: they are White Oak, charred inside with fire. No other finish is used on the inside. The outside is sealed with natural pine pitch and linseed oil. After some use, you may notice a few drips out the bottom – this is normal and unavoidable with wood. You just need to drink faster!
Shot Barrels should be used for plain spirits (whisky) only. Other drinks will get into the pores of the wood and can spoil. Clean by simply rinsing with warm water. Do not use soap, as it will soak into the wood and you will not enjoy the soapy flavor with your next drink.
How long does it take to make a bowl/platter/vase/etc?
Well, the answer you are probably looking for is that it usually takes me somewhere between a half-hour up to a few hours to shape a bowl or platter or vase. It of course depends on the shape and size, but to be honest it mostly it depends on how cooperative (or not) a particular piece of wood is to being cut cleanly. Some pieces (especially figured areas) are quite difficult to get a clean cut, and require sharp tools, concentration, a steady hand, and lots of patience.
I often spend quite a bit of time just looking at the wood before cutting anything. Sometimes I just keep a log sitting around until I discover what I want to do with it. And in the middle of shaping a piece, I might stop and completely change my plans. As I cut into the wood, I discover whatever might be hidden within – beautiful figure, defects, bug tracks, etc. As I find these I may change the shape to either highlight or avoid them.
If I am using “rescued” wood, it usually comes to me as logs from a tree. I use a chainsaw to process those into billets (big chunks). Then, I rough-turn those billets into blanks that are mostly bowl shaped, but thick and unfinished. Those blanks then must dry to remove the moisture from the wood. This happens slowly so the wood does not crack (hopefully). That process takes the better part of a year, or longer.
That rough-turning into thick bowls removes enough wood so that it will eventually dry out. But I have to leave enough wood to hold up to the stresses of drying. Also, the bowl will warp into an oval as it dries – the extra thickness helps ensure I can find a round bowl within that thick oval for the final turning.
After the piece is shaped, then comes the sanding and finishing. Sanding to a good surface finish usually goes relatively quickly, but sometimes can take hours if the wood is being stubborn. Several coats of finish can add several more days or weeks to the process.
Finally, some pieces need to just sit in my house for several months – these may have been particularly troubling or have suspect defects or grain patterns. I keep things around long enough to make sure they are stable and are not going to crack or warp.
Why don’t you write the wood species on the bottom?
Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. And my opinion on this is constantly changing. Recently, I’ve been marking most of my pieces.
But sometimes, I prefer the piece to speak for itself. If I have made a pleasing form, and the wood is pretty or nicely figured – or if I have significantly altered the basic “wood-look” with color, burning, etc – then it should not really matter what sort of tree it came from.
Then there are the times that I am just not sure what the wood actually is, because logs rescued from a firewood pile can be hard to identify.
Why don’t you date your pieces?
I’m now doing that (starting mid-2021).
Previously, my thinking was that since it may be several years for the entire process – from when the tree gave up a piece of itself to when I think a piece is finally ready to go out the door, any date I choose would be somewhat arbitrary. Just because it took several years before I considered the piece “done”, doesn’t mean it is “old”. And again, in this case, I’d prefer to just let the work speak for itself.
How can I learn to turn wood?
There are tons of videos and web sites available with instruction, tips, and advice. But nothing beats working with someone else who can steer you in the right direction.
Local chapters of the American Association of Woodturners (AAW) usually meet monthly and are a great resource for advice, instruction, classes, etc. Woodturners tend to be a very open and friendly bunch, and we are more than willing to share our craft with new turners. Most meetings will include some sort of demonstration or hands-on activity. Find a local club by using the AAW’s search feature search tool.
If you’re in Northern Colorado or surrounding area, come check out a Rocky Mountain Woodturners meeting.