Going around your elbow to get to your thumb (the MacGyver in all of us)

When I was a kid in school, the one thing I hated the most, was word problems. Who knew the rest of my working life would consist of word problems and problem solving. You aren’t a real woodworker until you messed something up, done something stupid, or just stood there scratching your head trying to figure out how you screwed that up. So it is important that you learn to find the “MacGyver” within yourself.

I recently called upon my MacGyver spirit to figure out how to fix my latest bonehead mistake. Back in June, I turned three small cherry bowls and put them aside to dry. Four months later, I pulled them out. One was cracked beyond repair, but the other two looked fine. However, once I took them into the shop for final turning, I got a nasty surprise. Dumb dumb turned the tenon (foot) down to the point that the chuck was at its maximum closure point.  The wood shrunk so much, the tenon was too small for the chuck, and it took on an oval shape. The wood was just too pretty to chunk, so I had to summon my inner MacGyver and figure out how to get these back onto the lathe. I usually find a fair amount of mumbling and cursing helps to summon the spirit and perhaps a bit of scratching. Finally, inspiration hit me at last. It might be a bit “round about” but it would work in the end.

First, I had to load up my step jaws on my second chuck.

Step jaws and the small foot


I could fit the small foot (tenon) into the smallest step of the step jaws.

Loaded into the step jaws

The problem using the smallest step is that I can’t shape the entire bowl in one turning session, plus the fact there was not much for the jaws to hold, so I was afraid the bowl would just fly off. So my first step was to square up the rim of the bowl. From the picture you can see how rough and out of shape the rim had become.

With the rim flattened out, I could mount up the bowl on the “Cole Jaws”. I have no idea why it is called that.

Bowl mounted on the cole jaws

Now I could focus on the getting the foot large enough for my primary chuck to grab onto the foot and hold it tight for a fast spinning. The foot is that small protrusion at the bottom of the bowl. The foot is what the chuck jaws can clamp on to.

Now I could remount the bowl for a third time to work on the final shape of the bowl.

Loaded up in my primary chuck

With the bowl mounted into my primary chuck, now I can work on shaping up the outside of the bowl. First I shape the outside it using a bowl gouge. Next, I use sandpaper to clean up any tool marks that I can’t get out. Now I can work on the inside. Starting at the rim, I work my way down establishing the thinness of the walls and the shape of the bottom of the bowl. Once again, I sand the inside getting it supper smooth. Since I want this bowl to be food safe, I applied a couple of coats of butcher block oil (mineral oil) on the inside. For the outside, I applied a handmade mixture of shellac and denatured alcohol. It is about 70% alcohol and 30% shellac. This helps seal the pores and ensures a fast drying time.

The finished has been applied inside and out

Now you can see the interesting grain pattern and the mix of sapwood and heartwood. I like the simple shape of Japanese rice bowls, so this was the shape I was working toward.

Now the bowl was remounted for the fourth and final time, so back onto the cole jaws to remove the foot.

Time to remove the foot

You should not exceed 600 rpm with these cole jaws, so you have turn the object at a slower speed. I made sure to sharpen up my tool and keep the cutting edge supported by the bevel to ensure a smooth clean cut with minimum of tool marks. In the photo you can see the foot exposed ready for removal.

The foot has been removed, signed, then finished



The base has been sanded smooth. Next, I took it out, signed it with a wood burning pen, mounted it back up and applied the finish.

Now it is ready for polishing and waxing with my Beall buffing system.

After a good waxing, the surface is super smooth and a real joy to handle. Finally, it is posted up on my Etsy site and ready for sale. www.etsy.com/shop/fby63


All ready for buffing and waxing











So what have I learned from all this? Never make small tenons (foot) for a green rough cut bowl, when you have a nice piece of wood, there usually is some way around a problem, never pee on an electric fence (even on a dare), and do your best to channel your inner MacGyver.

P.S. In all honesty, I have never seen an entire episode of MacGyver, but I get the gist.

Do you have a MacGyver moments?


About yaakov

Husband, Abba, Furniture Maker, Turner, Bookseller, and all around working stiff.
This entry was posted in In Yaakov's Workshop and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Going around your elbow to get to your thumb (the MacGyver in all of us)

  1. Jill Yesko says:

    So that’s how my bowl was “born.” 🙂

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