Mistakes happen but failing is not okay with me

I don’t like to fail; sure, I have made my fair share of c’s throughout my life, but borderline failures in woodworking really bother me. Here’s the case; an experiment in production bowl turning.

I had trunk section of a cherry tree that was about four to five feet long, and except for the lower part of it, it was a pretty uniform thickness with no branches. This would be perfect for making a set of small salad bowls to go along with a large salad bowl I made all from the same tree. Objective: Make about six small bowls the same size.

My Story Stick

How to do it? Use a story stick. Andy Coates, a fellow blogger and a very talented turner in England blogged about using one, so I thought I would give it a try. Here’s the idea: I made the first bowl the size I wanted, so I used that bowl to set the dimensions of my story stick. I took an old piece of maple about 3/8” thick and cut it taller than my bowl and wider than my bowl. Next, I cut out a long notch which was to be the width of the bowl, and on the side I used a coping saw to cut the curve to match the bowl.

Easy! Here is where I have not passed muster. You’d think with the story stick, I’d get it right every time, but no! I have made five bowls based off the story stick and each one is a bit different.

Matching the profile

Each bowl has the pretty much the same profile shape, but the first production bowl I made was too tall because I was looking at the wrong line on the story stick and did not notice the mistake until after I had jam chucked it and removed the tenon. None of the five bowls match the width of the original bowl because my stock was getting gradually smaller. I made the first bowl out of the larger end of the trunk, so only three of the bowls are really close in width, and each bowl has a slightly different wall thickness. And yes, the “greenwood” bowls have warped a bit, but that was anticipated and desired to some degree.

I know this is my first attempt at doing this, and I did learn some things along the way. From the techniques I learned with David Ellsworth, I can shape the bowl pretty quickly, especially removing the bulk of the inside of the bowl. But to be honest, a good production bowl turner could most likely turn the bowl in about 20 minutes or so, and it still takes me 40+ minutes. (starting with a log style blank) Achieving the desired wall thickness when the sides start to flare out is the real challenge I failed to overcome without loads of sanding. My Ellsworth shear scraping technique for the outside of the bowl is getting much better, but I still need to start with 120 grit sand paper and not the 180 to 220 grit that a pro would use.

What have I learned?

  1. Starting with bowl blanks that were cut to the same size on a bandsaw might help with the size issues.
  2. Roughing out the basic shape then letting them dry should help with the flaring sides issues.
  3. The story stick does work if you use the same sized stock.
  4. I still need to work on my shear scraping.
  5. I would most likely get fired my first day if I started working for a production turner or I would starve to death if I were getting paid via piece work!

If I get another log like that, I think I will try it again. I don’t like to fail, so time for more practice!


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 Mistakes happen but failing is not okay with me

  1. Andy Coates says:

    I think you’re too hard on yourself, Yaakov. But if you want set sizes then starting from a same-sized blank is a good idea. At least you’ve learned some lessons and ended up with some bowls!

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