Phil Irons - 18 June 2011

This was a "Full Day" demo and not part of our usual evening programme of events. Our regular photographer and reporter were away so our club secretary, Lesley Churton, and our previous treasurer, Tom Allison, stepped in to make this report happen - many thanks to them.

This was Phil’s second visit to the Sheffield Woodturning Club and he gave See Phil's picturesus a full day demonstration that did not disappoint; I had asked Phil to cover colouring, bowl saving and pen making.

He started the day by turning a small vase from Eucalyptus. The tree had been in his garden and had died following three nights of -18C temperatures last winter. Phil had been a tree surgeon himself earlier in his life but is now past climbing trees, so had called in a tree surgeon to fell the tree which went against the grain (pun intended!). In the process of cutting the tree up later for firewood he noticed some lovely ripple in the wood and decided to turn it instead of burning it.

For colouring Phil usually uses bland, white woods – such as Silver Birch, Ash and Sycamore – adding colour to enhance the figuring. He always uses a cup centre in the tailstock, rather than a cone, as this is safer in end grain - the cone can split the wood. This particular piece of wood had been “down” for six months and was still quite wet. Whether the piece is wet or dry influences how the wood takes the colour, but Phil says “the wood takes the colour as it does”, so wet or dry doesn’t matter too much.

He roughed out with a swept back bowl gouge, and says he does not let the wood dictate the shape – rather he dictates the shape. He likened this to a potter with an unattractive lump of clay turning it into a beautiful item.

He turned the piece and created a chucking point, emphasising the importance of getting the size right. The chuck must “describe a circle” when tightened on to the spigot, which will then leave no marks. He mounted the piece in a chuck and refined the shape with a shear scraper, leaving as fine a finish as possible by regularly honing the edge of the scraper with a 25 micron diamond card. At this point the piece was removed from the lathe (chuck still attached) so that it could be viewed vertically both upright and upside-down. A little more was taken off the neck.

Phil then proceeded to hollow the vase, first drilling a hole to depth. He explained that it is better to have the bottom the same thickness as the walls, as this prevents different stresses causing the wood to split. Once the hollowing was complete, the wall thickness having been continuously checked for uniformity, a reverse chamfer was turned in the neck opening. No sanding yet! He also pointed out that for some items he uses a glued on, sacrificial block as a chucking point, rather than waste the better wood. To remove this chucking point on hollow forms he makes a large “cone” from M.D.F. which is then attached to a face plate. Strips of self adhesive foam are attached inside to safeguard the finish from damage, and he brings up the tailstock to hold the piece in position.

Phil applied a coat of black spirit stain and explained that the darkest colour (whatever it is) should be applied first.  
Normally he would dry this by setting it alight (don’t try this at home!) and burning off the spirit. However, for some reason this didn’t work with the black and it was dried with a couple of handfuls of shavings held against the rotating work. He then used a sander (inertia type), with 120 grit, to sand off the colour using the lathe in reverse to start with, then as normal. All the colour was sanded off, with the exception of that remaining in the figuring. 
  A coat of red was then applied,  
   dried, and sanded off as before with 180 and 240 grits.
  Translucent blue followed sanded off with 320,  
   then yellow (30% diluted with clear meths) sanded with 400 and 600.
   The final coat was red again, applied with a tissue and left to dry.  

At the end of the demo this piece was not dry enough to finish, so Phil will finish this later and hopefully send us a photo. Other dry pieces – already coloured – were produced to show us the next process – lacquering.

A small hollow form with large voids, in burr Field Maple, was given a first coat of Woodoc – and this (as Jimmy Clewes would say) really “popped the grain” – the effect was fantastic. Phil recommends two to four hours between coats, then flatting with fine abrasive (Scotchbrite) and a second coat applied with a good quality French Polisher’s brush. The finishing is absolutely critical and Phil will often spend more time on this phase than any other. Another piece was given a second coat of Woodoc, showing that a fine finish can be obtained straight from the brush.  

After lunch, Phil turned another piece of his Eucalyptus, mounted on a screw chuck, and showed us how he turns the feet of his bowls. Again he stressed the measurement of them is vital that the chuck fits perfectly on the spigot leaving no “grip” marks. The shape was again examined and refined with a shear scraper before the bowl saver was set up. Phil explained the bowl saver is for occasional rather than professional use.

The lathe was set at 5-600 rpm, and bowls could be cored from the centre, or, as Phil prefers from the edge, giving the opportunity to finish the back of each bowl before the next one is cored out. If cored from the centre, there is the problem of finding a way of holding the item to turn a spigot. The equipment comes with a video and costs £235 – with an additional £20 having to be spent on a tool post.   This was an interesting piece of kit, which certainly seemed the safest to use I have seen, and we may well acquire one for the club.

Having roughly turned both the bowls Phil kindly left them with us to finish and sell for our charity.

Lastly, Phil demonstrated how to make a pencil using one of his high-end kits (fabulous quality – expensive!) in a piece of burr Yew. No mandrels/bushings as such were needed, but the kits, stepped drills etc would be pretty pricey for most of us. He brought the Yew to an impressive finish using CA glue and liquid paraffin. This is something of a “black art” and the fumes can be toxic. There are several helpful clips on You Tube should you want to try it. The finished pen, once assembled was lovely.  

BUT it has to be said that the real star of the show was Billy – Phil’s dog -Mr Personality Plus and as good as gold all day!!  

All in all it was a super day. Thanks must go to Mark & Lisa Raby for coming along, and also to Steve Wright of Elston Sawmill too. Ever generous, they donated items for our raffle as well as offering their own merchandise for sale. Thanks to those who contributed items for the – always excellent – lunch, and especially to our “lovely ladies” who prepare and display it so beautifully. Thanks to Rick for his camera work, to Tom for photographs, to Duncan for car-parking, and to all who helped setting up/sweeping up and with anything else – it doesn’t all happen on its own.

Finally, thanks to all who supported us again – and helped us to raise some more funds for our charity of the year – Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice.

Lesley Churton

Hon Sec.