Joe Laird 18 May 2013

For this year’s full day demonstration we were fortunate to welcome Joe Laird to the club. See Joe's photosHe is an Irishman who lives just outside Belfast and this was his first demonstration in England. Those who came along to the demonstration will all agree he is a very talented turner and we were treated to an excellent day.

1. Wooden Plate

Joe and his family regularly use wooden plates for their food as “bacteria cannot multiply on wood”. So for his first project Joe turned a pair of dinner plates. He started with a 10” sycamore blank that was 1” thick. He held it against the jaws using friction and the tailstock, then tidied the surface and turned a chucking point using a bedan, on what was to become the upper surface of the plate. He mounted this in the jaws then turned a recess to fit on the chuck. He made the inside of the recess slightly convex, to minimize the chances of breaking through when turning the inside. He tidied the outer edge then turned the underneath of the rim so it was concave and finished the foot, making that slightly concave too. He finished the foot and the recess with a skew and explained that he only sands his plates to 240 grit to allow the oil to penetrate. (See photos JL_01 to 04).

Joe turned the plate round on the chuck, mounting it in the recess. He started turning the inside of the plate, but left the chucking point in case he needed to re-chuck it. He curved the rim out to the edge then back in towards the centre. Before turning the middle he took some finishing cuts on the outer area, supporting it at the back with his hand, wearing a glove to prevent friction burns. Next he turned away the chucking point and turned the middle so it came to a slight bump as, he says, there is always a bump in the centre of china plates.(See photos JL_05 to 08).

After finishing the first plate he very quickly turned a second one to match. He then explained that he finishes his plates with a food safe oil that smells of lemon, “as people will buy a wooden plate that smells of lemon”. He does all the oiling at the end, when both sides are finished and he applies it all over in one go, so one side isn’t buckled by adding moisture it.

2. Square Bowl

This project is turned from a cube of timber. Joe makes this from two 6” by 3” blanks which he glues together, using hot melt glue, taking care to ensure the grain is running in the same direction. He then marks a circle on the jointed, side grain edge and cuts off the corners on a band saw. He mounted it between steb centres on the side grain and used a roughing gouge to tidy it up and make it round. He took very careful cuts because he was turning end grain. He explained that you must take care when doing this to keep it level as you work from side to side, to ensure you keep an even thickness. Once it was round he changed to a skew chisel for the finishing cuts; he said “this gives the best finish on end grain”. (See photos JL_09 to 12).

Next he marked the middle of the turned edge and made a mark on this line, with a bradawl, where it crossed each of the glued seams. He sanded it then mounted it between centres on the marks he had just made. He turned it with a roughing gouge, taking very gentle cuts and ensuring he kept the chisel parallel to the wood all the time. He said you need to remember that you are only turning a very small surface, the rest of the chisel movement is passing through air. He continued turning this until he had turned a curve all the way to the glue seams. Then he took a final cut with the skew chisel and explained that it is important to ensure the diameter is the same on each plane. He sanded it with the lathe switched off, working with the grain. At this stage he would normally polish it. After taking it off the lathe he split the joint on one he had turned earlier. (See photos JL_13 to 16).

To turn the inside Joe mounted it on a faceplate, using a home made chuck made from pieces of 1” x 1” which have a curve turned in them to match the curve of the bowl. These are glued onto a disk of wood which is mounted on the lathe. After finding the centre on the flat surface he put it in the jig, held it in place with the tailstock and, once he was happy it was running true, he attached the edges to the jig with hot melt glue to keep it in place. (See photos JL_17 to 20).

Now Joe was able to start turning the inside. First he tidied the top then he started turning the rim, curving it inwards and continuing to turn it until the steb mark on the edge had gone. He left the bulk of the timber in the middle for rigidity and said he would normally sand the rim at this stage. To turn into the bowl he kept the tailstock in place and was very careful to make sure he didn’t catch his hand on the corner. Once he was happy with the depth he started turning away under the centre core of timber and, when it was small enough, he snapped it off. He finished the inside with a small bowl gouge then sanded and waxed it. To take the bowl off the jig you can warm it in the microwave or with a hot air gun, but on this occasion he cut the joints with a Stanley knife. (See photos JL_21 to 25).

Joe left a curved base on this bowl but if he wanted to flatten the base, after splitting the joint he would find the centre of the flat surface by drawing lines from corner to corner, then mount it on a screw chuck and turn the bottom to the desired shape.

3. Celtic Style Bowl

For this project Joe mounted an elm burr blank measuring approx. 8” by 6” on a screw chuck and held it in place with the tailstock. He turned the outside to a rough bowl shape then turned a spigot on the end. He started to form the shape of a foot then turned his attention to refining the shape of the bowl, and turned a waist between the bowl and the foot. (See photos JL_26 and 27).

Once he was happy with the shape and had removed any last tool marks Joe started to texture it. First he marked two lines, one an inch from the top and the other approximately an inch from the ‘waist’. With the lathe running slowly he used an Arbortech to carve a pattern between the lines. Because the lathe was running slowly the pattern ran in straight lines from the top to the bottom; “if you want the lines to curve round it you need to run the lathe at a higher speed”. Next he turned a bead at the top of the foot then a series of small beads between this and the texturing. He turned the top inch – between the texturing and the top of the bowl – until it was flat then turned a bead between this and the top of the carving. Using a texturing tool he then turned a pattern on the top of the foot and the edge of the rim. (See photos JL_28 and 29).

To finish the outside Joe used “2 grit”, that is a wire brush on a power drill, to remove all the tear out from the carving and texturing. He followed this with a hand held wire brush to take off any last bits of tear out, both with the lathe running and with it switched off. To make it look old and highlight the texturing he applied Briwax ‘Jacobean Dark Oak’ with a brush, which he dipped in white spirit from time to time. He wiped the excess wax off with a soft bristle brush, with the lathe off then used the brush to polish it with the lathe running. He highlighted the two main beads with gilt cream applied with a small brush. (See photos JL_30 and 31).

After cleaning up the tenon he turned it round on the lathe and mounted it in the chuck. He tidied up the top edge then used a texturing tool to turn a spiral pattern on the rim, with the lathe running at 450 rpm. He cleaned this with the hand held wire brush then applied the wax to it and cleaned it as before. He advised that you should not use paper to clean and buff it as it will catch in all the texturing. He also suggested that if it goes too dark you could give it a light sanding to highlight the tops of the texturing. (See photo JL_32).

Finally, Joe quickly turned the inside of the bowl and turned a small bead on the inside edge of the rim, to break the area between the inside and the outside. Before taking the final cuts he waxed the inside of the rim; this was so the last cuts could remove any excess wax. He took the finishing cuts with a freshly sharpened tool, taking care to avoid damaging the bead at the top. Normally Joe would sand this, but as the wood was a bit wet he left it for a club member to finish. (See photos JL_33 to 35).

This bowl is based on the shape of the ‘Ardagh Chalice’ - click the link to see the museum picture. 

4. Shamrock Bowl

For this project Joe used an 8” x 2” sycamore bowl blank which he turned down to fit in button jaws. He cleaned the face with a bowl gouge then refined the cut with a skew, emphasising the importance of this surface being flat. He tidied the edge to just above the buttons on the jaws, then started to mark out the pattern. First he marked the centre then he drew a vertical line through the centre from the top to the bottom, following the line of the grain and taking it onto the outer edge. He marked a ring near the outside edge, for the rim of the bowl, then he set a compass to half the distance from the centre to the outer line. He put the compass point on the centre and drew a circle, then positioned the compass at the point where the circle and the vertical line crossed each other and drew another circle – this one went from the centre mark to the outer ring. He then positioned the compass at each of the points where the two circles crossed and marked the point where the compass intersected the centre circle. Finally he positioned the compass on these two points and drew two more circles then he drilled a hole in the centre of each of the three outer, ‘bowl’, circles to the depth he wanted the bowls to be, making sure they were all the same depth. (See photos JL_36 to 38).

Now Joe was ready to turn this project. First he tidied the top surface again to remove the compass hole in the middle and make sure it was still flat. He sanded it then reversed it on the button jaws to clean off the back and the outer edge, once more making sure the surface was flat. He explained that he would normally sand it at this point.

To prepare for turning the inside of the three bowls he mounted each of them in turn on a screw chuck and used hot melt glue to fix a small disk on the back of each, centring them with the tail stock. When the glue was set he turned each of them to a spigot. The lathe was jumping a bit when he did this so a couple of our members held it steady for him. (See photos JL_39 and 40).

To turn the first bowl he mounted one of the spigots in the chuck and turned it to the depth of the screw hole and to the diameter of the marked circle. When he was happy with the shape he made a finishing cut with a ⅜” bowl gouge. He said that he would normally sand and polish it at this stage. He repeated this process for the other two bowls but he had to take more care with these because the bowls were overlapping each other, so he slowed the lathe down. (See photos JL_41 and 42).

The next part of the project was to turn the stem. For this Joe marked a tiny hole, with a bradawl in the centre of the edge, at the two points where the he had drawn the vertical line at the beginning. He then took it off the lathe and removed the three chucking points by mounting them in the chuck and knocking the bowl off them. Using the two holes he had marked on the side he mounted it between steb centres. With the chisel held right up to the tailstock Joe carefully drew it towards himself to tidy it, then started turning towards the middle to form the stalk and then he drew the chisel back towards the edge to make a recess for the stalk. To make it deeper he used a small bowl gouge with a very long grind to get into the recess. When it was finished he hand sanded away any tear out on the edge. (See photos JL_43 and 44).

To finish the underneath he mounted it in the button jaws and turned away the remaining glue and the hole in the middle. Then turned the bottom so it was flat and turned a smooth curve out towards the edge, with a narrow rim at the edge. He mad a final cut round the outer edge to remove the pin holes in the stem and the opposite side. (See photo JL_45). Photos JL_46 and 47 show a finished shamrock bowl which Joe had decorated on the top and side.

Thank you Joe for a most enjoyable and inspirational day of turning. I feel sure many of the people there will be having a go at some of your projects in their own workshops.

Lorrie Flannery

SWC Club member