I recently learned a Japanese braiding technique called kumihimo, using eight strands. The notched foam disk and the plastic bobbins make the process very simple and portable. This is my first project. I’m excited about the prospect of combining some braids (not this thick or this colorful probably) with some vessels. For scale, the disk is about 6 inches in diameter.

My first kumihimo braid.

Thursday, July 19

We are really in production mode now. Except for a brief meeting with Albert and Jane about scheduling and shop rules, we all just worked. I wish I were as fast as these guys, but I gave up trying to keep up long ago.

Jean-François whipped through his spalted ash bowls and is doing more Chinese elm bowls. He tried texturing them with an electric chainsaw, but the effect once the texture is wire-brushed is not much different from what he has done with an Arbortech—not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Jean-François uses a chainsaw to texture his bowl.

A bowl textured using a chainsaw.

Sometimes length does matter.

Sean has made a few pieces in this form, appealing in its simplicity and very versatile. Check out the “carved” motif on the face of the first piece. Those are bug holes, guys. I have never seen them form a pattern like this. Let’s hope some of these bugs survived to pass on their genes to other wood borers.

A new creation from Sean.

Here is another piece in the same form. You can see the other side of it in the next photo, along with the next incarnation of one of the pieces shown in yesterday’s post.

Another new creation from Sean.

The other side and a new version of a piece from yesterday.

And here is a new piece in that form being started on the lathe. A simple block, a simple form, but with oh-so-many possibilities.

A new one on the lathe.

Siegfried was busy with the chainsaw for a long time today, cutting up a large log of what we think is silver maple. Then one minute, I was holding the door for him as he came in carrying an armload of cut blocks; the next, he had this array of roughed-out vessels sitting on his workbench. Check out the figure in some of these pieces.

Siegfried's roughed-out pieces.

Another roughed-out piece. And one on the lathe.

Siegfried wanted to be sure that I got a good shot of the lovely shavings he is getting from this wood. Mmm. Maybe I’ll steal a little tomorrow.

Beautiful shavings.

I keep forgetting to take pictures of what I am doing, but I almost finished a large, flared cherry bowl today—and maybe I will go finish it now, before heading back to the dorm for bed. I will again be playing with the idea of cleaving as I carve its rim. And Jane brought me branches from her brushpile that I will use with the pear vessel I turned yesterday. Are you intrigued?

In case you are wondering about the toll this intensive experience is taking on us, know that Jean-François has been talking to his tool rest—and it answers him in French.

Tuesday, July 17

Today was a fairly quiet, intensive work day.

Lesya came in not to dance but to carve waves for Siegfried’s collaborative wave piece. Sadly, there were misunderstandings early on in the communication process for this collaboration, and Sean and Jean-François won’t be working on it. Happily, Peter did and Lesya is and I will and Elisabeth may. And in the end, the public also will, as the piece will be installed as an interactive work, with anyone free to arrange the wave forms as they like.

Lesya carves waves.

Siegfried continued carving his box elder vessel. He later found that mounting it on the lathe to carve let him see and control better what he was doing.

Siegfried carves a box elder vessel.

Siegfried carves on the lathe for better position.

Sean worked on new and old pieces. The black in this one is not painted but ebony.

Sean paints a new piece.

Jean-François and I began our collaboration, based on an idea I used in a previous work, of breaking and repairing vessels visibly. Here are the vessels we started with. Jean-François turned the Chinese elm and osage orange bowls; I turned the sycamore bowl (the smallest).

Jean-François's and my bowls.

Breaking the piece takes a bit of will. We broke the sycamore bowl into just three pieces.

I break the first bowl.

Jean-François hit the Chinese elm bowl squarely and got a complicated break, which made gluing it—using 5-minute epoxy with a working time of maybe 2 minutes—a real challenge. Adding acrylic paint to the epoxy for color decreases (maybe even halves) the working time, so I use 30-minute epoxy at home. The 5-minute version is what we had on hand here, though. (For anyone who wants to know more about coloring epoxy, I discuss the subject in an article called “Nulling Voids: Filling Cracks and Holes in Wood” that, along with other articles, is available on my website under “Other links.”)

Jean-François's broken second bowl.

We used red for the sycamore and black for the Chinese elm. I mixed the red from acrylic paints; the black we achieved by mixing in charcoal from burnt wood (which Jean-François happened to have in jar).

I like the way the interior of the sycamore bowl came out; the exterior needs some touchup, though.

The interior of the first glued bowl.The exterior of the first glued bowl.

This technique—this trope, really—is deeply meaningful for me (you can read a note about the backstory on this here, under “About the work”), and it is one I intend to explore in a series of works after I return home. Using it in this collaboration is a little odd for me—like choosing a subject like, say, “death” or “incest” for a poetic exercise—and I find myself holding back emotionally, treating the process as more of a technical exercise than an act of artmaking. I would like to talk with Jean-François about how he feels about this process—indeed, how he feels about artmaking in general. I have wanted to from the beginning—the chance to explore the subject with other artists is one reason I applied for the residency—but before now, I have felt stymied by the language barrier—even though Siegfried and I managed a deep conversation about it driving home from D.C. This now is an opportunity to explore the subject.

For me, turning is deeply emotional, not just an application of technique, and it is an act in which meaning is both intentional and discovered. For me, the aspect of meaning—not technical sophistication—is what makes turning an art and not just a craft. I can argue with myself about this, of course—is not craft about creating beauty and is not creating beauty meaning enough? Yes, yes—but I’ll put this statement out in hopes of eliciting conversation about it. Turners who regard yourselves as artists (any artists, really), what do you say? Have your objects meaning? Is the meaning intentional? Do you start with wanting to express something, or does the expression emerge through the work? How do you create? Have you something to say? Must an artist have something to say? Is it enough to create objects in which others find their own meaning? Is beauty enough? Do any of you care, or do you care only about the making?

I really must sleep now. Let me hear from you, readers.

Friday, July 13

Siegfried had cast a thin cement bowl with Peter the previous day, using Styrofoam for the form and cement fortified with acrylic “milk,” and it was ready to be opened. Peter used lacquer thinner to dissolve the Styrofoam. It doesn’t dissolve it cleanly, as I had expected; it makes quite a sticky goo, so be prepared if you try this at home. I need to remember to photograph and post the finished bowl. As you can see from the final photo in this sequence, it is nice and thin.

Using lacquer thinner to dissolve the Styrofoam.

Opening the form.

Trying to remove the center form.

Siegfried watches Peter extract his bowl.

Removing the exterior form.

Having established an exterior shape she was pleased with, Elisabeth progressed to hollowing her bowl, which will be a mortar that she plans to use in her own kitchen.

Elisabeth hollows her first bowl.

Jean-François turned a Styrofoam form for his own thin cement bowl, of a conical shape.

Jean-François turns a Styrofoam form.

The following day, Saturday, was to be community day, with the shop open to visitors, so we stopped at around 3 p.m. to meet and plan our open-shop activities. Jean-François cleaned himself up a little for the meeting.

Jean-François blows out the shavings.

Siegfried brought a cheesecake to grease the discussion.

Siegfried cuts a cheesecake.

We decided to each do our own thing and let questions and the interests of visitors determine the flow of our activities. After the meeting, we took a few hours to clean the shop up, shoveling and sweeping shavings, clearing space for Lesya to dance in, tidying up our benches, etc. And Tina came with Jessica from the Wood Turning Center to deliver beverages, books, and T shirts in preparation for the next day.

Mark Sfirri’s studio and home (Sunday, July 8)

Mark has a Oneway with two bed extensions, allowing him to turn pieces up to 13 feet long. The farthest extension runs under the table in the background.

Mark's lathe.

Mark does a lot of off-center and inside-out turning. Here is a sample he has turned with the two halves still joined. For those who don’t know, inside-out turning involves joining two pieces of wood, turning them, separating them, reversing them by putting the two outside faces together, rejoining the pieces, and turning them again. Mark further complicates the shape by offsetting the centers he uses to turn each face.

Sample of off-center, inside-out turning.Another view of the sample.

Mark is also well known for turning pieces that appear to be bent. This is an example of the blank he uses to turn such shapes, next to the kind of shape it will yield. The trick is to cut the blank and mount it as shown in the second photo below.

Blank and turned 'bent' form.

The mounted, spinning blank.

Mark keeps on hand a lot of samples to help him recreate forms.

Some of Mark's samples.

Mark showed us how he uses a mirror to simulate the absent opposite leg of a model for a piece of furniture.

Mark uses a mirror to simulate the opposite leg of a model.

Mark has many beautiful turned and other wood art works in his home, some his own work, others by fellow turners and furniture makers.

A collaboration between Mark and artist Brooke Schmidt.

One of Mark's famous bats.

An assortment of work by Mark and many others.

The highlight of our visit was a fruit salad Mark made for us, a creation for which he seems to be known. He told us that one year he had a card made with a photo of such a salad (but even more elaborate), clearly identified as a “kitchen creation,” and sent it out. The first five or so recipients called him asking him about the availability of the piece, assuming it was wood! He says he wishes he could create a piece that looked so realistic!

Mark's fruit salad.

The salad was very refreshing, perfect for a steamy summer day. Peter, of course, couldn’t resist playing with his plate.

Peter's arrangement of his fruit salad.

Friday, July 6

The atmosphere in the shop is very playful. Everyone is engaged in a fresh way.

Sean’s work is as unpredictable as ever. This morning he had cut beads into the exterior of the osage orange piece on the lathe.

Sean's osage orange vessel, now beaded.

Later, this is how the piece had developed: Sean colored the interior bright scarlet. Then he cut the beads nearly apart on the bandsaw and inserted ebony wedges to open up and bend the form. Stay tuned: this piece is still evolving.

The next evolution of Sean's osage orange piece.

This is how far he has come on the first piece he started, the oak ring sculpture. Here, he is holding in position three of the carved pieces. A fourth is not shown.

Sean's oak piece.

Siegfried has turned some deep bowls of box elder in addition to the wave forms he continues work on.

A box elder bowl being turned by Siegfried.

I don’t know, but judging from their shapes, I suspect that these bowls may be intended for a collaboration with Jean-François.

Three vessels by Siegfried.

Peter helped Siegfried out by cutting a stack of poplar for Siegfried to turn into waves.

A stack of cut poplar waits to be turned into waves by Siegfried.

Jean-François turned another form for a new cement vessel. He has textured the interior (for the exterior of the cement bowl) with an Arbortech.

A new mold for a cement bowl.

He also continues with his oak bowl series. Here, he is parting off the second bowl.

Jean-François finishes the second of his recent oak bowls.

Peter manages to get some of his own work done despite spending most of his days helping everyone else. Here is his first wall piece, made from used concrete forms. The oak frame was colored using Jean-François’s vinegar-and-steel-wool technique.

A wall piece by Peter.

While Peter was busy helping others, Jane tried on a few of his honey-locust-and-cable pieces for size. I’m not sure Peter has realized that his work is wearable.

Two wall pieces by Peter displayed as wearable art.

Peter also pitched in to try to repair a dripping air-conditioning unit.

Peter as HVAC repairman.

Then we talked him into doing another master class in cement casting. He added cable segments and glitter (are you paying attention, Hilary?) to this sample.

Peter sets up a cement form.

Pouring the cement.

Jane used a piece of chainsawn honey locust to cast another sample. Siegfried added a wave/whale’s tail.

Another experiment in cement.

I tried my hand at forming a freehand bowl over a pile of shavings.

I tried a freeform bowl.

After removing the first sample from the form, Peter used water and a wire brush to expose the cable before the cement had finished setting.

Exposing the cable in the cast sample.

On the left, you can see the cast chainsawn texture from the second sample. I will burn out the shavings from my sample after the cement has set overnight. I didn’t achieve much of a bowl shape, but it did give me a feel for the process for a more serious attempt.

The pieces we cast.

Jean-François’s third vessel will be a hollow form. To cast the interior, he turned a form from a two-inch block of Styrofoam.

Jean-François turns a form from Styrofoam.

He then suspended the form from a stick using double-stick tape . . .

The assembled form for Jean-François's next cement vessel.

and mixed and poured the cement. This mix is gray, in between the white and black of the first two bowls. Tomorrow, he will use acetone or lacquer thinner to dissolve the Styrofoam form, leaving a void in its place.

The poured vessel.

Thursday, July 5

Yesterday and today were big days for Jean-François. Here is what I found on Jean-François’s workbench this morning.

Jean-François's first cement bowl.Another view of Jean-François's cement bowl.

He has had the idea for cement bowls in his mind for five years now. Beginning yesterday, he is seeing his vision fulfilled.

He proceeded to make a second bowl after a trip to Home Depot for some black cement color. He used the same mold as for the first one, but he altered it by turning and carving some decoration into the forms for this bowl. You can see the horizontal grooves in the outer form, which will become beads on the cement bowl. You can also see some carved facets on the inner form. The inner form is suspended and held in place by screws in the top crosspiece of wood. Oil has been applied to the wood surfaces to aid in releasing the set cement.

Pouring the cement into the mold.

Peter helped him with the whole process. Here, Peter is tapping the outer form to release bubbles from the cement. This doesn’t get rid of all of them, but it reduces their number and perhaps their size.

Tapping out the bubbles.

Then it was a matter of waiting. Finally, after six or so hours, Jean-François and Peter began trying to release the bowl from the mold. Tapping didn’t work, though it had for the first bowl. The texturing of the wood for this second bowl made the release more difficult. Jean-François ended up turning the assemblage (this was easy to do, because the outer form was still mounted on a faceplate), first cutting away most of the inner form, then carefully chiseling the remainder loose. Finally, the remaining form came loose and lifted out.

Chiseling the inner form out.Removing the inner form.

The inside of the new cement bowl.

You can see the grain impressions left by the wood, as well as bubbles that didn’t get released. In the background is the inner form that was removed.

Jean-François also thinned the outer form on the lathe. He and Peter then split what was left of the outer form and peeled it from the cement.

Removing the outer form.Removing the bottom of the outer form.

Jean-François will give what remains of the forms to Sean to use.

What is left of the forms.

The pair of bowls. Jean-François will make a third cement bowl tomorrow.

Jean-François's two cement bowls.

What Jean-François worked on while he waited for the cement to set was this oak bowl and another, to go with the red-and-black one from yesterday. He painted the second one with white acrylic and burned it to blacken the ridges.

Another oak bowl.

When Peter wasn’t working with Jean-François yesterday and today, he was working on wall pieces using blocks of the wood he is using in his bench—which is not cherry but honey locust, everyone agrees—and cable he brought with him from home.

Some of Peter's wall pieces.

More of Peter's wall pieces.

This is an experiment by Peter and Jean-François from yesterday. They formed cement over a pile of chainsaw shavings and then burned the shavings out with a torch. I love the texture and the idea of a freeform cement bowl.

An experiment in cement and shavings.

Working in his own corner, Sean did more carving on the components for his oak sculpture.

Components of Sean's oak sculpture.

He also worked on turning a deep bowl of osage orange.

Sean's osage orange bowl.

Siegfried continued making wave forms for a collaborative piece.

Siegfried turns more inside-out shapes.

As for me, after watching the cement pouring by Jean-François and Peter, and servicing the electric chainsaw with Jane and help from Sean, I started a vessel from an unknown wood with a large split down the side. Tomorrow, Jean-François is going to teach me some texturing techniques with the Arbortech, which I plan to use on this new piece. I also did more carving on the lip of the pear hollow vessel.

Tuesday, June 26

Okay, I’m beginning to try to catch up. I didn’t feel well enough to turn today, but I did make it into the shop, and here is what I found.

Sean was carving on a new bowl, from a walnut scrap, which will eventually have three legs; if you look closely, you can see holes for the legs in two of the corners.

Sean carves a new bowl.

Some of Sean's finished pieces.

Above are some of the pieces Sean has finished; others are close to being finished. Below, a new piece is still on the lathe.

A new bowl awaits on the lathe.

Jean-François has been busy. The lefthand bowl below is of cherry. It was turned and carved with an Arbortech and touched up using a Foredom. The color comes from Jean-François’s favorite coloring technique: rubbing with steel wool and white vinegar. The steel and vinegar react with the tannin in the wood to darken the wood. The actual color produced depends on the wood, its moisture content, oxidation of the steel wool, and more.

The righthand photo is of two bowls of maple, colored using the same technique.

A cherry bowl by Jean-François. Two maple bowls by Jean-François.

Jean-François finishes hollowing a new bowl.

Here, Jean-François is completing the interior of a third maple bowl.

Siegfried is experimenting with some inside-out turning. In the photo below, you can see lying on the bed of the lathe some prototypes he made before starting the box elder.

Siegfried turns some box elder.

The turned box elder after being cut and reversed.A Cryptomeria bowl turned by Siegfried.

Above, you see the box elder after Siegfried has cut it on the bandsaw and placed the pieces face to face. Above right is a Cryptomeria bowl that Siegfried turned yesterday and brushed aggressively to highlight the grain.

Wednesday, June 20

This may be my last blog post for a few days. Jean-François, Siegfried, and I leave for Washington, D.C., tomorrow and will be gone through Sunday. We will be visiting with several collectors of wood art: the Kochmans, the Breslers (who are generously putting us up for two nights), and the Masons, and also visiting the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery. Sean will be staying behind, because he cannot bear to be away from the shop for two and a half days. I will post as I can but have no idea what to expect in the way of connectivity—or free time.

I spent all morning working on the blog and following up on our ITE travel plans. Here is what I found when I made it into the shop.

Siegfried was finishing the box elder vessel. As you can see, he has cut to the final wall thickness and is sanding the exterior. You can see the nearly finished vessel next to the nearly finished silver maple vessel he made earlier—“nearly finished” because he still has to turn their bottoms, which will be round.

Siegfried sands the exterior of his box elder vessel.

Siegfried's nearly finished vessels.

Sean was carving the vessel from yesterday. Curiously, he has decided that the foot is in the wrong place, so he cut it off and is gluing it in a different spot. He has it clamped between centers, because there are no clamps here small enough. He has carved a cover for the drive center so that it won’t damage the bowl. In the lefthand photo, you can see both his carving of the bowl and the stump of the original foot.

Sean carves the scrap bowl.

The carved bowl with its relocated foot.Sean's clamping system.

Jean-François was working on a idea he has wanted to explore for a long time. He mounted a chainsawn chunk on a makeshift faceplate on the lathe and hollowed a bowl without turning any of the exterior. He then used the bandsaw to roughly shape the exterior, reverse mounted the vessel on a jam chuck, and proceeded to shape it further using an Arbortech with the lathe off.

The original chunk for Jean-François's new bowl.Shaping the exterior with an Arbortech after bandsawing.

Note the strap in the righthand photo above. This is a loop that runs down to Jean-François’s foot. His foot pressure on the strap keeps the piece from rotating under the tool. When he wants it to move a little, he lifts his foot.

Here is the bowl in an interim state. After shaping it further, Jean-François decided to burn the surface.

The vessel, still being shaped.The shaped vessel being torched.

More burning.The fully scorched bowl.

The color of the scorching seemed to go more brown than black as it cooled. Jean-François will no doubt do more to this bowl before he is done with it.

Work stopped for a while for our first weekly meeting with Albert and Tina. We set up an impromptu table in the shop, and Siegfried ordered pizza. As a starting point for discussion, Albert had us each choose one item from someone else’s bench, and then we started talking.

Our first weekly meeting at the shop.

Siegfried chose my first Cryptomeria bowl, because he is interested in talking with me about Japanese influences in my work and what have been described as Japanese attributes of his work. I chose Jean-François’s face grain ailanthus bowl, because I am intrigued by the spontaneity with which he works. Jean-François chose Sean’s unturned bowl, because he is interested in the idea of making vessels through means other than turning. Sean chose Siegfried’s silver maple vessel, because he likes its simplicity and the way the grain works with and against the shape. Tina chose a dozuki saw from Jean-François’s bench, because she wanted to know how he used it in his pieces (he cuts off the stub left when using a spur drive). Tina or Albert chose the ball peen hammer from Sean’s bench, also curious about how it was used (to hammer in small nails). And Albert chose my favorite object of all. (Wait for it. Scroll down.)

The objects we each chose.

Another view of the objects we chose.

The odd yellow thing at the bottom of the last photo is what Albert chose. I’d have been curious about it too, if I had seen it. It’s a yellow chunk of mulberry with writing on it. As a point of fact, the chunk came out of the large mulberry bowl I turned that didn’t make it (R.I.P.); it was the center core that I left in so that I could use the tail center for stability; I cut it out once I had removed the bulk of the mass from the bowl’s interior, and I put it in Sean’s scrap box. What makes the chunk a real curiosity is the writing. Sean found it among his scraps and thought it looked like a plumb bob. Naturally enough, he wrote on it, “Plumb Bob Round Pants.”

I could hardly stop laughing.

Am I the only woodturner out there who knows most of the words to the Sponge Bob Square Pants theme song? I don’t think so.

Monday, June 18

Siegfried begins a vessel of box elder.Today, Siegfried began a larger vessel of the same shape as the silver maple vessel, this one of box elder. He was shooting ribbons to the ceiling turning the very wet wood.

When he began deep hollowing of the vessel, he tried out the hollowing tool with the Stewart armbrace and Jean-François’s attachment. He says he enjoyed the experience, though he found himself switching back and forth between the tool and a heavy gouge. Yesterday, he tried out my Exocet tool. He regards trying new tools as one more of the opportunities afforded us by the ITE. So do I.

Siegfried tries a new (to him) hollowing tool.

Sean gets tired of working on long, complicated projects, so today he decided to make a “fast” bowl from a cutoff. Here, he is already carving the foot. The photos below show the finished piece. Yes, the color is artificial.

Sean carves the bottom of a new bowl.

Sean's fast bowl.The bottom of Sean's fast bowl.

Sean's freeform sculpture.

I have begun thinking of Sean’s sculpture as our mascot. Here it is in its latest form.

Jean-François has finished his three ailanthus bowls. Here they are. He cannot quite hide the break in the first bowl, so he doesn’t yet know what to do with it.

Jean-François's ailanthus trio.

Jean-François and Sean are collaborating on the oak sculpture for which Sean turned the pieces. Both are carving and texturing the pieces that will be joined for the final work. Here, Jean-François is using a Foredom to work (or not) on the disc that will be the base of the sculpture.

Jean-François takes a breather from carving.Jean-François goes back to work.

Jean-François carves one piece of the oak sculpture.

My large mulberry bowl exploded today. I had just turned up the speed, looked at the dial and thought, “That’s probably too fast,” and it blew up on me. The glue joint at the waste block gave way. Fortunately, no one was hurt. Sean took the largest pieces to use in one of his freeform sculptures. No, no photos of the explosion or its aftermath.

After picking up the pieces, I picked up a log of Cryptomeria japonica instead. Now, as it happens (thanks to Gus and the cosmos), I’ve gotten wood from three important species of Japanese trees here: this one, paulownia (kiri), and Japanese cypress (hinoki). This is also known as Japanese cedar, sugi in Japanese, and it is the national tree of Japan. Its earlywood and latewood differ greatly in density, so it is a perfect wood on which to use Jean-François’s texturing technique. Look at the texture I achieved using a wire brush in a drill. I applied the brush both with the piece turning and turning it manually. Jean-François showed me the trick of reversing the drill as needed to brush with the grain; for all you novices to this technique like me, this greatly reduces the fuzz inevitably raised by brushing.

My new bowl, of cryptomeria.