Life outside the workshop?

A previous ITEr has suggested that I share something about life in the ITE outside the workshop: “where we live, where we eat, where we walk . . . the stuff of life in the ITE.” This raises an interesting point about this year’s ITE: how focused on work we are.

Unlike what I understand to be true of past ITEs, since we actually began working, we four hardly see each other outside of the workshop. We don’t eat together; we don’t drink together; we don’t hang out together; we don’t walk around together; we don’t socialize together, except on our planned excursions. Some combination of us (but not all at once) will occasionally go to the hardware or grocery store together, especially if we need to drive there.

There is comradery and good humor in the shop when we’re working together. Most of us stop and look at what our colleagues are doing. We ask and answer questions. We share pointers. We share tools. We make jokes. We work.

Sometimes I think I talk to everyone more than anyone else, because I walk around periodically to take photos and I ask (at the least) about whatever I’m photographing. I’m not sure I would ever have a conversation with Sean if not for this function.

As far as I know, Siegfried is the only one who does anything but work. Sean comes in early, takes a long lunch, comes back, and works late. Sometimes Sean goes out to buy supplies. Jean-François comes in early but not so early, takes a long lunch, comes back, and works late. Sometimes Jean-François runs errands. I come in later (early for me, sometimes after working in my room on the computer for a couple of hours), work through lunch, and leave at 6:30 or 7 or 7:30 or 7:45 to eat and call home, and then I work on photos and the blog until 11 or 12 or 1 or later. I see Jean-François in passing when we go next door at night to go online (we don’t have wifi in our rooms). Siegfried takes the time to walk or bike around town, to eat out, to look around, to meet people. Tonight, he made himself go out despite his fatigue, and he happened upon a rock concert, where he had a good time.

Working double duty takes its toll. I’m exhausted every night, and I fear it shows in my blog posts. I feel like I don’t have the extra energy to socialize. Then again, tonight I went out for dinner and a beer with Jane and her honey (my first evening out), and I’m still up and going, though it’s now 3:15—not an unusual hour for me to be up at home, but not a time I’ve managed to see here until now.

For my part, another reason I don’t socialize with the boys is that I’m tired of planning our group’s social activities. I have ended up planning all of our visits, contacting all of our hosts, finding compatible dates, recontacting our hosts, getting directions, driving us—this is not a role I enjoy, but these are trips I want to make, so I’ve stepped up to make them happen. I have spent many hours doing so, and just the trip to D.C. alone was worth the effort, but—can you tell?—I’ve reached my limit. I wish that the Wood Turning Center would take on some of this task, but the one time I asked for help, the scheduling ended up back in my lap.

I want to turn. To turn nearly as much as I’d like, I spend what otherwise might be free time keeping up with photos and the blog. And I feel pressure to turn. I’m sure Siegfried does also. The current of Sean’s and Jean-François’s drive to produce is sweeping us all along. I feel the pressure to keep up despite what I know about my own need for balance, despite what I tell myself about taking in this experience, despite what Albert has told us about not needing to produce but needing only to experience.

There is exchange happening, for me, in the shop. In my turning, I find myself responding to what others are doing or to conversations I’ve had with them (I will try to relay some of these conversations in future posts; I’ve had a few good ones). What I see and hear sparks ideas, and I’m trying them. It’s not imitation, though I’m borrowing some techniques; it’s inspiration: I’m inhaling everything around me and letting my body translate what my blood absorbs into my own expression. According to Albert, this is a form of collaboration, and it feels like it, though I haven’t yet actively worked on any pieces with anyone else. Siegfried and Jean-François have both spoken with me separately about collaborating. Jean-François and I have a specific project in mind. Siegfried and I are still sussing out the possibilities.

Time to go to the shop, dear readers. This is how it is at the moment, here in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at the 2007 International Turning Exchange. I’m not complaining (much!); I have tried to simply describe what is so. This may all change today. Peter Harrison, our furniture maker, arrives this afternoon to spend two weeks with us. And tomorrow evening, we take a little break to visit the Rhoas in Collegeville, PA. For now, this has been a valuable reminder that there can be life outside of the workshop here in the ITE. I just have to step outside.

Friday, June 29

I forgot to include my favorite photo from yesterday. Jane, the shop supervisor, is our official problem solver, without whom we couldn’t spend nearly as much time working. In the course of solving our problems, she has to spend a lot of time on the phone: ordering supplies and equipment, securing a phone for us in the shop, finding a place to buy a used bike—you pose the problem, she’ll figure it out.

Jane discusses yet another catalog order on the phone.

And can I add how grateful I am to have another woman around?

Jean-François continues on with his oak bowls. He has decided that what was to be the third bowl in his latest series is too different from the first two, so he’ll keep the pair together, but make two more to go with the third bowl. (Note: Despite how they appear in these photos, the third bowl is slightly smaller—and thinner-walled—than the first two.)

Jean-François's newest pair of finished oak bowls.The start of a new series.

What's next for Jean-François.

Sean has installed the legs on his walnut bowl and is finishing them up. This is the underside of the piece, but you can see bleaching that seeped through from his bleaching of the bowl itself.

Sean works on the walnut bowl.

This is another scrap Sean pulled from the pile to turn. I suppose it can be considered another collaboration with me, since I cut the arc you see in order to remove a piece to use as a jam chuck.

Sean turns another scrap.

I had fun working on my cherry bowl today. I recut the surface along two of the axes before I liked what I had, then I carved a little on the top using spherical cutters in the Foredom. The top surface and the bowl are smooth; the exterior is covered with gouge marks—which were surprisingly hard to create consistently. A sharp gouge just wants to cut cleanly. I had to be sure to stay off of the bevel to leave cut marks. I’m not sure how I feel about this bowl. It’s completely unlike anything I have ever made before (which is one of the opportunities of the ITE, after all), and at one point I had titled it “Ugly on Four Axes.” It has grown on me, however, and I think I may like it. These pictures don’t do it justice.

My multiaxis cherry bowl.Another view of my multiaxis cherry bowl.

Siegfried wasn’t in the shop a lot today. I’m concerned about his continuing lack of energy. His heart rate isn’t back to normal either. What would you do in a foreign country with a condition that is no longer considered “emergent” but isn’t nearly “cured”? Could you afford to do anything about it? Can he afford not to?

Thursday, June 28

This morning, Sean laid out and drilled a series of holes in his “running man” sculpture using Forstner bits on the drill press.

Sean drills a series of holes in his new freeform sculpture.The current state of Sean's new freeform sculpture.

Later, Sean did more carving on the triangular walnut bowl. In addition to texturing the surface more, he has carved out recesses for the legs around the holes in two of the corners. You can see two legs lying behind the bowl, one highly carved, one not—at least, not yet.

Sean's triangular walnut bowl.

He also worked on his fourth oak bowl, carving the exterior and then adding silver or blue-gray paint.

Sean carves his fourth oak bowl.Sean paints his fourth oak bowl.

Below is proof that Jean-François does sand, despite all the carving and texturing he does.

He has nearly finished (except for the foot) the first of this series of colored and carved oak bowls. In the lower photos, he is working on the second of this series. Again, he is using the Arbortech reciprocating carver to cut the grooves, which he then will touch up with a Foredom.

In contrast to the first bowl, Jean-François has used white acrylic paint to fill the grooves and open grain of the second bowl. I believe he has not finished rubbing out the interior in the final photo.

Jean-François sands a new oak bowl.Jean-François's carved, almost finished bowl from yesterday.

Jean-François begins carving the second bowl of this series.The carved bowl, with white acrylic paint rubbed into the grooves and open grain.

Siegfried was back in the shop today, but working at half speed. He continued working on inside-out-turned shapes, experimenting with an unorthodox means of shaping the pieces, on a belt sander. He is hoping that a good meal and some sleep will further restore his energy for tomorrow.

Siegfried tries using a belt sander to start an inside-out turning.Siegfried turns the pieces he has prepped.

I got to turn a lot today. I finished the turning of my pear vessel, pictured below. It has a round bottom that cups nicely in the palm. I have begun carving the mouth, as you can see, a departure from my previous work. I will finish the carving after I pick up some new Dremel bits tomorrow.

My new pear vessel, partially carved.

I also started a multiaxis cherry bowl, using four different centers on the bottom and keeping the same center on the top. I’m just playing really. My first go at it was unimpressive, but I went back and changed the curve and I’m beginning to like what’s emerging. I’ll work with it more tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 27

Siegfried was absent from the shop this morning, and we soon learned from a phone call that he was at the hospital undergoing tests. He has not been feeling well the past few days, and he noticed that his heart was racing and wouldn’t slow down. (His pulse, which is normally around 60, was stuck at around 100–110 beats per minute.) The hospital did not find a reason for his racing heart, but they gave him something to slow it down. He came back from the hospital, but did not stay at the shop. We hope he will be back turning with us tomorrow. In the meantime, here are some of the shapes he turned yesterday using the inside-out technique. He is thinking of doing more and assembling them into a piece.

Inside-out-turned shapes on Siegfried's workbench.

Sean, the inveterate recycler, has taken two of the largest fragments of my broken mulberry bowl (see the post “Monday, June 18” if you don’t remember what I’m referring to) and turned them to create a new piece. Below, you see two views of the larger fragment on the lathe. Sean kept shifting the center—four or five times in all, I think—to make different cuts.

A collaboration of sorts with Sean, in mulberry.Another view of the mulberry piece.

After turning the two fragments using multiple centers, he screwed them together temporarily to check their fit and balance. He liked what he saw once he aligned the grain in the two fragments, so he glued them up and clamped them in the lathe. He will carve them next.

A test to see how the two pieces fit together.The two pieces glued together.

Remember the sculpture I called “the mascot”? It is done, except perhaps for another coat of finish. Here it is in a cupboard with Sean’s third oak bowl. This one has a dyed green interior.

In the righthand photo below is the beginning of a new freeform sculpture. Sean has much carving to do on it, but you can see the grooves and shapes made already by turning the scraps. He sees in it a running man, but the name has been used too many times already, so he will come up with another title.

Sean's finished freeform sculpture and an oak bowl.The beginning of another freeform sculpture.

This is the current state of two of the oak ring pieces still to be assembled into a sculpture. In the background to the right, you can see Sean’s fourth oak bowl, the last of the series.

Ring parts for the oak piece started before.

Jean-François turned a new oak bowl. Having completed the turning (except for the foot), he is cutting grooves into the exterior using an Arbortech reciprocating carver, following lines that he drew freehand. You can see that he has already colored the interior using his favorite vinegar-and-steel-wool technique.

Jean-François uses an Arbortech to carve a new oak bowl.Another view of Jean-François using an Arbortech to carve his new oak bowl.

Albert LeCoff came by the shop this morning with Phil Hauser, treasurer of the Wood Turning Center and himself a turner and a collector. Here, he admires the bowl Sean turned of a walnut scrap.

Phil Hauser and Albert LeCoff visit the shop.

Besides following up on group plans with phone calls and email, I finally got to turn some today. I turned most of a hollow vessel of wet pear (which is lovely to turn). I plan to finish turning it tomorrow and to carve the mouth. Maybe I’ll get a photo tomorrow.

It is pouring rain outside as I wrap up this post. Tomorrow, we can expect thunderstorms, a treat for an Arizonan.

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.

Sorry for the silence . . .

dear readers, but I haven’t been feeling well since we returned from D.C. I hope to be back on my feet and back on the computer tomorrow, and I’ll try to catch up with more about our D.C. visit and see what the boys are up to in the shop. Stay tuned . . .

Oh. My. Stars.

So, what did we do in D.C.? We saw some of the best turned wood art in the world. And not only did we get to see it, we got to touch it, hold it, turn it over, turn it around, stroke it, scrutinize it, learn about it, photograph it, savor it. And we got to see how many artists began and the evolution of their styles.

We also got to meet some people who really love wood art. Seeing them with their treasures, hearing their stories—stories they have about each piece—was inspiring and affirming. Their collections aren’t inventoried acquisitions; they’re a passion. More appreciative adoptive parents for your creations would be hard to find.

Here is a just sample of what we saw. At the Kochmans’:

The Kochmans' mantel.

In front of the Kochmans' fireplace.

In the Kochmans' living room.

In the Kochmans' dining room.

More in the Kochmans' dining room.

Dinner with the Kochmans'.

At the Breslers’:

The Breslers' living room.

Fleur Bresler with a few of her treasures.

In the Breslers' hallway.

In the Breslers' foyer, a thank-you gift from the Wood Turning Center, with pieces from some 30 artists.

More pieces along the corridor.

Pieces can be found even atop a refrigerator.

At the Masons’:

In the Masons' living room.

Also in the Masons' living room.

Arthur tells us about this group effort from the Chicago chapter of the AAW.Jane talks with us about their collection.

In the Masons' office.

And the closet!

Arthur took us to lunch at a French restaurant.

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.

Tuesday, June 19

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.

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.