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Turning the Corner focuses on using woodturning on the lathe as a way of enhancing cabinetry, furniture designs, and architectural installations. Each article also suggests an important woodworking book to read, reread or listen to, and a link to an appropriate article in The Highland Woodturner. Along the way, these articles seek to inspire woodworkers (cabinetmakers, carpenters, and housewrights) to extend their skills into basic, novice, and advanced woodturning while discovering for themselves this particularly sensual and spiritually rewarding dimension of working with wood.
One of my friends approached me last August with his heirloom maple nut bowl (once dropped, broken, and repaired) asking if I could replicate it for his five children in time for Christmas using native wood from Maine. His nut bowl has been special to him for many years, and the steel anvil has some initials stamped on it as well as the year 1914. I have an image of him sharing this original over the years and more recently in his office, enjoying all sorts of nuts that need to be cracked open with friends and relatives, a true tradition of sharing activities that so often define memories and relationships.
I realized the key to success of this project was going to be finding someone able to fabricate – cast, weld, mold, machine – the five replicas of the unique steel anvil mounted in the center and the lovely steel hammer that makes the two parts work together. Inquiring in several directions, I learned that to make a similar casting for these in steel or bronze would be prohibitively expensive and machining them in a metal shop would be similarly high-priced. The solution, ultimately, was to attract the interest in the project from another friend who has worked for years as a farrier/blacksmith and who for a manageable fee was willing to help us out as much as a lark as to challenge himself.
During my search, my customer and I shared a number of ideas through email that resulted in our decision to create "similar" but not necessarily identical nut bowls for his adult children and to make them from a variety of Maine wood species (different colors), a larger size with thicker side walls than the original, and to accentuate the hand-smithed anvil and hammer to be made by Blacksmith John.
That resolved, Blacksmith John went to work and by shear arm-power and heat beat the steel blanks into five similar anvils roughly 2" diameter and 3" tall with a stippled top and threaded 5/16" bolt hole in the bottom. He also designed a lovely hammer that in fabrication took on a signature artistic profile with similar functionality.
Once the steel parts were completed, a critical first step from my perspective was the wooden bowl would need to be sized to have the anvil fit. I tackled the turning. I had prepared by gathering blanks of a promising sizing from apple, elm, spalted birch, cherry, and locust that would mimic the shape but be different enough in color and texture as to individualize the gifts to each child.
I began with a beautiful piece of fresh apple.
I band sawed the rough blank to round.
Next, I mounted a faceplate (an important step for later reverse mounting on the chuck). I find that 1-1/2" masonry screws drive and hold well in green (wet) wood and the heads do not shear off with multiple uses.
Mount the face-plated blank on the lathe.
Use the 1/2" bowl gouge to true it round.
With the tailstock moved away, I undercut the bottom.
This provides an internal expansion mount for the chuck later while also creating a cavity in the bottom to accommodate the screw or bolt from underneath that will hold the anvil.
Re-application of the tailstock marks the centering hole (for later drilling) and finishing up the bottom of the bowl.
Defining the top rim and a light sanding prep the completed blank for reversing to the 4-jaw chuck.
The internal shoulder of the bottom of the bowl allows the 4-jaw chuck to expand to hold it in place (with wood such as apple, that shoulder needs to be substantial because of the tendency of apple to split out along the end-grain, almost at will).
Once the reversed bowl is mounted on the lathe for hollowing, the 1/2" bowl gouge hollows it quickly sending streams of long dark shavings to the corners of the shop.
With the rim designed, wall thickness established, and the measured depth to the anvil shelf created, the tricky reverse pitch of the anvil pedestal becomes the focus.
Hollowing the "donut" while leaving the "donut hole" intact requires some fancy gouge work as well as some careful finishing with a well-sharpened, round-nose scraper.
The final step on this side is to bring up the tailstock or use a pointed tool to clearly mark the center of the anvil shelf for drilling.
With the bowl again reversed and jam-chucked between a cushioned faceplate and the tailstock, the bottom can be finished and cut further in as needed for the head of the bolt or screw.
For these first five, I used a 5/16th stainless bolt with the hex-head.
Once off the lathe, drilling from both sides a 5/16th hole at the drill press ensures a clean vertical mount.
With the stainless 5/16th bolt in place, the anvil can be spun on and bolt tightened.
This bowl is complete once it is matched to its hammer and the bottom is engraved with the hot-pen to designate the gift-giver, date, type of wood, and initials of the correct child who will receive it.
The set of five are complete and accompanied by the original.
Unexpectedly, during the process, some other folks visiting the shop expressed an interest in having similar nut bowls. Not wanting to again impose on Blacksmith John for additional good will, I turned an additional nut bowl from a large piece of butternut wood, tapped and mounted a small anvil I have had for years, and added a small hammer I found on the Internet.
Once that was done, I started thinking about other, less expensive ways to design a similar holiday nut bowl. One way I thought of was to try using a 3/4" stainless bolt with the head and a capture nut as the strike target, countersinking the lower nut in the anvil base.
But those large stainless bolts are not inexpensive, and I settled on doing another pair of bowls using 1/2" carriage bolts, again with the large bolt head exposed for the strike target and a capture nut locking it in place.
While not as "heirloom" special as the copies for my customer, I know from Blacksmith John that making the anvils and hammers was a significant challenge in time and effort. Casting these in quantity would be worthwhile, but that was well beyond the time and talent we assembled for this project.
My customer/friend, however, is thrilled with the outcome and with the hard work and creativity from Blacksmith John. He and I had a joint effort in creating these bowls and the customer's plan was brought to reality well before the Christmas rush.
Now to go harvest some nuts to crack! Pecans and walnuts are my favorites.
Click here to visit the Woodturning department at Highland Woodworking
Located in Castine, Maine, Highlands Woodturning gallery and shop offers woodturning classes and shop time, a gallery of woodturned art, custom woodturning for repairs, renovations, and architectural installations. You can email Temple at
firstname.lastname@example.org. Take a look at Temple's Website at http://www.highlandswoodturning.com/
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