Turning Archive 2006

Turning Commission Success (long) *PIC*

Brad Vietje
>A while back, Hooligan started a good discussion that started about collar design, but ended up discussing the problems with taking on commission work.

I recently completed a commission job that went pretty well, but it did add stress to my life in terms of getting the design right, and getting the project done as discussed and on time. The gory details follow:

A friend approached me about making a 50th anniversary gift for his parents -- further complicated because it was to be a gift from him and his two brothers, who all live in different states. The problem was they wanted a functional flower vase, turned from an attractive wood. By functional, they meant cut flowers, which means water. Now I'm pretty strict about water and turned wood -- in my book they should only meet during wet sanding. So this was a challange.

I had formulated a few designs in my head an on napkins and such, then we sat down to come up with something my friend would like, that his brothers would like, and that his parents would like. This face-to-face meeting and discussion about the realities and design challanges was really critical -- some of their notions just wouldn't work. By the time I left, we had worked out a design that made everyone happy (subject to confirmation by e-mail of the other brothers over the next few days, of course -- engineers all...)

We ended up lifting a basic profile from Jules Tattersall as pictured in Woodturning Masterclass, by Tony Boase, with design modifications to accomodate water. The basic plan was a 10" - 12" tall Black Cherry hollow form, turned right on the pith and perforated both top and bottom, with a copper insert to contain the flowers and fluids. This was rough turned to 3/4" back in July, and finish turned to 1/2" a few weeks ago. The hole in the bottom was to let water and condensation out. The copper insert is a 1.5" copper pipe with an end cap at the bottom, and a flared top. The flared top is a 1.5" to 2" copper adaptor, cut off above the flare, and hammered to create both shape and texture. The insert is suspended on 3 small (1/4") black plastic bumpers at the top, and three small faucet washers glued onto the bottom of the insert to keep the copper from touching the wood. The insert sits in a recess turned into the inside of the base, and the base sits on three more little black plastic bumpers so it won't trap any fluid that drains down the inside. (For those of you in dry climates, a copper pipe filled with water will sweat quite a bit here in the humid Northeast during summer.) The whole works has 5 coats of spar varnish inside and out for water resistance.

Throughout this process, communication was essential for successful completion. The actual anniversary was in August, so right up front I had to establish a timeline that they could live with. I also photographed the progress, from log through rough turning to finished product, so my friend could hold back his impatient brothers with timely updates. This was a real technical challange (allowing for water) and my answer was a removable insert and "moisture management" by eliminating any contact between insert and wood, and getting the whole works up off the table just a bit. The finish is far glossier than I would prefer -- the first three coats were satin spar varnish, which looked terrible and wouldn't level out brush marks at all -- so I decided that glossy dipped-in-plastic was far better than dull and ugly dipped-in-plastic.

I presented the finished piece to my customer just before Thanksgiving, when the entire family would gather, and the gift would be presented. They were very happy with the end product, and I received the attached photo from the parents, who were thrilled with their new vase, which is shown in their home. The finished piece is 10" diameter and about 11" tall.

I'm generally reluctant to take on many of this sort of job, since I'd rather create what I want, and allow the customers to either buy it or not. However, it was a fun challange that I enjoyed a lot -- I hope you all have low-stress success with any commissions you take on, too.

Safe spinning,

Brad Vietje
Newbury, VT

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