Turning Archive 2004

Subject:
The Effect of Good Form (long)

Bill Grumbine, Kutztown PA
>Perhaps I should have titled this "an effect", or "one effect" of good form for there are many. However, I want to address one, and hopefully generate some discussion on this. Today I did something that not many of us do in the turning world. I turned back the clock and turned a beginner bowl - a HUGE beginner bowl. I did not turn it because I wanted to, but rather for a specific commission for a customer.

There is a story to this. Late last year, I had a customer come to my shop to inspect my bowls. He and his wife needed a new salad bowl, having literally worn theirs out over the past 20 years. He had the old bowl with him, along with his tape measure. He looked at all of my best work, and even took the tape to some roughouts sitting on the counter. The two of them pronounced everything unsatisfactory!

When I asked why, he went out to his car and retrieved their current bowl. It was a flat bottomed straight sided bowl of the shape that I call beginner, having seen so many pass through my shop over the years as a teacher.

Now, if you are reading this and are currently turning these kind of bowls, please do not take offense. We all start out as beginners, and there is no shame in being one, or turning bowls like this. I learned some things that certainly shed some light for me, and hopefully with this thread (if it turns into a thread) will help all of us understand some of the problems we face and how design can affect more than one aspect.

Back to my customer. He produced their current salad bowl, and told me they wanted one exactly like it, only bigger. He gave me some very specific dimensions to match, and that was that. I was not real enthusiastic about doing this, but a job is a job. So I made the bowl.

As I was turning this thing, I could not help but notice that I was having a terrible time with getting a smooth surface. No matter what I tried, I could not get a good cut, and I was reduced to grinding away with sandpaper. Even then, after lots and lots of time sanding, I was still not satisfied with the surface. I attributed it to a lousy day, wild grain, whatever. Personal experience reinforced that perception. The pieces before and the pieces after this bowl all cut and sanded in the manner to which I had become accustomed.

I delivered the bowl, and was happy to be done with it. I even told SWMBO that I was glad to never have to ever deal with one like that again. Well I was wrong. My customer liked it so much he commissioned another one just like it a few months later. So, I roughed out another and put it aside to dry. I finished turned it today.

As I was turning, I noticed the very same phenomena taking place. No matter what I tried, I could not get the smooth surface I was used to getting. This after recently turning that locust burl wing bowl and having it go great! Once again I was reduced to the abrasive gouge (sandpaper for you neophytes), and once again I was not satisfied with the surface I was getting. Now, this was the same species, but it was a different tree with different characteristics. It did not have the wild swirly grain of the previous bowl. In fact, it is pretty plain. But I still have a surface that with all my cutting tricks and all my sandpaper was still not what I could wish.

I began to consider the thing closely, and after a little bit of thought and observation, I come now to my very lengthy point. I think that one of the reasons beginners have such trouble is that they are still learning technique for both tools and sanding, but I think that just as important are the forms we turn. The basic beginner bowl is straight sided and flat bottomed. As we improve our techniques for cutting, we (hopefully) improve the forms we produce. I think that the improvement in form lends itself to better surfaces because of the nature of the wood, and not solely because of our improved technique. This is a theory, but one based on observation of my own experience. Is there anyone who has managed to read this far who can verify this, or who would care to give it a try? I would like to hear other thoughts and opinions on this subject, as I find it a fascinating concept.

Bill

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