WoodCentral's video reviews

The Aesthetics & Properties of Wood
by John Jordan

John Jordan Woodworking: 2005
DVD, 2 disks, 2 hr. 38 min., $40.00

    There are many wood turning videos out there that cover various turning tools, projects and basic skills. Surprisingly there are few that cover the medium itself. Many wood turners really don't understand the properties of the wood they turn. They know little about how to select, orient and separate a turning blank from a log that will result in a turned piece that meets their expectations. John Jordan's DVD, The Aesthetics & Properties of Wood, fills this need. Armed with the information from this DVD, the turner can avoid the common pitfalls when selecting and cutting turning blanks from green wood, as well as avoid checking and cracking when the wood dries. Other than a brief introductory clip, there is no turning on this video. The format is a simple classroom setting at John's studio outside of Nashville, Tennessee. The only visual aids are a drawing board and numerous turned bowls and vessels.
     John has been turning wood for many years and is known for his textured and carved hollow vessels. He works almost exclusively with fresh green wood and does not use chemicals, boiling, microwaves, wax or preservatives to cure his turned green pieces. His work is displayed in many of the nation's major galleries, including the Smithsonian and the White House. He teaches at his studio and at other locations in the US and around the world. Prior to the release of this DVD he produced two other videos on turning subjects. John is an excellent teacher and his down-home style of delivery, backed by his obvious knowledge of the subject, creates an enjoyable and valuable new DVD for anyone's library.
     John's presentation starts with a brief introduction. Next, he explains how to use the properties of wood to plan for an aesthetically pleasing turning. In the final section, he explains how to avoid checks and cracks in a green turned piece.
     In the introduction John gives examples of various pieces of furniture, timber frame houses and turnings that were completed years ago by craftsman who understood how to work with green wood and use it to their advantage. John feels today's turners overcomplicate the issue and resort to various drying schemes and processes that would not be necessary if they understood that wood movement is really simple and predictable.
     John starts the second section by explaining that the turner must consider all of the properties of the species of wood and the raw log before proceeding to cut a blank. John believes fresh green wood allows the turner many more options for grain, color and wood features than working from a purchased waxed chunk of wood with hidden features. Before a blank can be cut from a green log, the sap and heart wood, grain pattern, special features such as crotch wood and finally the pith must be considered. John draws many examples of log rounds on the board. Then within each log John draws different shapes of vessels and bowls at different orientations to show how the finished turned piece will exhibit the grain, color and features of the wood. Carefully planning where to cut the blank from the log will result in a beautiful turning rather than have the best part of the wood end up on the floor as wood chips. The presentation covers the many options as well as the potential problems for each choice of blank orientation.
     In the last section John covers the movement of green wood and how to eliminate almost all cracking and checking without chemicals or special processes. John explains wood cracks while drying because of the uneven loss of moisture within the wood. Once the "free" water has evaporated out of the wood, the remaining 30% of the water is bound up in the cells of the wood. As the water bound cells near the surface are exposed to moving air and evaporate, the wood shrinks at a faster rate than the cells deep inside the wood. This uneven shrinkage causes cracks and checks. The shrinkage of the wood is also affected by the grain orientation which moves at different rates as it dries. John gives the viewer many examples by drawing diagrams showing the movement of wood as it dries and the effect it has on different turned wood pieces. John believes that some turned pieces' aesthetic value is not lost due to some warping as it dries. The key is to plan for the wood movement in the design of the turning and to control the movement. Other pieces that the turner wants to be perfectly symmetrical should be rough turned green and then finish turned after the piece dries. Either way, the control of the drying process to prevent cracks is the key. John gives some simple solutions how to control the drying process with a minimum of effort. While variable factors such as the humidity, species of wood and wall thickness all enter into the equation, the process still is relatively the same.
     I found this DVD to be especially helpful, and the process John teaches is surprisingly simple. The sound and camera work on the DVD were excellent. The simple visual aids were very effective in complementing John's delivery of the subject. Living in Tennessee, John has access to a wide selection of native green wood that many of us do not. During the presentation I kept thinking about the many turners such as myself that have limited access to green logs. Even though you may not have constant access to green turning wood, the lessons on grain orientations and where the blank was cut from a log are very useful. Who knows, you may just run into a freshly cut log as I did the other day, which provided the opportunity to apply the principles John presented in cutting, turning and drying my own green bowl blanks.

. . . Bill Clark