Canadian Woodworking

Loaning Tools – Part 1

Author: Don Wilkinson
Illustration: Mike Del Rizzo
Published: April May 2013
Loaning Tools
Loaning Tools

For the past few decades, the fruit growing people of the Okanagan have been busily cut­ting down their apple, peach and kumquat orchards and replacing them with housing developments. Oh no, wait! That’s what they do in Ontario. No, here they turn their farmland into vine­yards, which are a lot better to look at and presumably much tastier.

Except for kum­quats. I have no idea what they are.

Cutting down fruit trees and replacing them with grape trees or wine bushes or whatever has created a two-fold boon for woodworkers such as myself. Firstly, all the lovely pieces of fruitwood scattered neatly stacked and drying in the orchards are coincidentally the perfect size for turn­ing into vases and bowls. As an added bonus, this wood is absolutely free for the taking. At least it’s free if you’re somewhat nimble and have the ability to leap tow­ering deer fences in a single bound while carrying a large and heavy piece of tree trunk. In the dark! (I feel that I am sim­ply saving it from being wasted on heating their houses, or some such nonsense.)

The second boon is of course the final product derived from all those grapes. And I don’t mean grape jam or jelly either.

By now you are probably wonder­ing just what the heck the point of this article is. Don’t worry, so am I, but I promise to let you know as soon as I fig­ure it out.

(Two days later.)

I remember now! It’s been a while, but the other day I went out to my shop for no particular reason other than to remind myself what the building was for (it’s a shop). Once there, I spotted a lovely chunk of apple wood sitting next to the lathe, just cry­ing out to be turned into something other than just another piece of tree trunk so I decided to turn it into a weed pot. No! not that kind of weed pot—although since I live in B.C. I can understand why you were maybe thinking the other kind. Sorry!

No, this type of weed pot is simply a small vase used to hold dried flowers or dead, decorative weeds. I don’t get it but women seem to love them.

As it happens, a number of years ago I used to make a living turning these things out. Not a good living, mind you, but enough to buy a case of beer and a box of mac-and-cheese every once in a while, and if that’s not living then I don’t know what is.
I made so many of the stupid little things that eventually I had their produc­tion down to a science. I’d first find a dead tree roughly five inches in diameter and chop it down and haul it to my shop where it would be cut it into 8″ lengths and stacked next to my lathe. Using a spur chuck at one end, I’d center a ¾” drill bit in the other to steady the wood. Or at least make it a little less wobbly.

I got so proficient that, using only a roughing gouge, I could take that ugly chunk of tree and turn it into a vase-shaped vase in no time. Once it was shaped to my liking, I’d unlock the tail stock and slowly push the drill bit down the neck of the vase until it was hollowed to what I judged to be more or less the cor­rect depth. Two seconds of carefully applied sandpaper at 35,000 RPM or so was followed by a very quick rubdown with a wax-soaked cloth and, voila!, the vase was complete. Raw wood to fin­ished product: seven minutes flat.

As I carefully withdrew the drill bit (and if I had remembered to slow the lathe down), the vase would gently fall into my hand. I’d then grab another chunk of wood and slam it onto the spur and start all over again.

I sold those vases by the dozen to a local gallery for $8.00 each. I eventually stopped production when it all became much too boring. I felt like I was running a sweatshop with me as both slave driver and slave.

So … now onto the purpose of this arti­cle. Oops! I’ve used up my allotted space. I guess you’ll have to wait till next issue. Sorry!

Note: The techniques described in this article are NOT condoned or recom­mended by the publishers (unless you really enjoy the odd concussion).

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