Working with Irish Hardwood. Ideal, Unique, Lifetime Gifts for any Occasion
I work mainly with fallen native Irish hardwoods like Ash and Beech. The wood is cut green, processed and then either air or kiln dried down to stable moisture content (8-10%). Most of the products you see on this site have been dried over a period of 6 to 12 months and in cases like Oak, have been drying for 2 years or so. I always strive to give you the best possible product I can. When you buy from me you are buying a genuine handcrafted Irish product that you can cherish for many years. All items for sale will list species, location where tree grew and if possible the story of how it came to me.
As mentioned above, I work mainly with fallen Irish Hardwoods like Ash, Beech, Oak and Yew if I can get it. I also use other species including some softwoods like Macrocarpa. I have about half a dozen contacts for sourcing wood and I always have feelers out for more.
Making Bowls The Process
Most of the wood I get to Rescue is in trunk form and has to be cut into logs just bigger than the size of the bowls or blanks I need. The logs are then cut along the grain cutting away the Pith until I have 2 bowl slabs or large spindle slabs.
A circle is drawn on the wood and the bandsaw cuts it into a circular bowl blank. Circular blanks are then dunked in a container of water to wash away the dust and wet all surfaces of the blank to minimize the risk of cracking. They are then carried to my workshop and kept inside plastic bags until ready for turning on the lathe.
The bowl blank is mounted on the lathe using a faceplate and secured using the lathe tailstock. The outside and foot of the bowl is rough turned initially and a tenon is formed at the base so it can be held in a 4 jaw chuck. When a suitable shape is formed, the bowl is reversed and mounted using a 4 jaw chuck. The inside of the bowl is then rough turned. Because the bowl will distort during the drying process the wall thickness is left at around 10% of the bowl diameter to allow the bowl to be trued up again. The exterior endgrain of the bowl is then sealed with PVA Glue to slow down the moisture loss in these areas.
The Drying Process
I currently use 2 methods of drying my bowls. (1) The Sauno Kiln. This is a Swedish designed drying unit which really dries the wood well but can cause failures in Hardwood. (2) The Paper Bag Method. This involves putting a rough turned endgrain sealed bowl into a brown paper bag with it's own wet shavings for 3 to 9 months depending on the species. This is a much slower method than kiln drying but the warping and cracking is reduced.
At the time I wrote most of this page I used the Sauno system but the harsh drying caused a lot of damage to bowl stock over several batches. I now believe the Sauno is too extreme unless micro managed. I now just use the paper bag method for bowls and air dry wood before using the attic to dry spindle stock. Ash is perfect for this method and dries well but Beech suffers from Mildew in the bags which leaves nasty grey patches in the wood.
Large bowls ready to dry in my Sauno Kiln
Bowls and Blanks air drying with dehumidification
The Bowl is dried
Once dry, a bowl must be left inside in the house in an environment close to where it will end up until it reaches moisture equilibrium. This normally takes about 2 weeks. This is when the bowl has reached the optimum moisture content for it to be finished turned. A common misconception it that all wood in your house is bone dry but in actuality wood never gets to 0% moisture content as the basic structure of wood always tries to hold on to moisture. Note; It is common for me to leave dried bowls on the shelves for months until I'm ready to finish them.
The Bowl is finished
The bowl is remounted on the lathe using a special re-mounting plate with tailstock support. The warped and uneven edges require this to hold it securely. The exterior and the foot of the bowl are trued up and the final shape is cut. The tenon is again resized for the 4 jaw chuck and the bowl is reversed and held securely in the jaws. The top edge and inside of the bowl are now carefully turned to give the perfect finish. Once the final shape and wall thickness are achieved it is now time to sand.
Sanding the Bowl
I sand the bowls using 4 grits. 120, 180, 240 & 320 using these 4 grits on the outside and the same again on the inside. The lathe is stopped after each grit to check the progress and look for any missed defects which are then eliminated. For this process I use an expensive respirator and have air scrubbers in the background removing the fine particles from the air. Improper sanding can leave visible marks on the bowls so great care and good lighting are essential.
Oiling the Bowl
The dust from sanding is blown away using a compressor and the bowl then gets a generous coating of Liquid Paraffin (mineral oil in the US). Once the full coat has applied I check for any thirsty areas and apply some more. The freshly oiled bowl is then carried into the house overnight to absorb the oil and stay in a controlled environment. Note; I have moved on from this early method of finishing to some more durable finishes that look better long term.
Turning the Foot
The following morning the bowl is finally ready to be finished. It is remounted in the same 4 jaw chuck and sanded in reverse using 500 grit wet/dry sandpaper. This removes any surface fibers that may cause a rough feeling under fingers. The bowl is then spun in the other direction and a very fine artificial wool burnishes the surface until a lovely shine appears. The bowl is then moved to a large Cole Jaw which grips the top edge allowing the tenon to be turned away. The foot is then carefully shaped to the final design and sanded. The bowl is branded with my name and given a light coat of oil and removed from the Cole Jaws. One final wipe using a very fine soft cloth removes any dust or debris. The bowl goes back into the house ready to be added to my inventory and ready for sale.
The whole process
Many people believe that bowls are very simple things to make but the reality is very different, time consuming and expensive. 3 months is the fastest I can turn a bowl from greenwood to a finished product but I now prefer at least 6 months as I get a better product. Every bowl I make is a genuine handcrafted piece of Ireland and I strive to make each bowl to the best of my ability. Visit my Homepage and check out some of the new categories I have created to make shopping easier and get your own piece of Ireland today :)
Christmas Tree Decorations/ Hanging Ornaments/Bottle Stopper/Spinning Top
My philosophy and approach has changed since I first started this business. I used to worry about templates and making everything the same until one day it dawned on me that nature makes similar but not identical copies. Everything in life is slightly different. I have brought this approach into my woodturning. I take a similar view to my bowl making and don't make copies anymore.
Choosing the Wood
These spindle pieces are normally the ones I reject for bowls. Not that there is anything wrong with the wood but just not suitable due to an imperfection that would appear in a bowl wall and possibly spoil it. The wood is cut using a chainsaw and then roughly marked for cutting on the bandsaw. I have been known for finishing bowls with defects though as wood is just too hard to come by to discard because of small blemishes.
Unlike Bowl blanks, Spindle blanks are cut with straight parallel walls and are over sized a little based on the size need after the piece has dried. I like to add minimum 10% to the dimensions to be safe. For instance one of my Egg Cups is 60 mm diameter finished, I like the blank to be 75 mm. This is way more than I need but it gives me room for errors along the way. Christmas decorations are freehand designs and I like to make each one differently so I don't worry too much about the width. I like to cut pieces that will be anywhere from 30 mm to 70 mm square. This gives me loads of scope to improvise and change designs once the wood is dry. I generally cut lengths that will give me 2 or 4 pieces from each side.
Rough Turning & Drying
The blanks are marked on their endgrain showing centre points and are then mounted between centres on the lathe. They are turned round and above the size I want them to finish. This means less drying time and with the corners gone the possibility of cracking is reduced. The endgrain of the wood is then sealed with PVA glue or dipped in melted Paraffin Wax to slow down the moisture loss. The wood is then either Kiln or air dried depending on how fast I need the wood. At present I like to air dry as much as possible before kiln drying as the pieces don't fail as much as kiln drying from absolute greenwood. This slows down the quantity of wood I can produce but if it gives me a better yield, it's worth it.
Dry and ready to finish
After many months the pieces are now dry and distorted. Each one is remounted on my small Lathe, trued up and tenons cut into either end. A centre line is measured and marked on the piece which is then cut on the bandsaw giving me 2 different pieces. These can now be mounted in 4 jaw chucks.
I like to finish turn Christmas decorations at about 2,000 rpm. This makes cutting quick and interesting for me. I normally start a cut with one or two shapes in mind and after a bit of shaping I stop the lathe to examine the shape and look of the grain. This is normally the point where I see a nice pattern emerging and I go with the flow until a nice shape if formed. The lathe is stopped once again to examine the piece and once happy I make a few more finishing cuts to leave the bare minimum attached at the top of the piece.
I'd love to be able to say that I start sanding at 220 grit each time but that isn't always the case. Sometimes I have to hit certain problem areas with 120 grit first and then move up to 180, 220 and 320. I aim mostly to start at 180 grit and move towards 320 grit.
Coating & Parting off
I normally give 1 or 2 coats of Sanding Sealer as it allows me to achieve a lovely smooth base for each piece before applying a finish coat. The pieces are then finished off with a friction polish or wax product. Once the coat is fully dried I can then part off the piece. This piece goes into a safe box until I have enough ready to finish the tops in one go.
Finishing the Top
Like the decoration body, the top must sanded properly using the various grits and then a hole is drill in the top centre for the brass screw eye. Sanding sealer and finish coat are then applied like the body and the eye is screwed in.
The final step is the ribbon and labeling of the decoration. There's no great science involved, I usually pick the colour that looks the best. The labels are filled in with the species and location where the tree grew and the piece is hung on a stand until a home can be found. New 2022 batch decorations all ready for sale.
If you thought that was complicated, you should see it being done in person :)
A brief video of how a Spinning Top is made. Great skill is required to turn a top that spins 100% true