Burl Bowl

While I was shedless for a year, working out of a cramped (uninspiring) garage, I made a start on a bowl from a Mallee (?) burl.

It was an excuse to use the Teknatool Titan II chuck on the DVR XP as much as anything (the chuck was certainly a lot more powerful than the job necessitated!)

The bowl sort of progressed, then was put aside, had a bit more done, then set aside again over a 6 month period.

I found it in the garage the other day, and took it to join the lathe in the shed.  With some more turning, quite a bit of sanding, then polishing with friction polishes from Ubeaut, it finally got finished.

Photo 4-05-2014 17 51 24 Photo 4-05-2014 17 51 50The base may look heavy, but other than the rim, the whole bowl is a pretty consistent thickness.  It is 180mm in diameter, 80mm high, and has a 4mm wall thickness.

Finished by sanding to 400 grit using the Skilton sander, then polished, first with Ubeaut EEE Ultrashine, then Ubeaut Glow to give it a rich gloss.

Burl meet Torque

Another burl found itself being flattened at the hands of the TWC at Ballarat last weekend. This one had quite a curvature, with over 1″ from edge to centre on the cut side.


For a thicknesser, this would be a nightmare. For the TWC this was a piece of cake.


You may be able to see the separate passes in the photo- this is because at the time of the photo, I was working on maximum material removal (4-5mm per pass, to the full width of the cutter). This means the grain on adjacent passes got cut in the opposite direction to the previous, resulting in a different reflective surface- you can see the passes, but it still feels flat.

The final pass is done with very little material removed 0.5mm depth of cut, and maximum 1/2 the cutter width max, so all the grain is pushed in the same direction.

Either way, a few passes with the ROS (random orbital sander) removes any minor irregularities.

The problem for the thicknesser is both the tortured grain – in all directions so tearout is likely. The cutter direction on a thicknesser makes this even more likely, with the cutter scooping the material up, out of the surface.

Secondly, stabilising a burl to pass through a thicknesser is also tricky. With drive rollers pushing down before and after the cutter, the chances of the burl shifting and getting a massive kickback from the thicknesser is pretty high.

On the Torque, the cutter direction is horizontal, the amount of material removed each pass can be minimal, and is not over the entire burl width simultaneously, and there are no feed rollers to potentially destabilise the burl during the cut.

Thicknessers obviously perform a very useful role, but when their idiosyncrasies work against you, the Torque Workcentre takes over!

It’s Time

At the Melbourne Working with Wood Show I had taken a slice of burl, and used the Torque Workcentre to start surfacing it as a demo of the TWC, and the idea quickly progressed as the timber talked, that it would make an interesting (large) desk or mantlepiece clock.

That block of burl has been sitting in my shed ever since, waiting for the project to be completed.  And after 6 months since the show, I finally got around to doing just that.

At the Wood Show, I had bought the clock mechanism I needed (from Carrolls Woodcraft Supplies) with an extra-long shaft, so I could keep the burl as thick as possible.  So back in the shed, I did some final passes with a surfacing bit on the back of the burl to get it to the final thickness I needed.  I could have used a drum sander with twin passes per layer, but it would have taken a LONG time.  And the thicknesser would have had all sorts of problems on the gnurly grain, even if it could fit.  So the TWC is by far and away the best tool for the job.

Cutting out the square mortise in the back for the clock can be done a number of different ways, router, chisel,  oscillating cutter. But when there is a tool specifically designed for cutting a mortise, why not use that!

Testing the clock fit, and with some real minor tweaking, it was a very successful method.

And seeing the Domino was out of the box, it was also perfect for attaching the stand to the back of the burl. (An offcut taken from the burl early on)

It sticks out over the bottom, ready to be cut off, then sanded flush.

Next will be finishing the front face, attaching the clock and shifting it to its final location.

Update, for those who missed it, here are some photos of the burl near original size being flattened.

Starting the burl surfacing

Revealing a surface, 5mm at a time

When I first got the idea of the clock

Offcut that will become the clock stand

Surfacing a Burl

This video was shot on a low definition phone camera at the recent wood show, so sorry about the quality, but it is hopefully interesting just the same.  This is the burl that I am making the desk clock from.

Here it comes, and there it goes….again

And as quickly as it was arriving, the show is over for Melbourne for another year.  I really did mean to post updates each day, but what with the long days, and longer drives to and from the show I fell asleep each evening well before I had a chance to write anything, so this will have to be a big summary of all three days.

I heard comments about the show being bigger than previous, others that it was smaller.  My perception was that it was about the same…give or take.

Large Burls

Timber is always a big feature of the wood show, and burls outnumber slabs 2:1 it seems.  There were the usual ones demonstrating the burl as an exotic coffee table, needing nothing but a bit of finishing, and stands selling slab and burl after slab and burl.  Some amazing ones, some seemingly plainer, some surprisingly cheap, some um…. less so.

A couple in the foreground here are Camphor Laurel and I have the third piece sitting at home now – similar to the smaller one in the front (behind the burl).  No idea what I am going to do with it yet – either something will come to mind, or it won’t.  Either way, I might just polish it up and hang it on the shed wall!


Wish I had a bigger house for some of these – they’d make great tables!

More Slabs

A burl is like a tree cancer, sometimes significantly bigger than the trunk of the tree itself.

Bookmatched Burl

This burl is not only huge, but has also been bookmatched, producing an amazing result.

Tool Porn

Lots of tool porn at the shows – beautiful handtools, powerful electron murders, all good!

Stan and the School Girl

Stan ran his normal highly entertaining sessions, and on the Friday had a whole heap of older school kids come through.  This girl was one of a number of kids who had challenges set.  Her friends videoed, so it is probably on YouTube somewhere already!  She looks so incredibly nervous of that saw.

Lindsay and the Tormek Girl

The Tormek Girl is actually a bit unfair on Mel, who is one of the regional sales managers for Promac – the importers of Tormek, Flai, BMI etc.  She is learning quickly the techniques needed for the Tormek sharpener (when Lindsay wasn’t being distracting wanting a photo).


Carbitool were there once again, and I finally replaced my bottle of Top Saver (some would remember me using it to remove rust from some tools)  I also got some replacement tips for my surfacing cutter – they are only about $3.75 each tip, and each with 4 sides, so complaining the bit is blunt is a furfey.

Black Hearted Sassafras Guitar

One of the most stunning guitars I have seen – made from Black Hearted Sassafras by the look

Drowning Sorrows

A small goblet all in timber, and a bunch of profile planes nearby.


The Slabmaster worked much of the weekend – seen here taking a massive Depth of Cut (not that the machine seemed to mind)

American Indian Sand Art in a Dust Bag

The output from the Slabmaser caught in a dust bag looked rather cool, and resembled a landscape sand sculpture.  Trying to guess the different timbers represented would be an interesting exercise.


Turning Burls

One exercise I did decide to try, was seeing just how well the Torque Workcentre would handle preparing an actual burl, and these Back Butt burls were sitting near the workcentre. (After asking permission from the timber stand who was selling them), I fixed one to the surface of the TWC, and begun taking the outside off to produce the first, flat edge.  The piece I chose is the one in the top-right corner, and as you can just see, had a serious chainsaw scar across the surface.

Flattening the Burl Back

The first passes had to be pretty light, and slow – the bark isn’t held on tightly, and even so plenty of chips and waste were thrown all around.  The Walko clamps from Ideal Tools proved their weight in gold time, and time again, clamping down all sorts of odd shapes etc.

Deep Slicing

Each slice removed showed more and more what was deep inside the burl, and each pass revealed a surface with different character.

The Beginning of the Desktop Burl Clock

On flipping it over, I began work on the primary side, slowly removing the chainsaw scar.

The result is a large, freestanding burl, over 2″ thick which will become a clock for my desk at work.

Flattening the Support

To support the clock (or at least appear to do so), I’m using a bit of the offcut and again the TWC proved its’ valve, allowing it to be surfaced ready for attaching to the back of the clock.  Try putting a piece like this through a thicknesser, and watch the shrapnel fly!

So as quickly as it came, the show again is over for another year. Hope you got along if you could!

Completion of Clock Project

Things were able to progress faster than I was expecting – the Liquid Glass finish from www.photogloss.com.au was ready for the next stage by the following day (guess I got my mixture pretty right)

The last step was pretty straightforward – fix the clock mechanism to the burl (only requires a single central nut on the clock shaft), stick down the numbers, add the clock hands.

It was a while ago that I bought the mechanism, so the template for the position of the numbers was long gone (not that it is particularly hard – 30 degrees between each position), but I had an ace up my sleeve anyway – The Sewing Revolution 6-8 template.  It gave me exact positions for the numbers, and included exact position from the centre.

Number Location using Sewing Revolution

Number Location using Sewing Revolution

The Sewing Revolution seems a perfect tool for clockmaking – not something I had originally thought of, but made perfect sense when it did.

Completed Burl Clock

Completed Burl Clock

It almost became a shed clock, but foolishly I had it inside the house for the final finishing stages, and it got repurposed to replace the lounge clock.

Ok, not a bad thing, because I get to use it every day now.  Looks good – I’m happy!

Clock's Final Home

Clock's Final Home

A Burl Clock for the Shed

To start the process, I’ve been preparing the burl slab itself, and the first part of that was the recent YouTube Chronicles video, running the burl through the drum sander.

Next, I took the random orbital sander to the surface, starting with the unusually coarse (for me) 80 grit paper (the burl is very hard), and continued through the grits to 400. For previous clocks I would normally oil the surface (with a burnishing oil), but in this case I didn’t think it would be needed to get the grain to show up, and I didn’t know how the Liquid Glass would respond to it.

I’ve then flipped the board over to mill out a cavity for the clock mechanism.

Creating the Template

Creating the Template

I needed a template to route out the opening, so started down the tradition path – marking out the opening, drilling holes, cutting with a jigsaw, filing off the jigsaw marks, and all the while I was thinking to myself – there has to be a better way. Then I remembered the Sonicrafter that I previewed for the manufacturers – one of the high vibrating speed cutting tools (takes different blades etc, the well known version is the Fein). This one is Worx brand (the bigger brother of the Rockwell that has recently hit the Aussie market) It will be in the marketplace soon fwiw. I gave it a try, and it worked like a dream – the perfect tool for the job. In future it will be the first tool I turn to for jig creation! I made the template out of MDF, and before you ask why I didn’t just cut the actual opening this way: burl is really hard, and I think any of these cutters would probably struggle, and secondly, and more importantly, I needed the opening in the burl to be a partial depth only.

A big reason for me using this tool, is I can cut a square opening, with straight sides a lot easier than my older methods!

The opening in the template is larger than the actual clock mechanism, as it needs to take into account the distance between the outside of the template and the router bit. I set the router bit depth, taking into account the thickness of the burl, the length of shaft of the clock, and the various components that are attached.

Router Bit Depth Set

Router Bit Depth Set

I used the Wixey Digital Height Gauge to set the height accurately. So once I had the template, this was clamped to the burl, and the opening created with the router.

Mechanism Opening

Mechanism Cavity

A perfect opening

A perfect opening (centre still to be removed)

The above-image has the outside routed to full depth, but as you can see the middle area needs another pass.

Back of Burl Clock

Back of Burl Clock

So this is the back complete.  I tend to leave it raw so I can see the difference in the finished front and the raw back when I want to.  I know this is not best practice, if for no other reason than it can encourage warping when the stock is thin.  Still, it’s a choice I make (in some circumstances).

Oh, and for the doubters, yes I do use my JawHorse, all the time, and for almost every project!

Next post will be about finishing the front.

SSYTC007 Preparing a Burl

Taking a slice of burl, and getting the surface flat has traditionally meant I have broken out the belt sander which (unless it is a particular shade of green) is NOT a precision machine.  Some will use handtools – planes, scrapers etc to get the surface flat, but circumstances (and a complete lack of time) means I tend to select powered (electron murdering) machines, and the drum sander is particularly suited to the task.

Tricky Grains

One of the things that I always had in the back of my mind when deciding if I really wanted to buy a drum sander, was all the sanding I found myself doing with a belt sander when dealing with small burls (for clocks and the like).

More recently, I had forgotten that justification, so over the weekend I wanted to see just how well it would work.  They come pretty roughly sawn, and because of the grain chaos, as well as the hardness (often) of the timber, a thicknesser is just not an option (and also the size of the small burls are way too short to consider putting through a thicknesser.)

Anyway this is was a real quick attempt with the drum sander to see what would happen.

Took it nice and slow (1/128″ passes once full contact was being made with the workpiece).  I don’t have a “just sanded” picture- once I got a result, I gave it a very quick burst with a ROS, and a wipe with some wood oil – I was too keen to see the grain in all its glory.

Burl Before and After

Burl Before and After

Beauty huh!  These are quite small burls (the 5 was the pricetag when I bought that piece – $A5).  These are destined for some desktop application – such as a pen stand (probably), or a desktop clock.

Turning Pens

In the past I’ve only ever used slimline pen kits for turning pens (and pencils), but I’ve been planning on trying some different styles.  I bought some at the Melbourne Wood Show last year, and again at the open day over the weekend I picked up another couple to try.

Unusually for me, I didn’t wait very long before giving them a go.  I was going to make a video at the same time, but I’m not thrilled with the result so will reshoot it (and that is an excuse to get another) 😉  I did catch some photos, so can step through the process.

Pen Mandrel

Pen Mandrel

This is my current pen mandrel.  It does the job, and has a #2 morse taper to fit the lathe, but I’m now planning on replacing / upgrading it to one with a chuck that allows the length of shaft to be changed to suit the pen type.  This current mandrel requires me to use various spacers depending on the pen being made.

Pen Blanks

Pen Blanks

The lower pen blank is actually resin, and is the one used for the pen that you’ll see at the end of the article. The other blank I used was a piece of red malee burl from “Brad’s Burls”.

Pen Kit

Pen Kit

This is one of the new (for me) pen kits I was giving a try.  It is an “Elegant Beauty” with a Rhodium / Black Titanium finish. As you can see from the price, it certainly isn’t the cheapest type of pen kit out there!

Turning the blank

Turning the blank

After boring a hole and gluing in the brass core, the blank is turned on the lathe, supported by the pen mandrel.  A pen mill was used beforehand to sqaure up the ends, and get the length precise.

Rather than the original live centre on the lathe which was too sharp and had the wrong angle of cone, I found this one (at the right of the mandrel in the photo), which is still accurately centred, but is blunt with a rounded end and as such is perfect for fitting into the end of the pen mandrel, supporting it.

Once the blank is turned, sanded and finished, I assemble using the JawHorse to squeeze then components together.

Red Malee Burl Elegant Beauty Pen

Red Malee Burl Elegant Beauty Pen

The other that I made at the same time is a Sierra Black Titanium pen with a black and orange/yellow/gold resin.  I made it for my wife who is a huge (AFL) Tigers fan.

Sierra Black Titanium Black and Gold Pen

Sierra Black Titanium Black and Gold Pen

I will revisit the video on making a pen, although I will make very clear now – I am by no means a good turner – I manage to get things round, but my techniques are nothing to write home about! However, if it inspires you to try to make a pen of your own, then objective achieved! And you don’t actually need a lathe (although it makes life a damned sight easier).  Many a pen has been turned by mounting the pen mandrel in a drill press and turning the pen vertically – using sharpened screwdrivers as chisels. However, there are plenty of cheap lathes out there, so there really isn’t a good excuse not to try.

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