The art of woodturnin­g


The Shed - - Contents - By He­len Frances Pho­to­graphs: Tracey Grant

Har­ness­ing the beauty of wood keeps the body and brain busy for this Whanganui shed­die

Rimu wood shav­ings curl up from the lathe, cling to Alby Red­man’s chest, and pile into the crook of his arm as he turns the top half of a segmented hol­low form.

The Whanganui shed­die taught him­self wood turn­ing six years ago and went on to the metic­u­lous craft of segmented turn­ing.

The re­sults of his work are stun­ning, dis­played for sale in the Red Door Gallery

on Pu­tiki Drive in Whanganui.

“It’s all about shapes. I love the shapes of vases and hol­low forms, and the pat­terns,” he says.

Sell­ing his pieces is sec­ondary to the en­joy­ment that he gets from mak­ing the hol­low forms, bowls, and other ob­jects. But the money does help to fund ma­te­ri­als and equip­ment. He says that it took him a long time to ac­quire the equip­ment he needed. He bought his first lathe on

Trade Me for $50 six years ago.

“It was home-made, not very well bal­anced, and had a lot of vi­bra­tion, but it got me started,” he says. Now in his tidy, well-or­ga­nized shed he has all the tools and ma­chin­ery he needs: bench saw, thick­nesser, a wedgie sled that he made to cut all the seg­ments, a lathe and lathe chis­els, a belt sander, a drill press, a hand drill with a sand­ing at­tach­ment, and much more.

Work on a hol­low form can take 30 hours or more, four to five hours at a stretch, and that’s be­fore he gets to the turn­ing stage, which takes around an hour and a half. He works var­ied shifts as a po­lice con­sta­ble, so he uses any free time that he has dur­ing the day to do his woodturnin­g.

“I could quite eas­ily spend all my time in the shed but that wouldn’t be healthy,” he tells us. “You do go through days when you feel quite in­spired and have lots of ideas. Other days you don’t, so you leave it for a while. Then I’ll see some­thing and come up with an­other idea.” Left: Alby de­signs his own hol­low forms with different pat­terns, in­spired by new ideas while work­ing on each piece

On the shelf

In his shed Alby has a col­lec­tion of pieces, some of which he says are “failed, wait­ing to be re­deemed”.

“That is the first bowl I made from a piece of wood from a tree that fell over in a storm,” he says in­di­cat­ing a bowl all in one piece with curved feet com­ing out from un­der­neath. “It fell over a foot­path near where we lived and the coun­cil cut the piece of stump off over the foot­path and rolled it out of the way, so I went in there with my fa­ther-in-law and a wheel­bar­row and picked it up.

“The wood was wet and it warped as it dried, which gave an un­du­lat­ing ef­fect.”

On the floor nearby stands a stool or ta­ble that com­bines wood and a trans­par­ent blue resin, which he buys. Alby also makes wood and resin pen­dants.

An­other bowl has a nat­u­ral edge, and a plat­ter made from wood that he ac­quired through a wood­turner’s fam­ily sell­ing things off came up beau­ti­fully when he sanded it.

“It was just a rough piece,” Alby ex­plains. “The grain is like a map and the spalt­ing [fun­gus that gets into dead wood] made it quite hard to turn, as the spalt­ing area was less dense.

“Each piece of wood is so unique and in­di­vid­ual. The beauty of work­ing with a rough piece of wood is that there is al­ways the sur­prise el­e­ment. You never know ex­actly what you are go­ing to find in terms of pat­tern­ing, grain, tex­ture, colours. Some­times I’ll sand­blast in be­tween the rings in a piece of wood be­cause it’s softer and you can bring out the rip­pled grain tex­ture.”

A man-cave haven

“Go­ing into that shed — it’s sort of like all life’s prob­lems stop at the door. Be­cause it cap­ti­vates your mind, I guess, and you are al­ways push­ing the bound­aries to try to make things bet­ter,” says Alby.

“When you are in there you’re al­ways try­ing to fig­ure out, how am I go­ing to do this? It’s not an easy thing to do and takes your mind off other things. When I run into is­sues or prob­lems I can’t solve, when I’m at work I’m still think­ing about the form I’m work­ing on and within a

“It was home-made, not very well bal­anced, and had a lot of vi­bra­tion, but it got me started”

day or two the so­lu­tion will come. It is a relaxing thing to do in that sense. It keeps my brain busy and work­ing. And it keeps my mind off things I can’t do any­thing about. These are prob­lems I can do some­thing about.”

And there’s a feel­ing of sat­is­fac­tion when peo­ple ap­pre­ci­ate his work.

“But I still see all the flaws,” he says as he points out a slight gap at a join. “So I’m think­ing, what can I do next time to make it a bit bet­ter? Quite of­ten I wake up in the morn­ing and can’t wait to get out there. Or I wake up some­times at

4am and go and work in my shed for an hour or two be­fore I go to work.”


Alby has branched out into burn­ing de­signs on pieces with a py­ro­graphic tool. The pat­terns look re­mark­ably reg­u­lar, how­ever he says that that is

be­cause the pat­tern is so busy: “It takes your eye away from im­per­fec­tions; it’s not very ac­cu­rate at all. Your brain gets dis­tracted. Py­rog­ra­phy has made me look at wood with fresh eyes — it does be­come a blank can­vas — you can add to the nat­u­ral pat­tern­ing and create a land­scape.”

“Each piece of wood is so unique and in­di­vid­ual. The beauty of work­ing with a rough piece of wood is that there is al­ways the sur­prise el­e­ment”

1. De­sign

Alby does a lot of re­search, draw­ing in­spi­ra­tion from books and the in­ter­net. Then he de­signs his own ver­sion, build­ing in the pat­terns and shapes that he wants, such as di­a­monds and stars, and de­cid­ing on the over­all height and shape. “You have to draw it out; you can’t just work out of your head: draw, plan, and work out the pieces you have to cut,” he says. The de­sign process in­volves quite a bit of math­e­mat­ics: “From the top I work out how many different rings there will be.

Then I work out the cir­cum­fer­ence and how many pieces there will be in each ring. You make the rings different sizes and work out the cir­cum­fer­ence of each ring go­ing down the form.”

The num­ber of rings de­pends on the thick­ness of the tim­ber used.

2. Cal­cu­la­tions

While there are cal­cu­la­tors on­line, Alby makes just four cal­cu­la­tions, which he does man­u­ally, and says he finds this eas­ier to do. a. Sec­tion width = max­i­mum ra­dius – min­i­mum ra­dius

“At this step I add 5mm to the max­i­mum ra­dius and sub­tract 5mm from the min­i­mum ra­dius. This adds a cen­time­tre to the sec­tion width to give room for any er­rors. It is nearly im­pos­si­ble to get the rings cen­tred when you glue them to­gether, so it’s a good idea to add width here for er­ror mar­gin. For each ring you have to work out your max­i­mum ra­dius and your min­i­mum ra­dius. That tells you how thick each piece of wood has to be,” ex­plains Alby.

b. Cut an­gle = to­tal an­gle ÷ 2

The to­tal an­gle is 360 de­grees di­vided by the num­ber of seg­ments. As each seg­ment is cut with an equal an­gle on each side, the cut an­gle is the to­tal an­gle di­vided by two.

c. Sec­tion edge length = cir­cum­fer­ence ÷ num­ber of seg­ments

Sec­tion edge length = max­i­mum ra­dius (+ the 5mm for er­ror mar­gin) x 2 = max­i­mum di­am­e­ter. Di­am­e­ter x Pi (3.14) = cir­cum­fer­ence. Cir­cum­fer­ence di­vided by num­ber of seg­ments = sec­tion edge length.

d. Stock length = cir­cum­fer­ence = sec­tion edge length x num­ber of seg­ments

This tells how long a piece of wood needs to be to cut the re­quired num­ber of seg­ments from it — 18 here, for ex­am­ple.

Once he has cut the stock length he glues on any pieces of lam­i­nate that he needs for pat­terned ef­fects be­fore cut­ting the seg­ments. Different coloured sliv­ers of lam­i­nate create con­trast on the joins and give a brick­work ef­fect.

The rings are made of seg­ments and the an­gles of the seg­ments are all the same. “It de­pends how many you put in each ring,” he says. “If you have 18 seg­ments in a ring, which is 360 de­grees, then 360 di­vided by 18 = 20 de­grees. Then your cut is half of that an­gle.”

The rings are different sizes and will be stacked and glued on top of each other to give the shape.

3. Ma­te­ri­als se­lec­tion and prepa­ra­tion

Alby uses na­tive and other tim­ber, re­cy­cled from old furniture and cab­i­nets, build­ings, fallen trees (oak, rimu, to­tara, wal­nut) and tends to avoid pine, which is too soft. Once he has sourced the tim­ber he re­moves old nails and screws and rips the wood to size — rec­tan­gu­lar ba­tons about 20mm thick.

“I know that the tim­ber I have is 20mm thick, more or less, so I di­vide it into 20mm rings. Each ring would start off as a lit­tle square block; so again that one’s max­i­mum ra­dius is a lit­tle bit less than the next one’s max­i­mum ra­dius. I can work it out ex­actly but I al­ways add a lit­tle bit for er­ror, which gives me a bit more to play with — more room to shape it. I al­ways add on up to 1cm.”

He buys new lighter and dark­coloured ve­neer lam­i­nate that he lay­ers be­tween larger pieces to make con­trast­ing pat­terns.

The hol­low form in these pho­to­graphs is made from rimu re­cy­cled from a piece of furniture that some­one threw out. The thin wood is ve­neer lam­i­nate that he bought and had in stock. The lit­tle light pieces are pine that also came out of a piece of furniture that Alby dis­as­sem­bled. “Re­cy­cled tim­ber, even though most of it is rimu … has come from different pieces of tim­ber and varies in colour a bit. It gives ex­tra in­ter­est,” he says.

4. Mak­ing the seg­ments

Along each wood ba­ton the top­side is first marked. The seg­ments are then cut at the cor­rect an­gles on a wedgie sled, which is set to the cut an­gle. There is no tol­er­ance for in­ac­cu­ra­cies, which would in­evitably create gaps. “The method I use on the sled can­cels out any er­ror on the blade, so if the blade is not 100 per cent up­right, the way I am cut­ting it doesn’t mat­ter so much. There would be gaps oth­er­wise be­tween the seg­ments if there was any er­ror,” Alby says.

Next, any rough parts on the seg­ments are lightly sanded to en­able a smooth, tight join when glued to­gether.

turned around when shap­ing the form. On the foot piece, an ad­di­tional scrap piece of round wood, made to fit into the metal chuck, is glued so as to mount the work­piece on the lathe. This piece is cut off on the lathe once the whole hol­low form is fin­ished and sanded.

The solid top lip is the same as the foot, how­ever a hole is drilled in the mid­dle ready to be mounted on the lathe with a worm screw.

The neck of the hol­low form is ini­tially al­most solid, made from long seg­ments (in this case 100mm) glued to­gether. This is mounted on the lathe and the drill chuck at­tached on the tail­stock. Be­fore shap­ing the neck, a hole is drilled through it. It is per­fectly bal­anced.

8. Turn­ing the hol­low form

The top half is at­tached to the metal chuck and turned, us­ing a bowl gouge ini­tially to shape the in­te­rior.

The ex­te­rior is then turned, us­ing a gouge and scraper. The same is done with the base half.

The chis­els must be sharp­ened at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals, as the lathe spins very fast and chis­els get blunt quickly.

The di­am­e­ters of both halves are matched with calipers and any dif­fer­ences ad­justed by turn­ing on the lathe.

The inside is fin­ished by sand­ing and fin­ish­ing with oil or lac­quer.

The two halves are glued to­gether, with both sur­faces dressed with wood glue, be­fore be­ing left to dry. Once dry, the form is turned un­til a smooth, con­tin­u­ous curve is achieved.

9. Fin­ish­ing

Alby sands the hol­low form us­ing a drill with Vel­cro-backed sand­ing discs. The Vel­cro makes chang­ing be­tween different grades of sand­pa­per eas­ier. “When it is spin­ning it sands a lot faster and doesn’t make scratches on the wood. I use in­creas­ingly fine grades go­ing from 100 to 140, 180, 240, 320, 600, 800, and for the pol­ish­ing I’ll prob­a­bly use 1500 to 2000,” he says. Lastly, lac­quer or oil is ap­plied — Alby does not lac­quer all his pieces; he also uses an oil fin­ish. With lac­quer­ing, the hol­low form is sealed with a coat of sand­ing sealer, then sanded and re­sealed again two or three times to seal in any loose fi­bres. Fi­nally, it is sprayed with a clear lac­quer and left to dry for a week or two be­fore be­ing sanded again with a very fine sand­ing pa­per.

Segmented ves­sel of oak, wal­nut, and rimu

Alby makes the hol­low forms in two halves, turn­ing them as he goes. Here he shows two ex­am­ples of the vase fea­tured in the process pho­to­graphs on the next pages

Goug­ing out and shap­ing the in­te­rior of the top half of the vase on the lathe

Alby draws the hol­low form/vase and does cal­cu­la­tions to work out the dimensions and an­gles of the seg­ments, rings, and over­all shape

Above: Alby re­cy­cles tim­ber, in par­tic­u­lar New Zealand na­tive tim­bers. He re­moves old nails and screws and rips the wood into rec­tan­gu­lar ba­tons about 20mm thick

Be­low: Alby cuts the seg­ments on a wedgie sled, which is set to the cut an­gle. There is no tol­er­ance for in­ac­cu­ra­cies, which would create gaps

Turn­ing the in­te­rior of the hol­low form on the lathe to re­move ex­cess wood and make a smooth, shaped sur­face

Turn­ing the top half, ini­tially us­ing a gouge to cut off ex­tra wood

Turn­ing the top half us­ing a scraper to re­fine the sur­face

Sand­ing the hol­low-form top us­ing a drill with Vel­cro-backed sand­ing discs

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