December 16, 2014
An Old-fashioned Wood Turner
After 20 years of owning my home on Lily Pond Lane in East Hampton, I felt it was time for some enhancements, including a renovation of the garden and a new color theme for the exterior. For the garden, we planted new trees and shrubs, and added new walkways and terraces. Also among the items we replaced were the 8-inch wooden ornamental balls that sit atop my lattice trellises. Since they were a custom size, we went to our friends at Craftparts.com, a wood parts company based in Fort Worth, Texas. The company was founded by Larry Smith in 1976, and his son Clay owns the business today. We asked Clay if he would show us the wood turning process, which is what you will see in today's blog. Craftparts.com made fifteen beautiful, impeccable balls for us. We are delighted with the finished product!
1 It all begins with untreated lumber - the only process the boards on the right have been through is kiln drying, in which the wood gets dried in an extremely hot warehouse to slowly extract moisture and make it more stable. Poplar is a practical choice for outdoor use because it's inexpensive, and when sealed properly it holds up in any kind of weather. On the left are some table legs made of alder.
2 In the glue room, both sides of the boards are painted with glue - in this case Titebond waterproof glue. With the clamps on the rear wall, the boards are tightly compressed so that all the extra glue gets squeezed out. These clamps are the “industrial bar” type that you twist for torque, rather than the smaller spring, or bar clamp, that you would find at a local retailer.
3 Now you can see the clamps coming together, including some descending from the ceiling. The goal is to apply as much evenly-distributed pressure as possible. It's a bit hard to see, but the glue is already starting to drip out the sides. On the right is a project for another client. For a sense of scale, that urn-shaped object is nearly four and a half feet tall.
4 Next, to make the turning process smoother, the edges of the boards are sliced off to create an octagonal shape.
5 On the left you can see a fully octagonal column, and on the right some lumber that has come straight from the glue press. Now you can clearly see the glue drippings.
6 The lathe works somewhat like an old-fashioned apple peeler. It turns the wood at about 1,000 rpm. At the bottom left you can see a razor blade. As the wood turns, the razor slices off the excess wood to create the primary ball shape. The process creates clouds of dust - on the far left are suction hoses that lead to the vacuum system.
7 Here's what they look like when they come off the lathe. You can see they still retain the round nubs - a remnant of the handles on either side where the ball was attached to the lathe. The nubs are the equivalent of the umbilicus of a human being!
8 With a band saw, most of the umbilical cord gets sliced off.
9 An orbital table sander removes what's left of the nubs.
10 The final touch - with a hand sander, removing anything that's not perfectly smooth and spherical.
11 Before and after. On the left a ball with a nub, and on the right just a ghostly remainder. Each finished ball weighs about six and a half pounds.
12 Here you can see a newly turned and painted ball set in place in my East Hampton garden.
13 Architectural trellises create distinct spaces and give structure to a garden.
14 And I love the finished look the balls give to my trellises.
15 Another view - the golden leaves of the ginkgo tree look so beautiful set against the open trelliswork.
16 This is the walkway to the rear terrace. You can see the new plantings of Japanese maples.
17 Another view of the new plantings.
18 And the splendid ginkgo tree sheltering a maple.
19 With this photo and the one that follows, you can compare the trellis in the old color . . .
20 . . . with the new. While I loved the old color, I find the new more contemporary. And every once in a while, it's important to make a change!