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John Jordan Demonstrates for CMW – March 19, 2022

John comes to us from Nashville Tennessee.  He has been a wood turner for over 30 years and is well known for his carved hollow forms. 

He began by giving us some general tips on hollowing on the lathe. 

  • He treats his tool rest with WD40 and sandpaper to assist your tool to move more easily when hollowing.  In addition, he recommended spraying WD40 on the lathe bed and on the chuck treads. 
  • Use a slow to medium speed on your lathe when hollowing (less than 1000RPN).  This provides more power and is safer. 
  • Green wood is easier to turn with less dust.  In addition, it is more available and inexpensive.
  • Plan your shape before starting.  If there is a nice sapwood area, this makes for an interesting rim around the top of your hollow form. You can also draw out feet and/or handles if desired.
  • Center your piece above the pith to ensure more even warping during the drying process.  If you put it through the pith, the piece will dry to a “football” shape where the sides are wider. 
  • Plan any carving to minimize movement.

Shaping the outside of the blank:

  • Place you wood between centers.  This allows you to adjust the blank on either ends to account for grain patterns and shape. Put the bottom end at the tail stock. If the blank is 12-14 inches, John uses a face plate to reduce the length of the piece and to reduce any chatter while hollowing.  
  • Begin turning at the corners. John uses a ½” bowl gouge with a 55 degree bevel.  He suggests turning left-handed so that the chips go to the left and out of your face. 
  • You will turn the outside shape first toward the bottom.  Create a tenon and add a “step” around the tenon to provide both the shoulder for the chuck to rest against and big enough to allow you the continue curving the shape into the tenon as you are making your final cuts after hollowing.
  • If you are using a face plate, make an additional edge on the tenon to accommodate the central scew. 
  • Move to the top side of the blank and continue creating your desired shape.  John suggests a round shape on the lip of the hollow form. 
  • Once the shape is as desired, go back and square up the tenon.  Make sure the shoulder is flat or slightly concaved.  This will provide the most secure fit in the chuck.
  • Reverse the blank in the chuck.  Make any final cuts on the outside – moving from top toward the middle and from the bottom up.  Use a shear cut to smooth the surface as much as possible.
  • Round up the lip on the and do any texturing you would like.

Hollowing:

  • To begin, make a small dimple with a detail/spindle gouge. 
  • Shape the inside edge of the rim – you want a clean inside edge on the lip.
  • Drill a hole the depth of the bowl using a 3/8th inch electricians drill (long one).
  • Use paraffin on the tool rest and shaft of the cutters for smoother cutting.
  • Begin hollowing using a 3/16th inch square cutter which has been cut back.  You will go straight in as far as you can. If you are cutting end grain, move from center toward the edge.  If you are cutting side grain, you start at the edge and move toward the center. 
  • Blow out the chips as you go.  Green wood chips may need to be pulled out using a bent piece of wire.
  • Once you have hollowed out what you can using a straight cutter, switch to a hook tool.  The tip should be on the center line with the tool “opened up”.  The hook tool will allow you to go toward the side of the bowl.  You will switch back and forth between the straight and hook tools as you proceed down the form- i.e., advance, cut to the left, advance, cut to the left, etc.
  • Move down slowly and check for thicker areas as you go down
  • You will first establish an even thickness of the vessel about ½” thick following the outside shape of you bowl.  Once you have even thickness throughout the vessel you will then come back and make your final cuts.
  • To make the cuts for the final thickness, start at the top and push to the edge to the final thickness in small increments.  These steps will give you a shoulder to “feel” as you gradually move down the vessel.  Thus, you make the first cut to final thickness, leaving a “shoulder”, then move in until your feel the shoulder. Move out slightly, and down, and move in again toward the edge, making another shoulder.  This way you will gradually work down the vessel to the final thickness. This method produces a smoother, even inside wall thickness down the whole vessel.
  • The final thickness you will want is between ¼-5/16th inch if you are not carving your vessel, or between 3/8-1/2 “ if you will be carving. 
  • Once you have your final thickness down the vessel, you can make a finishing cut the whole edge of the vessel using a newly sharpened tool. John uses a diamond card or ceramic stone to raise the bur- being careful not to round the edges of your tool.

Removing the Tenon

  • Reverse chuck the vessel using either a rubber chucky, or a wood block with a funnel shape that fits into the opening of your vessel.  A piece of leather can be used to pad the wooden piece on the reverse chuck.
  •   Mark the vessel for carving if desired.
  • Continue shaping the bottom to the diameter of the foot.  Slightly concave the base.   Be careful not to change the shape of the hollowed part of the vessel. 

Embellishment

  • Wire brushing
    • Use a steel wire brush against the spinning piece while it’s in the chuck.
    • Only use a steel wire brush once since the wires will bend in the process.
    • Alternatively, use the wire brush in a Jacobs Chuck.
  • Carving
    • Draw lines by eye – dividing in 4ths then eights, or forth’s then thirds = 12 divisions
    • For spirals, draw free hand or mark a grid and draw a regular pattern – ex: 2 over, 1 down.
    • Heavy carving must be done after the wood has dried – i.e. Pumpkin shapes
    • Surface carving can be done on wet wood
    • John suggests using alumina cutters 5/8” from Woodcarvers supplies for cylindrical cuts.  He does not use balls or cones.  “V”cut may also be used
    • John uses Rasp files: Dragon rasp  (StewMac) in coarse and fine; or French rasp – favorite sizes are 12 and 14 (these are hand make and expensive – $130-150, but come in many sizes).
    • You can also use a reciprocating carver to pebble the surface.  He suggests a round top (1/8th in).  Move it around loosely

Drying

John puts his pieces in a closed cabinet to minimize air flow for a few weeks to dry.  He does not recommend putting the pieces in dry shavings

Resources:

Contact John at john@johnjordanwoodturning.com or on Instagram

There are several articles on his website as well as tools that he makes and uses.