Tag Archives: woodturning

It feels like progress

It may not look like much, but I have made some progress on my White Wolf Fian challenge. Observe, the pole lathe bed in its natural habitat…


Alright, for now it looks like a tree trunk with a groove knocked out of it. I am not ashamed to admit that it took a lot for me to cut into the log. Here I had a seemingly perfect ash log that split so beautifully; I really didn’t want to screw it up! So, I did what any resourceful Norseman would do when faced with unease and anxiety. I went to the internet.

You see, the internet is full of wonderful and helpful people. People that have built spring pole lathes before. I decided to take advantage of their wisdom and experience. It is from these wonderful folks that I learned that 3″ is a pretty good width to make the groove in my lathe bed wannabe. The groove is for the poppets to sit in (the poppets will hold the work piece, allowing it to be, well, worked). The poppets need to be able to move along the bed to accommodate different sized work. 3″ is a good width because it will allow the poppets to be plenty thick and strong. It will also leave me with a substantial surface for the bearing surface of the poppets to register solidly.

“But Einar, how did you actually create the groove?”, ask the fans, hanging on my every word.


I used a chalk line to “draw” parallel lines, 3″ apart done the length of the bed. The brace bit you see in the above picture allowed me to drill holes through the bed that would establish the end points of the groove on either end of the bed. Next, I cut along the grooves outline with a tool that the Norse probably wished they had (chainsaw). I know that sounds easy enough but a chainsaw is a tricky thing to use to cut to an exact line. Basically, I started at the drilled out hole at one end and finished at the other end. Repeat on the other side of the groove if you are following the home version.

wpid-20141112_141758.jpgHere you can see the two holes at one end of the groove and the cuts I made down the length. With those steps done, I was left to knocking out the wood that remained between the holes (and cuts) on either end. This task fell to tools that the Norse were very familiar with, a mallet and chisel. I had to work from both sides of the log because it is still close to 7″ thick (including the bark). In this picture, I am working the underside.

The process is fairly simple: Drive the chisel straight down along the line marking the end of the groove. Cut and lever away the wood by then coming at that chiseled line from the waste side (what will be the groove). Continue these steps until you break (on) through to the other side (any Doors fans among my readership?). Repeat at the other end.


A close up of the completed work. Its not the neatest bit of woodwork ever completed but it will serve. The important thing for me was to begin the process and get the groove cut before the cold weather hits. I really don’t want to be working on this in sub zero temperatures and with snow up to my knees. I am hoping that by getting the groove cut and the waste wood removed, the log will be under less tension as it seasons and dries a bit over the winter. This should help minimize any cracking that normally accompanies drying wood. To further help with that, I coated the ends of the log and the ends of the groove with a commercial end sealer. This product (called Anchorseal) helps slow down the loss of moisture from the end grain, which eases the tension the wood will experience. I also blocked up the ends of the log to protect them from the wind over winter. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I don’t have a bunch of firewood by the time spring comes around.

The next step with be rough cutting the poppets from the other half of the log I split. There is not a tremendous rush on that as much of the work will be done inside the toasty confines of the shop. I also need to get moving on building my forge because I need that in order to make the tools to use with the lathe. Again, work that can happen indoors. As near as I can figure, I am still very much on track to present the finished lathe and some bowls produced on it this coming summer at the War of the Trillium.

Got questions or suggestions? Leave a comment and hit me with ’em.

Thanks for stopping by.


White Wolf Fian progress report. Aka, At Least I Don’t Have to Trash My Project

Shortly after I posted about my White Wolf Fian challenge I ran into some good fortune. An arborist friend of mine called me to ask if I wanted any white ash as he was clearing a building lot for a client. “Cool!”, I thought. “I’ll be able to get some timber from which to make my spring pole lathe!” When I got to the job site, there were over a dozen ash trees in various stages of being felled, all between 8″ and 14″ in diameter. Perfect. I picked out a couple that would be suitable and my friend said he would put them aside for me. I was to pick them up the next day and because he was looking at least an extra day on the site, this was no problem…except local firewood-urchins visited the site during the night and stripped the site bare. They only left some branch wood.


By now, 3 months has passed since my challenge at Pennsic. 9 months still to go including an Ealdormerian winter when it is not pleasant to work outside. Thrown in something of a minor mental breakdown (ok, two of them) and what have I accomplished? Zip… Zilch… Nadda…



And then yesterday, a ray of hope. I chanced upon one of the many local tree companies who are always busy at this time of year and struck up a conversation with them. As it turns out, they were finishing up for the day but would return the next day to drop the last tree they had been contracted to do…a tall, straight ash tree, 16″ across at the butt and clear of any branches for the first 40 feet of the trunk.wpid-20141104_100749.jpgPerfect.

I arranged to meet them the next morning at the site and because the tree was still standing, I had no fear of anyone taking the timber for firewood.

Here is the log, measuring 13″ across and 7 feet long.wpid-20141104_111220.jpg

The tree folks warned me that this thing was heavy. Really. Heavy. I knew it would be but I had a plan to make it more manageable. You see, I need half of this log in order to make the bed of the lathe. I could see no reason to attempt muscling it around in any form bigger than one half. So, just as would have been done 1000 years ago, I split it in half down its length using a series of wedges and a liberal application of brute force (a sledge hammer).

In the past I have used wedges to split some very large diameter logs into more manageable pieces with good success. However, I had never attempted to split one that was near 7 feet long. I had also never been overly concerned about how straight my work was because I was just going to chainsaw up the pieces to become bowl blanks. For this lathe bed, I wanted to get it pretty straight so I would have less work making the top surface flat and so I didn’t waste any of the wood (This stuff doesn’t grow on trees you know. Wait…). 5 minutes later…..



Ummm, I cannot see how this could have possibly worked out any better. The split followed the centre of the log perfectly. Both halves  are straight and the split surfaces are dead flat. To say I was pleased would be a great understatement.

The two halves are no safely stored under cover at my Shrub’s place. I’ll head back there this weekend to get some work done. As I said, one half will form the lathe bed with a chunk left over for one of the poppets. The other will supply the other poppet and, if I split it well, the 4 legs. My goal for the weekend will be to accurately size the bed and cut the groove for the poppets (details of what this all means will follow, for those that do not speak pole lathe).

The other nice thing to happen in the past week was the arrival of ¬†Carole A. Morris’s book, “Wood and woodworking in Anglo-Scandinavian and medieval York”. I received this book as part of a trade with Lord Evan Quicktongue. It is one of the most significant texts dealing with Viking-Age woodworking, especially woodturning. I consider it a essential source for research of my Fian challenge.wpid-20141028_165625.jpg

Until next time, thanks for stopping by