Jim Fornari has over thirty years experience turning wood. He was kind enough to stop by the Guild this week and show us a trick or two that he’s picked up over the years. As you can see in the picture above, Jim’s pretty much done it all.
The tall vase was beautiful as well as technically impressive but in terms of sheer daring, I would have to give the prize to those oblong bowls that he carved out of branches. As a relatively inexperienced turner myself, the thought of taking a sharp object and sticking it into piece of wood that’s spinning like a propeller at a couple hundred RPM is still a little unnerving.
One aspect of turning that I had not considered until Jim pointed it out was the effect of grain orientation on the aging of a piece. Naturally, as you carve out the bowl shape from a block of wood, the moisture trapped inside will be released and the piece will shift. However, you can control (to a degree) how that shifting occurs according to how you align the grain when you put it on the lathe. For instance, the small-mouthed bowl above was originally spherical when it was carved twenty years ago. As it has aged, it has become slightly compressed and more ‘squat’ looking. A different arrangement of the grain would have likely yielded a different shape.
Of course, it’s better to show than to tell so after a brief intro to some of the principles of turning, Jim took us over to the lathe to watch him make some shavings. He started off with a block of Myrtle and began by shaping the outside, fairing up the curves little by little. With each pass, he would alter the angle of his approach with the gouge slightly, angling it upward a bit at a time. This allowed him to get more of a shearing action as he cut, yielding a finish that felt as if it had been sanded above 320.
As we all stood watching, it was impossible not to notice the array of tools Jim had accrued over the years. Some he had purchased but most he had made. You can probably guess which is which in the photos; but don’t be fooled. Though the rough handles might look slightly slap-dash, Jim walked us through some of his tools for carving out pieces like that tall vase on the table and they are nothing shy of laser-precise. Literally, he has a homemade laser-guided jig to tell him the thickness of the walls when he is carving into places he cannot see!
In just under an hour, Jim had turned that solid block of Myrtle into quite a handsome bowl. If it were for real, he said, he would probably take the time to fair out the sides more and thin the whole thing down a bit but his progress in such a short time was remarkable nonetheless. And he probably would have gotten much further if he hadn’t had a group of people stopping him every thirty seconds to ask him a question.
So thanks, Jim, for your time, your skill, and of course your patience! I’m gonna go make something round…