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Hidden Beauty of Reclaimed Wood

It was just a bit over a year ago that I added some pieces of recycled/reclaimed Florida Live Oak and Eucalyptus to my wood selection. A lot has happened in that year. From the Oak, I turned some small live edge bowls. With the Eucalyptus, I turned bowls and bowls that are also tea light holders, as well as a few other items like shaving kits and pens. What I thought was just a passing fancy, using what would have been discarded wood, has now turned into a passion.

Reclaimed Eucalyptus wood bowl
Eucalyptus Bowl with tea light candle holder in the center.
Reclaimed Florida Live Oak Natural Edge Bowl
Live edge Florida Live Oak Bowl (Bark retained on the wood)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since those early days, I have expanded my search for reclaimed and recycled wood to work with. I call it Urban Harvesting. Wood that is otherwise headed for the dump or even the burn pile is what I seek out. Even wood that has outlived its purpose in one form or another, I look for and seek ways to transform it on my lathe. Random logs and planks that to most would seem unsightly and even ugly are what I find. The only drawback is that my storage space is limited.

 

Currently around my work area I have a number of different species: Florida Red Maple, Sycamore, Slash Pine, Australian Pine, Florida Live Oak, and Eucalyptus. I even have some Northern Birch from my home state of (upstate) New York that had fallen during the winter. And some of my new wood was gathered from Hurricane Irma this past September.

Recalimed wood wating to be used
Various woods in my shop

Inside each piece of wood is a secret waiting to be revealed. It is hidden away beneath the bark just waiting to be exposed.

What makes this wood even more spectacular is that it isn’t perfect. The hidden beauty that lies beneath has flaws and imperfections which add to the character of the finished piece. Yes I could go to a local lumber yard and buy a perfectly milled piece of wood. And it, too, has beauty in it; from the grain, the color, and the texture of the wood. Just like life isn’t always perfect, neither is this wood. From discolorations, inclusions, crotch wood where several branches met in the trunk, to spalting where bacteria in the wood left unusual patterns and grain in the wood.

All this forms to tell the story of years where the rain fell in plenty. It speaks of years when there was little to no rainfall. Winds that blew and did its best to bend branches as the tree battled the elements. It speaks of lightning, heat, freezing temperatures, and insects and disease.

Reclaimed bowl blanks
Portions of the logs cut and ready for the lathe.

Once I put the wood on my lathe and begin turning it, slowly but surely removing the rough exterior, what lies beneath is exposed to the light of day. All the hidden beauty that lies beneath is brought out. As I work with my chisels and the shavings fly and the wood transforms like a butterfly that was once a caterpillar.
There are times I have a clear vision of what I want the wood to be when I am done. Other times the wood seems to have its own idea of how it wants to look.

Regardless of that, in the end what is born of it, is something unique.

I have found a passion in this wood that others would discard. My limitations are only bound at this point to the amount of wood I can store at a time and the size of the wood I can turn on my midi lathe.

 

In these series of pictures you can see the evolution from a rough log and how a portion of the wood becomes two bowls.
Click on the first image to view a full sized gallery.

 

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Turning on a Dime

So here I was bitten by the wood turning bug but I was missing something very important, the tools to turn with. First I turned to Craigs List to see if I could find a lathe there. Oh there were plenty of lathe’s out there for sale to be sure, but they were either really old and weary looking or fairly new and still pretty pricey for my budget. My thought was that as much as I had fallen in love with the Nova Comet it’s price was a bit out of my reach at the time and did I really want to spend that much money upfront for something that in the long run I may find I don’t like or take to as much as I thought I would.

From there I began looking at other options from local tool shops to countless searches online. For the most part all the price points for lathes are pretty much in the same category. Starting at $300.00 and going up from there with all the bells and whistles that you could think of.

After a number of searches and reading tons of reviews I came across a 10 x 18 mini lathe at Harbor Freight. The cost was minimal and I admit to being one who lives by the motto of you get what you pay for as the price was considerably less expensive then most other lathes in this size. This had me looking into it even more.

I began searching and reading reviews on the lathe and was pleasantly surprised to find that the reviews for the Central Machinery 10 x 18 min lathe were very favorable. The construction was solid, the motor was powerful, the lather has five speeds: 750, 1100, 1600, 2200, and 3200 RPM’s, and the headstock spindle is a standard size of 1″ x 8tpi which make sit nice for adding a chuck down the road. The headstock and tailstock are a MT2 taper which again is standard for most parts.

The price of the lathe is $219.99 but being a patient person paid off for me as I waited for them to put it on sale and then with a 20% off coupon the cost pre-tax was $169.00. Now I will say that with the savings I purchased a two year replacement plan which if I remember correctly was an additional $20.00 just to be on the safe side.

Out of the box the lathe was ready to go with minimal setup, it comes with Allen keys for adjusting the belt. Changing the speeds on the lathe is fairly simple, using one of the supplied Allen keys you loosen the motor, move the belt onto the proper pulleys, tighten it back down and you’re ready to go. After one and a half years of turning I did have to replace the belt which did take some figuring out but in the end not to bad. (Will write a post on changing the belt in the future)

The one thing I did notice that when turning a project the chisels did tend to hang up on the tool rest a bit. That was fixed easily enough by sanding off the paint on it and then applying some wax to the top of the tool rest which then allowed the chisels to just slide across it.

In the year and a half that I have been using the lathe it has performed quite well for me and I’ve been extremely happy with it. I’ve now turned everything from pens, shaving brushes, bottle stoppers, and some small bowls with it. A couple of different chucks have been purchased along with a drill chuck and pen drilling chuck. A few people have mentioned that the motor does tend to run a bit warm and it does but that has not seemed to make any difference in how it performs.

All in all I have been very happy with this lathe and would not hesitate to recommend it as good way to get into turning on a dime.

 

imag0652

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The Beginning

It started one day with a passing comment while driving past a local wood shop: “I’ve always enjoyed wood working, just never had the opportunity to do much with it.”

A couple of months later I was given a gift card to a local Woodcraft store as a gift.

Not sure what to do with it I set it aside until I had some time on my hands and looked up their website. I was in awe of the tools, wood, and accessories but at that time I lived in an apartment and setting up any kind of shop was nothing but a dream.

As I poured over their website I saw they offered different woodworking classes. bowl making, band saw box making, salt and pepper mills, and pens.

Pens that caught my eye.

Looking at the different times they offered the class for pen making I made up my mind and signed up for a class.

A month and a half later I showed up to learn how to make a pen. The instructor asked me if I had any experience using a wood lathe, and I told him it had been many years; since high school wood shop.

He had me look over the display and pick out a pen and wood. After deciding on a pen style, I looked over the wood blanks. There were so many to choose from. How could I ever decide? Finally one caught my eye – a blank of Palm Red. I plucked it off the shelf and headed off to the classroom.

As I made the pen I lost track of time. Everything else around me faded and all that existed was that room, the lathe and the tools.

When class was over I had a fully functional pen that I had made.

I was hooked!

It was many months before I was able to do anything with what I had learned. The lease was coming up on the apartment and I needed to make a decision of what to do, resign the lease or look for something else.

The increase in the rent made my decision easy, and I started looking for a home to buy. I made sure the Realtor understood that a garage was a must for me.

Find a place we did and after doing some renovating and getting moved in I began putting together a shop, first came the midi-lathe, then bit by bit other tools, both hand and power.

That was just about two years ago now and what fun it has been. I learned so much along the way and am still learning but most of all having a great time doing it.

Here it is, the pen that tarted it all.
Here it is, the pen that started it all.