Temple Blackwood

May 092024

With an historic preservation grant and vision for a return to the past elegance, the new owners of the Pentagöet Inn in Castine, Maine asked me to create and turn the four new newel posts they needed for the renovated main entrance from the street.

Their contractors did an impressive job, and the newel posts were smoothly incorporated.

The work progressed smoothly until they began to tie the new balustrade to the existing 8′ porch post which they discovered was totally rotten …

… base … middle section … and top.

Knowing they were feeling the pressure of time and weather (we had enjoyed an unusual string of December/January warm and dry days), I was able to acquire the 8′ long 2″X6″ Alaskan Yellow Cedar boards 

and glue them up (actual measure of 5 ½” X 6 ¼” in preparation for sawing to rough size on the bandsaw

to then joint two adjacent sides before surface planing to the final dimension of 4 ¾” X 4 ¾” that matches the existing posts and the newel posts.

Once the blank is mounted on the lathe (note an 8′ long laminated ~5X5 blank does not require a mid-blank steady rest.  The lathe runs well at about 400 – 500 RPM with no whip) 

and the 24″ tool rest is in place; the first cuts are to measure carefully for the square pommel-to-round transition points and cut them in using the long point of the skew. The transition at bottom and top are straight angled cuts; the transitions in the middle section are lamb’s tongue which is made using a middle size Sorby 12mm gouge.  When making restoration copies, the small details matter enormously.  While most people will not notice directly, the dissimilarity will register on at least an unconscious level.

The next step is to round and taper the full column length. I find that it helps me to have the source profile post in my sightline to help me keep my attention focused and the details registered.  In this case, I carefully placed the rotten post sections on a long board just on the far side of the new blank.

I worked with story-sticks to identify the various specific profile points of taper, bead, cove, (shoulder).

As with most turning, the best practice is to work on the larger diameters on the right (by the tailstock) before moving left (toward the headstock and power source).

Once the turning is completed, applying the primer coat is most efficiently done while the post is still between centers on the lathe.  I typically also prime the ends of outdoor posts with either primer or West System epoxy to help preserve the life of the post.

Delivering the post a week after they discovered they needed it was particularly satisfying, and the contractors put it in place that day, one day before we had an onset of cold and snow.

Doing a job like this is particularly rewarding as well as great publicity being so prominently a display of the work being done so visibly in the middle of our town. I look forward to the owner’s next phase in a year, when we will continue the restoration to the lower and upper balustrade, posts, and rails up Main Street to the right.

“Turning the Corner,” focuses on using woodturning on the lathe as a way of enhancing cabinetry, furniture designs, gallery products, and architectural installations.  We hope to inspire woodworkers to extend their skills into basic, novice, and advanced woodturning while discovering for themselves this particularly sensual and spiritually rewarding dimension of working with wood. Located in Castine, Maine, Highlands Woodturning gallery and shop offers woodturning classes and shop time, a gallery of woodturned art, custom woodturning for repairs, renovations, and architectural installations. You can email Temple at temple@highlandswoodturning.com. Take a look at Temple’s Website at http://www.highlandswoodturning.com/

May 082024

Fresh from New York City, the new, young owners of the Pentagöet Inn in Castine, Maine arrived two summers ago to embrace the long history of the Town and especially their beautiful building in a way that is both impressive and sustainable.  Their vision and energy as owner/operators/hosts of this magnificent old-time, 130 year old wooden building, radiates an air of excitement, success, and intrinsic reward, and they have been honored properly by Hospitality Maine for their work..  At each phase of creative renovation effort, the interior and exterior are being transformed to preserve the history while thoughtfully and confidently moving into the next century.

One evening last summer while I dined there with family, I was invited to a sidebar discussion with the owners, introduced to their plan to restore the original but missing main entrance staircase funded by a significant grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. They asked if I would consider turning the four new newel posts they needed for the renovation later in the fall after they had received the necessary permits.  In early December, they received them, and they asked me to return for further discussion and a more specific look at what they wanted to accomplish. Their contractor had already begun replacing the rotted floor joists and flooring for the porch, and they hoped he could complete the new staircase by Christmas, the Maine weather having been unexpectedly cooperative.

The 38″ lower section of one of the original 8′ porch posts was the profile they wanted, and they had an architect’s drawing of what they would need for the new 42″ balustrade. They felt the drawing was not as close to the profile they wanted but would more closely represent what is required by the much newer codes.  While I was there, I pointed out to them the significant “repairs” to the lower section of porch post that were an attempt to disguise considerable rot with caulk and paint (not a good choice for a structural element).  I carefully measured the lower post and created a story-stick of what I thought the original profile would be working from that and the adjacent posts.   

The owners were fairly sure their architect had surveyed the porch and that while I needed to adapt the real profile (4 ¾” X 4 ¾”) to the taller design required to meet for code, the existing posts and rails would not be changed.  The architectural drawing called for a 5″ X 5″ blank which they did not want me to use, preferring to stick to the original 4 ¾” square profile.  All they needed from me was to create the four new newel posts for the new staircase balustrade that could be worked in smoothly with the existing posts and rails that framed the porch.

We discussed materials and pricing and together made the decision to have me glue up Alaskan Yellow Cedar (AYC) to make the turning blanks, the best readily-available, cost-effective choice for a long life outdoors.  I also understood initially that the newel posts should be two parts pinned through the new horizontal railing. 

AYC is readily available to us, is less expensive than Great Western Red Cedar, takes the water-resistant Titebond III glue well, and at 2″ X 6″ creates a blank (1 5/8″ X 5 ½”) that can be bandsawn, edge jointed, and surface planed to the desired 4 ¾” square blanks.

Working from both my story-stick of the lower post section as well as the architect’s drawing, I roughed the first blank, smoothed it, marked it, and finished the profile elements for the lower section using the Sorby continental 30mm roughing gouge, 32mm skew chisel, 10mm beading & parting tool.

With the first one complete, I reproduced it on the additional three lower blanks.

After I had cut and glued the eight blanks, I learned from the staircase contractor that they did not plan to pin through the horizontal rails after all.  This meant to me that I simply needed to adjust the length of the upper section and pin the two sections in the shop before delivering. Working with the additional blanks for the top section now adjusted to meet the overall height requirement, I turned the profile that I understood would be mounted above the horizonal rails and pinned through.

The most efficient way to get the new posts square and true was to glue the top and bottoms together as a unit at the bench using bench dogs and the end vice.

Fortunately, it all worked out well.  As is my custom, I primed the finished newel posts before delivering them on schedule – and understanding that with the cold weather they might not be painted very soon.

The contractors soon had them in place at the four corners of the emerging staircase, and very shortly thereafter they completed the remaining work on that portion of the job.

Unfortunately, when they began to tie the new staircase to the existing porch railing, they discovered that the first 8′ post had rotted beyond repair.  The caulk and paint “repairs””had masked an even larger problem that was beyond the scope of me replacing just the bottom section.  The rot went well up into the upper portion of the post.

Undeterred, the new owners asked me to turn a replacement post as soon as I could and to keep my story-stick handy for that anticipating their next restoration project on the other side of the new staircase next year.

“Turning the Corner,” focuses on using woodturning on the lathe as a way of enhancing cabinetry, furniture designs, gallery products, and architectural installations.  We hope to inspire woodworkers to extend their skills into basic, novice, and advanced woodturning while discovering for themselves this particularly sensual and spiritually rewarding dimension of working with wood. Located in Castine, Maine, Highlands Woodturning gallery and shop offers woodturning classes and shop time, a gallery of woodturned art, custom woodturning for repairs, renovations, and architectural installations. You can email Temple at temple@highlandswoodturning.com. Take a look at Temple’s Website at http://www.highlandswoodturning.com/

May 112023

In the lull between the frenzy of December/January holidays and the activities of the anticipated winter, the shop is relatively quiet. The backlog of architectural copy/multiple orders have all been completed and shipped; I have almost caught up with the several Christmas gift certificate lessons of 2022; and my grandson helped me give the shop its annual deep cleaning (not that that will last very long).  As a result and benefitting from the unusually mild winter thus far, I have some rare discretionary time to work on projects of my own while I build inventory for the upcoming summer season.  (In reality, Downeast/mid-coast Maine is known for only having two seasons – “off-season” of 10 months and “summer” of two months (July and August) when our population and activities swell geometrically.) 

This year, I decided to hone my basic skills by turning a series of calabash bowls waiting within several elm logs and four beautiful black ash tree logs dropped off by a friend whose conscience would not allow him to split them for firewood.  To vary my occupation, I also planned to turn a number of natural-edge hearts (Valentine’s Day is coming) by tackling a sizable pile of likely crotch blanks I had accumulated for “later.”  Now has happily become “later,” and with the calendar and a recent visit to the local pharmacy in mind, the avalanche of Valentine’s Day gifting is nearly upon us.

The popular calabash bowl distinguishes itself from a standard bowl by its smoothly rounded bottom.  The starting blank should be green (pictured in elm), should be turned to a smooth finish using only the bowl gouge (not sanded), and the sustained thickness of the thin wall should extend all the way around the rounded bottom.  The interior of the bowl should be a matched copy of the outside profile.

A more typical bowl (pictured in ash) has a flat bottom to keep it from rocking on the tabletop and might even include a foot or other profile decoration. While the interior of the bowl will be gently rounded, there is usually a thickened section of the wall where the inner side curves more severely to the inside bottom and the exterior profile of that wall extends to the flattened table-top outside bottom surface frequently with a reverse curve.

The beauty of the calabash bowls is that it is truly a “once-turned” bowl from green. As the finished wood dries, the bowl warps to an irregular shape giving each its own unique profile. Each bowl is characterized by its natural color, grain, figure, as well as its warped profile.

The skill challenge for turning calabash bowls lies in first establishing a pleasingly rounded curve from the sides through the bottom on the outside that in the second step when the blank is reversed for hollowing is accurately copied through the bottom on the inside. When the bowl is reversed to turn away the tenon required by the chuck in the final step of the process, the turner is challenged to accurately predict (imagine) where that inside curve runs as the bowl gouge carves away the tenon to complete the rounded bottom.

Like so many woodturning projects, the sensual return of handling the smooth, finished surface – using the hand’s palm to stroke the outside curve and then tracing the inside curve with the hand’s back – is enormously rewarding.  The creative insights come from studying and trying to anticipate how the drying process of only a few days will re-designed the shapes and curves of the carefully carved profile. The eventually finished dry bowl, sometimes dramatic, sometimes subtle, affirms nature’s artistry well beyond the turner’s skill with the gouge.

Contrasting with the calabash bowl’s stringent tool-control and design discipline, the natural edge, heart shaped crotch pieces offer a different kind of challenge.  With these the final design begins with and is totally controlled by the selection and positioning of the blank at the beginning.  Many wood types lend themselves to making these, but oak, cherry, and maple seem to yield the most dramatic and pleasing results.  The goal is to display the clear outline of a bark-lined heart which at its center reveals the chaotic interweaving of grain where the two branches joined as the tree grew.  (Pictured – maple)

Identifying and harvesting the crotch in the woods is relatively easy, and the most desirable part is the swollen ridge of bark along the seam where the grain of the two branches converge/diverge (depending on your point of view). 

Ideally both branches should be of similar size, and the blank should be sawn on the bias before being trimmed to a rough circle for turning.

During my week of turning on my own for a few hours each day, I alternated between turning the green bowls of calabash and digging into my store of crotch/heart blanks.

Turning several bowls in the morning and several crotch/hearts in the afternoon encouraged me to explore different techniques and test the boundaries of my skills while building my inventory for the gallery and summer customers.  More importantly and beyond the simple pleasure of being free to spend the time turning, I know from experience that my sustained time practicing and experimenting with similar forms and projects leads me to a new level of performance.

Ultimately, the message I regularly offer my woodturning students as well as my readers is that focusing on each set of skills – regardless of the level of past achievement – and spending the time and effort practicing by setting new goals that replicate that rehearsal pays off in the clear gain over time.

In 1969, I vividly remember telling my (then) girlfriend (later wife) that I had decided I wanted to become “really good” at something that required skill in my life rather than hit-or-miss “pretty good” at many different kinds of things that I could see in others around me.  Fortunately, my wife and her mother, both of whom like me knew nothing about woodturning at that time, steadily encouraged and supported me from the beginning.  My adventure continues today as I happily spend hours each day working in my shop with the wood, the lathes, the tools, and a host of wonderful friends who share my passion.

Located in Castine, Maine, Highlands Woodturning gallery and shop offers woodturning classes and shop time, a gallery of woodturned art, custom woodturning for repairs, renovations, and architectural installations. You can email Temple at temple@highlandswoodturning.com. Take a look at Temple’s Website at http://www.highlandswoodturning.com/

Oct 252022

As seems often to happen, I received an email from a stranger asking if I might be able to replicate a small a chess piece for a miniature set to replace a missing queen for his girl friend’s birthday.  Apparently the unusually small chess set was a favorite of hers that had been missing the dark queen for quite some time but fortunately still had the light queen, from which I could make a copy in black walnut.

Once I acquired the sample queen, I cut a slightly oversized walnut blank for turning.

After mounting the piece between centers, I turned a tenon, which I then used to mount the blank in a four-jaw chuck.

Using the original light queen as a story-stick, I marked the critical points.

The tricky part of this copying, especially on such a small scale, it to get the various diameters right for each of the points while balancing the physics of turning each detail on the right (tailstock) at a given diameter before committing to turn the next (left) detail.

With the bulk of the waste wood removed, copying each of the major details precisely from right (tailstock) toward left (headstock) with the detailed attention to curves, swells, and tapers that distinguish each point while maintaining the precise diameter of that aspect and its relationship to the adjacent detail creates a need for constant comparison followed by minuscule recutting until the profile is as near same as possible. 

Once the profile of that detail is suitable, it is time to move on to the next (left) detail.

When turning “multiples” of a profile as in many balusters or finials, the turner gains efficiencies through experience, muscle-memory, and the challenge of improving the process.

Turning only one or two copies of an existing item – especially in an atmosphere of something as exacting and precise as chess – presents the challenge of taking a different piece of wood and cutting it to appear to be identical, except, of course, by color.

At the end of about an hour and one-half, I achieved a close-enough replica queen.  There are some subtle differences, but when the fellow came to pick up his two queens in time for the birthday, he was delighted.

With the result of his planning, my turning, and his surprise gift for his girlfriend’s birthday.  A later email from him confirmed our success.

Oct 052022

One of my most admired local friends retired last fall from her 50 year career working for and running an amazing museum of global artifacts and colonial living history program.  Soon after retiring, she realized that there were parts of her life she did not want to leave behind.  As a result, she started up her own early morning (7:30AM) “Free Fresh Donut Tuesday” program and now finds herself and her own kitchen crowded with eager, hungry admirers each week.  Her community of followers smoothly followed her into her “retirement,” and she happily focuses on letting no visitor leave either hungry or without a brown bag of gifts for others and a cheerful dose of positive community.

Several weeks ago, when I visited to share in the rich flavors of her cooking (she regularly uses a white oak donut hook that I made for her) I realized that while I have turned many kinds of otherwise eatables – apples, pears, eggs, grapes – and in real time even potatoes to make potato-fries, I had never tried to turn a donut.  Turning to the Internet, I discovered that a number of folks had been turning donuts with some success, but all of the methods that I found seemed unnecessarily complicated.  This led me, of course, to figure out how I might simplify the process and turn up a half-dozen or so to take in a brown paper bag to my next Tuesday morning visit.

Choosing my wood from the firewood stack, I milled a small piece of black cherry scrap to a 3” cube, mounted it between centers to round, rounded it, and created a tenon.

Remounting the blank on a 4-jaw chuck using the new tenon and purposefully bringing up the tailstock to mark the out-side center creates a secure work-platform while allowing me to safely sculpt the new donut by eye and hand with the 8 mm (~3/8”) finger-nail grind spindle gouge.

As spindle-turners know, that small finger-nail ground gouge can move significant quantities of wood quickly and efficiently while leaving a smooth surface, especially when undercutting to open up the donut’s hole.

Similarly, rolling the gouge from the center to round the other side of the donut is an opportunity to round the blank fully to a realistic, mouth-watering fullness.

Working further to open up the interior hole while keeping the roundness of the profile requires a bit of patience and is critical to keeping the natural look.

Using a parting tool to open up working space, the full width of the donut is revealed and undercut as far as possible on the inside leaving a small tenon (spigot) for later remounting before parting off.

Given the already mounted blank, a second donut can be sculpted leaving another tenon formed for remounting.  Production turning is a constant search for improving efficiencies while upgrading the skills necessary to create “body” and a full diameter in the roundness of turning beads, spheres, jars, and tapers.

This time, the remounted blank can be turned nearly to finish.

With an inner shoulder scraped for remounting using the chuck’s ability to expand from the interior. 

Sanding the exterior diameter at this point is simple.

Using a straight scraper to form that inner shoulder prepares for remounting using the chuck jaws on the inside to expand for gripping which will allow the little tenon on the other side to be cut away with a final sanding to the outside diameter and finish applied (I prefer the inexpensive and satisfying shop-made friction polish of shellac, boiled linseed oil, and turpentine – 1/3 each in a closed container).

Before remounting the nearly finished donut on the chuck using the chuck jaws gripping the outside diameter (protecting the finished exterior with a layer of paper towel) to scrape through the center, sand, polish the inside on both sides, and add to the growing bowl of “fresh” multi-flavored donuts on the workbench awaiting a “trade” when delivered.

When I showed up the following Tuesday at my friend’s kitchen with my bowl of donuts, I was greeted with delight over the clear flavors of glazed cherry, chocolate, and old-fashioned.  We all agreed that these always-fresh donuts would add no pounds and would attract no ants if left sitting out.

Jul 162019

Did you know Temple Blackwood has a monthly woodturning column in Wood News? For the July issue of Wood News Online, Temple explains how he uses story sticks to reproduce a project multiple times:

My goal with this project will be to occasionally replicate this little chair without needing to have the original back and without needing a drawing – because by using a story-stick, I do not need to stop the lathe to measure and mark transitions and features.

Read the rest of Temple’s article

Read the rest of the July issue of Wood News Online

Dec 302016

Looking back at my resolutions for 2016, I happily scored high, about a B+, with my plan to stimulate my middle son with his birthday “gift of Time” to pursue time in his shop or at a workshop to learn more about his passion for tools and fabrication. Thanks to the generous support from his partner who agreed to the plan and who took on full family care and transport for the three-day event, all went extremely well. A+ for that one and hopes for a repeat this year. My youngest son was equally delighted with the gift but at this point has not defined his plan, and I may have to give it earlier in the spring to spur his creative thinking.

This year as I think about new resolutions for myself, I enter into a year of expanding my woodturning business. This requires renovating my shop to incorporate a new piece of laser equipment that relies on a dust-free environment to protect its optics. Thinking ahead about this, I have become particularly alert to the quantity of dust that rapidly accumulates, settles, and invades nearly every possible space – inside drawers, on and under every surface, all around the ceiling mounted Jet air filter, and neatly caked on the Bridgewood dust collector that is fortunately isolated in its own exterior shed addition on the shop.

The problem, as I look candidly at my typical shop rituals, is that except for days when I have woodturning students and focus on safe practices, I nearly always fail to turn on the air filter, a piece of equipment which I proudly tell others is the “best tool in the shop.” I am clearly lazy and too-frugal on my working alone days. Similarly, when by myself, I tend to make quick cuts at the bandsaw or sand turnings without turning on the big dust-collector, relying instead on a fan to blow the dust away from me, and I too often skip grabbing my clumsy 20-year-old green air-filtered face shield in favor of the lighter and more convenient Bionic Face Shield. I do know better. I teach others better. This year seems time for me to practice what I preach!

My resolutions for 2017 include continuing my “gift of Time” to my sons working for a self-award of A+ this year. With focus on my shop, I resolve to actually use and enhance the safe-practices dust management systems to improve the air quality in my shop as well as to provide clean, dust-free air within the new clean-room space.

One of the new practices I plan is to mount an additional air filter that will blow filtered air into the new clean space and provide a slight positive out-pressure from that space to reduce the possibility of dust invasion. By wiring both the old Jet collector and my new Rikon air filtration system into a lighting circuit, I will be sure to power them up and down with the shop lights.

Another device to defeat my innately too-casual practices is to add an i-Socket Auto-start switch to my shop-vac and discipline myself to move it more readily into positions by the planer, router table, and compound miter saw where it can make the one-switch-fits-all improvement to those dust-generators.

Finally, I have looked thoughtfully at the new Trend Airshield Pro but thus far have been too tight to spring for replacing my old helmet. I understand that I have not been using it because it is too clunky and awkward to manage, but it is time to retire it and move into the current light-weight, long battery life, improved modern solution. This item actually has the same draw-back that all of the other shields present to woodturners who demonstrate and teach – the user cannot talk through the shield. While I do not need a full sound-system of lavalier mike, amplifier, and speakers to communicate with the two or three students in my shop or the “crowd” of six or eight people who might be watching my summer living history demonstrations at the Wilson Museum, I would encourage some creative sound genius to figure out how to incorporate a Bluetooth microphone into one of these helmets that could broadcast to a Bluetooth speaker (my technological ignorance continues to blossom!) Many of us would be delighted purchasers.

Now the only thing left is to actually implement these great plans and use the technology to clean up my shop air and lungs. Resolutions are for setting beneficial goals; the test is in generating the action to achieve them. In my experience, the way to do this is to make it easy, comfortable, and desirable in the daily application.

Check in next January to see how I grade myself.