As part of our Christmas tradition, I make a set of 8 similar gifts on the lathe, which have included Christmas ornaments, pens, stylus pens, and bowls, which my sister, a superintendent of schools in a western US state, in turn uses as Christmas gifts for her school board members and senior staff. This year I decided to tackle making a set of 8 stacking 8″ x 3″ Cherry wood bowls.
When I first ordered my materials, in this case round cut and kiln dried Cherry blanks, I thought I would need only 7. Later, it occurred to me to verify the count with my sister, and good thing that I did because I would have been one short. It seems that a vacant senior staff position had been filled during the last year increasing the needed gift count by one. But no problem because if there is one thing in my shop that there is MORE than plenty of, it is wood. I just happened to have a stack of seven additional kiln dried Cherry blanks, although these were the more traditional square shape. But in the end I can’t tell which one is the outlier of Michigan origin via Bell Forest Products with the other seven being of South Carolina heritage courtesy of Got Wood?.
I had a head start on the seven that were already round but it was no major feat to cut the square blank round on the bandsaw. I had chosen kiln dried wood quite intentionally to ensure that I wouldn’t have to wait for drying times before continuing the turning process to completion. This did mean that the wood was considerably harder to turn in terms of general density but Cherry is a beautiful wood to turn green or dry. I have started experimenting more with green wood turning and am currently watching and weighing several rough turned bowls made from sycamore, persimmon, Bradford pear, and bocote, all of which have been coated with Anchor Seal to slow drying to prevent checking. Soon, I will finish turn those as they seem to have stopped losing weight after rough turning in February of this year. Once the wood stops losing weight that usually indicates it has stopped losing water and is dry enough to finish turn. At least I hope so.
The Cherry blanks all turned nicely and as intended they did all stack. To be clear, they are certainly not identical. They are, however, of very similar shapes and styles and once completed I weighed them all. The heaviest was 1 pound and the lightest was 0.8 pounds. From my perspective, being within 2/10ths of pound, at the strongest outlier, was quite a nice achievement in consistency of size and thickness.
Once again I was struck with the true individuality of wood as a material. All of these bowls are the same exact species, all from the same continent, same country, and, with one exception, from the same state. And yet, each bowl is truly unique in terms of the grain patterns and any figure that might, or at least in one case might not, be present. Making a set of 8 bowls from the same species, all turned in the same shape and style, clearly demonstrates that despite everything else being equal, wood will never mimic a thermo-formed piece of plastic ware from a factory. And for me, that is a huge part of the appeal of working with wood in the first place.
In keeping with theme of individuality, I also found that the working characteristics of the blanks varied, and not just because just one was from a separate source, because the variability in working character extended beyond just one blank. The most significant difference was that several of the blanks cut far rougher than others, in at least one case the wood was almost punky in character, cutting very roughly despite freshly sharpened tools across the cross-grain sections. Many of the blanks cut so smoothly on the areas that were with the grain that I almost hated to have to sand it but that couldn’t be avoided in order to bring the cross-grain sections into compliance. While this is not surprising, what did surprise me was how much blanks of the same species can vary in this character.