JbT Squirrel Logo

The Humble Grumble

Jean Turner, RPT

   ...the sporadic annoyances & humble mumblings of a Jeannius.

Thursday 14 November 2013

On the Fringe of Lunacy (or) The Lunatic Fringe

Competition time was looming. I hadn't done anything even remotely spectacular enough to be able to enter. The pressure was on. I was at risk of failing. After all - the intention of a competition is to stun the competitors, audience and judges with your brilliance, technical prowess and artistic flare. Isn't it?

Or is it?

As I (yet again) pondered my looming fate (failure) in the middle of the night, I wondered why I had ever replied in the affirmative when I was asked if I was going to enter. This was at one of the turning group meetings I go to. Two of those in the huddle had groaned when I answered 'yes', commenting that they had 'no chance then', the rest just nodding sagely and asking what I had in mind to send. While this was in some ways a compliment, I had reacted in the same way when I discovered that a couple of the other very good turners in my neighbourhood were intending to enter.

Still in the huddle, thinking about their response, I groaned inwardly.

This for two reasons: a) as a girl, it is not a good idea to let any male in the woodturning world know that you are afraid to compete with 'the boys' (misconceived perhaps, but a real issue in my small brain), and b) as the third of three children I learned quickly that if I were not to be trounced when playing cards with my elder siblings, I had to keep them 'close to my chest', so to speak. It is after all a boy's world - woodturning. In theory we play on a level playing field, but in reality, go to a woodworking show or shop alongside your husband or sons (who don't turn much) and the guy behind the table or the shop proprietor automatically talks to the males in the entourage. Some days it makes me seethe, other days I simply shrug my shoulders and watch the embarrassment when Himself introduces himself as Mr Jean (or something smart that gets the message across). There are days when it seems to annoy him too.

Back to the huddle and holding cards close to the chest again: I said I didn't know what I was going to enter. I was really busy at the time and hadn't had any time to play.

Lunatic Fringe As it turned out, I took three full days off to play, three days before the entries from our club were due in at Axminster, who were sponsoring the competition.

Lunatic Fringe As I thought about my entry and planned what I was going to make, my plan was to use (in a sympathetic and possibly even artistic manner) as many wood turning techniques as I could. And it also had to have glass beads on it somewhere. They seem to have become my trademark somehow. It just had to not look stupid or totally over the top.

With the basic form in my head, I decided to go into the workshop and start, with the hope that creativity and Sheer Jeannius would take over at some point and result in something stupendously beautiful, and possibly even good enough to take in to the competition without hanging my head in shame. Above all, I set out to enjoy my Play Time in the workshop (as opposed to everyday Working Time). It's a rare treat for me.

So I turned. I made a lidded bowl. The bowl I hollowed, sanded on the inside, sealed and gilded. Lunatic Fringe The base was very rounded so that it could wobble. I sanded it smooth and then used a ball TCT burr and textured the entire surface. Lunatic Fringe I made sure the scratch-lines of the burr ran horizontally around the bowl, working carefully in circles all the way to the centre at the base. I know that texturing artists always say 'texture the ENTIRE surface, leaving no flat surfaces at all'. Some even go so far as to colour the wood so they can make sure they have taken away all the original surface. I deliberately left some of the original surface as a contrast to the textured dents. I used India Ink on the outside to colour the wood, hand cut it back with fine abrasive and sealed it with a matt finish lacquer. The inside I gilded then sprayed with a gloss lacquer over the gilding. This was to provide a protective coating for the super magnet to slide around inside without taking off the gold leaf.

Lunatic Fringe Then came the lid. On this I made a spigot which I held in my home made eccentric turning jaws, and turned the top in three sections on four different axes, making sure that they all aligned well. I cut a rebate between each section. The rebate was designed to hold some beautiful gold highlighted Tila beads I had in my beading box. Lunatic Fringe Each recess edge had a small turned bead next to it, with a groove turned, through which I was to drill in order to stitch the beads in place. I cleaned up the surface, sanding where needed to level the top nicely. This was necessary as the centre of the top was off-centre to the original bowl turning axis (4 axes in total).

Lunatic Fringe I reverse -chucked the lid, but first I taped across the top in order to hold the various sections together in case I turned through any of the rebated channels. I created a spigot to help seat the lid in the base. After turning the lid to around 3mm in thickness, just to the point where I started breaking through on the channels, I sanded what I could and then removed the lid from the lathe. Using my home made pyrography machine, I carefully burned a texture in all the open areas on the top. I then used India Ink to colour the top of the lid the same warm black as the base of the bowl. I drilled holes in each of the channels I had turned in order to enable me to cut the sections apart using a piercing bit. I carved (hand and power) the sections until they were nice and smooth and of even thickness throughout. Some parts needed thinning down due to the way the lid had initially been turned off centre and then hollowed out on the first axis. Hand sanding came next, and the surface was readied for gilding on the inside. I gilded the underside of the sections of the lid and again sprayed the surface with clear lacquer to protect it. I also took the opportunity to lacquer the outside of the top sections before joining it up together again.

Then it was time to stitch in the beads...

Lunatic Fringe Each bead is stitched onto the wood through small (0.5mm) holes drilled through the turned recess bead from one side to the other. The beads are sewn on with polyethylene thread which should outlive all of us. Each bead has two holes and requires 4 drilled holes, precisely positioned. Once all the sections of the lid were stitched back together into a whole again, I put the super magnet inside the vessel and glued the two halves of the vessel together. The super magnet helps the vessel to stand securely on it's plinth at the required viewing angle. The magnet is loose inside, allowing change to the viewing angle if desired.

I was quite pleased with what I had made, but I had also run out of turning time. 5pm, and I was due to leave house at 7am next day with my box in hand. However...

My turned creation was not yet finished!

I had planned a long undulating fringe for the outside edge. I had even drilled the 166 holes needed for the 332 strands of beadwork that still needed to be sewn. About 6 days work, I estimated. And no time to do it in. So I went Na-Na, as we call it in our house.

Once calmed down a bit, it was time for Plan B.

Lunatic Fringe I stitched six long strands of fringe colours together and feeling slightly hysterical (at which point I get a bit silly) held them into the 'centre' of the lid. Liking what I saw, I glued them in place and turned my thoughts to a stand to support the form, as it now sported a 30cm 'tongue'.

Faceplate turning is only one aspect of the craft of woodturning, and the one that seems to get the most attention. Bowl turners abound, dedicated spindle turners do not. The techniques are so different that they are seen as two separate disciplines by some people. I enjoy spindle turning, and wanted to be able to show that skill to the competition judges.

Lunatic Fringe The need for a stand made this possible, so I went back into the workshop again (by now 8pm before The Day Of The Great Handing In) and found a half-made stand that I liked. During the next hour, I converted it to hold a (hidden) super magnet in the top section and glued it up. It would have to do, and the two items became partners for the ball.

Lunatic Fringe Stupidly so, as it turns out. I should have simply stuck my bowl to the top of a beer or coke bottle with the metal lid still on. It may have had a chance then. As it was - the stand I unthinkingly chose was made of African Blackwood and the rules stated that the item had to be made of local hardwoods only. So I broke the rules. And didn't realise it until the judges queried the wood with me during the judging process. Talk about the heart dropping into the shoes time!

Lunatic Fringe Ah well, we take the rough with the smooth, and I always tell my kids winning is not the most important thing, it is the participation and treating not winning with the same attitude as winning - with humility and modesty. We can't all win all the time, and to see yourself as a failure simply because you did not win on a particular day is not healthy for anyone.

It looked grand though, and in my heart I know I made a good piece of art. I like it, and that is all that matters...