Sunday, November 11, 2018

Making a Small Plate

I enjoy making small bowls and plates for presents, but learning the process took longer than it needed to.  I've decided to share photos of the steps I go through with some guiding explanations so that anyone else interested can pick things up faster than I did.

I'm going to start with the easiest wood possible to find and work with---a board:
Notice the plastic wrapping.  I got a moderately priced, 4-foot mahogany board on sale at Menards.  Mahogany is a relatively soft wood with a pleasant grain, a good choice for beginning.

After removing the plastic cover, I marked off individual plates, first marking a length equal to the width, and then drawing crossing diagonals.  At the intersection, I used a spring-loaded punch to make a small indentation:

I use that indentation to mark the center of my plate first for marking with a compass:

I then cut the rough shape on a band saw.  I have a cheap 10-inch saw, but for years I simply cut the corners off with my chop saw enough to make the initial turning smoother:

The next step is to center a 2-inch faceplate and attach is with two or four wood screws.  I have a centering tool the same size as my lathe spindle,  shown to the right, center point in the indentation I previously punched holds the faceplate  in place while I put in the crews. Next, I mount the wood and faceplate on my lathe.  Where the screws penetrate the wood will eventually be the middle of the bowl, so the screwholes will be removed as the bowl is formed.

The first cut on the bowl is on what will be the bowl base, creating a spot for an expanding lathe chuck to grip the bottom.  I use calipers with a sharp edge to mark the width of the the chuck's jaws:

I then remove enough wood, about an eighth of an inch, so that the chuck will be able to grip it:

 I then pretty-up the bottom a bit:

To make sure the chuck grips the wood well, I use a chisel I ground as a dovetail to undercut the edge a bit:

While the faceplate is attached, I go ahead and shape the bottom with a bowl gouge, sand it using progressively finer grades of sandpaper held against the spinning plate, then apply butcher-block oil and wax with a cloth held against the spinning plate:

While the plate is still on the lathe, I go ahead and attach the chuck to the bottom:

I then take them off the lathe, remove the screws holding the faceplate, and remount the plate with the chuck now attached to the spindle:

I use a bowl gouge to hog out the middle:

I then use a scraper to smooth and refine the shape:
Once again, I sand and finish with oil and wax.

Once I remove it, I bring it in the house for my wife to admire.  Mahogany is light, and this plate weighed only 44 grams.  I also like to work with walnut, a darker and denser wood:

In the past, I've also work with multiple boards glued together.  That way, you can get beautiful contrasts or a taller bowl.  The process of shaping the bowl is pretty much the same.  The challenge is in the original glue-up, making sure that the boards are flush, with no gaps that will be suddenly exposed as you shape your bowl.

I hope this how-to will prove helpful.  Regardless, have fun and stay safe.  You may have noticed the dust collector in the background of some photos.  It was a great investment. And when I first started, I wore a plastic face-mask to protect me from broken bowl parts that flew across the room when I screwed up.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Lopping Them Off

I recently had a poem entitled "Lopping Them Off" published at Folded Word.  The editors chose a wonderful photo to go with the poem.  Take a look: 

Monday, March 26, 2018

Hawk in the Front Yard

This  morning as I headed out walking my dog, a hawk sat looking downward from a tree in the next-door neighbor's yard.

I walked into the yard toward where he looked and spotted this:

I'm no fan of rabbits, but I wish the hawk would eat more squirrels:

Wednesday, February 21, 2018


Deer tracks in the snow
across the front sidewalk.

Wild turkeys in the backyard
eating scattered corn.

Young dog in the field
back of the abandoned K-Mart.

Bud Light can shining  blue
as an old guy in a Buick drives away.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Depth of Field

With the long lens of my camera
trained on distant memories,
surrounding events blur,
a narrow depth-of-field
comes into sharp focus,
But a wider angle
and steady look
show the grain,
fine details,

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Storytelling: Finding St. Francis

This past Saturday, I performed at a storytelling event sponsored by the Sisters of Saint Francis and the Great Midwestern Educational Theatre Company. I've been working with a writing coach for more than two years, and I'm a better teacher for the effort. I've also put together writings that will allow my children to know me better as they become adults. But part of getting people to read my writings is to first introduce them to me---through teaching and performances. Last January, I helped Amy Ressler teach a storytelling class at UD. Being around a professional is an amazing opportunity. I also take whatever opportunities pop up to get up in front of a crowd, whether it be 2 or 200.

I've gotten better, but I still struggle with some of my own baggage. As is often the case when I talk about New Orleans, I got pretty choked up at a few points:

  • When Hurricane Katrina was blamed on a gay parade by San Antonio pastor John Hagee. Such ignorance and hatefulness aren't my ideas of legitimate Christianity. When Jesus spoke to the adulterous woman (John 8:1-11), he didn't call down targeted lightning, must less a widespread hurricane that killed 1,833 people, mostly poor, old, and minority.
  • When I talk about revisiting my old house after the hurricane. I had sold it by then, but I had a lot of memories from living there---my children playing, geology students coming to parties, Thanksgiving celebrations, a Chinese grad student learning to barbecue on the grill I built, and screech owls nesting in the backyard tree. Lots of good times.
  • At the end, when I quoted St. Francis: "We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way."

But despite a few tears, I made it through. I beat myself up a bit, but mostly I'm glad I keep trying. Sr. Shell, the nun who arranged to host the event, wrote me, "THANKS! I absolutely loved your `Finding Francis' story! And the rest of the audience did as well. " Sr. Shell is kind, which I knew already, but that doesn't make it any less pleasant to hear.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017


Humble bee,
the bumble bee,
bumbling by.

Courageous, calm,
compassionate, strong,
secure, and serene.

God grant me the serenity...
An AA bee.