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Pyrographed Tree Bowl

Monday 9 July 2018

Sometimes an idea can come to you from the strangest of places. Despite working in a rural environment, the 'tree bowl' is a result of a trip to the city where I noticed a jumper with a tree motif in

a shop window. Gradually, as I worked on the idea, the tree became more and more refined. I still have ideas for texture and colour but the basic premise stays the same.

I have no training in carving and have picked up what I know by playing with projects like this. I use a minimum of tools; the only items that are a bit specialised are the different burrs used to shape the tree itself.

This project can be accomplished without these by using needle files, mini rasps and abrasives. If, however, carving isn't for you then you can use the first half of this project to make a stylish small footed bowl. I used a small piece of elm (Ulmus procera) that measured 100 x 130mm (4 x 5 1/8in) but any timber will work.

In additional to the turning tools pictured here, you will also need a rotary multi-tool with assorted burrs, a range of abrasives as well as a pyrography machine.

Tools used: 6mm (1/4in) bowl gouge, 10mm (3/8in) spindle gouge and 10mm (3/8in) bowl gouge

Step 1

Mount your blank on a screw chuck. Using a 10mm (3/8in) bowl gouge, true the sides, then the base. Use the 10mm (3/8in) spindle gouge to create a spigot to fit your chuck – if you are not sure then measure using callipers. Don't forget to mark the centre point; this will help when refining the base. Create the outside shape – on this piece you want to end up with a foot that is smaller than the spigot used to chuck the bowl. As a result, leave some waste material at the base. Try to aim for a flowing curve from top to bottom. At this stage the curve finishes at the shoulder to the spigot – this area will be refined further later in the process – but cutting a good curve now makes it easier to achieve a good final form

Step 2

Sand and finish the outside. You can do this after the bowl is reversed but I like to do it at this stage. Make sure you work through the grits and remove all scratches and tool marks. Apply thinned coats of sanding sealer and use an oil finish. Using the oil in conjunction with the abrasive cuts down on the dust and creates a super smooth surface

Step 3

Reverse the bowl onto the spigot. True up the face with the 10mm (3/8in) bowl gouge and begin to hollow. This is a simple form with a slightly undercut rim. Don't aim for a constant wall thickness; it needs to thicken as it approaches the base. Don't forget there is some thickness to remove from the outside of the bowl, but try to get the wall thickness at the rim about 5-6mm (3/16-1/4mm) gradually thickening to about 25mm (1in) at the base of the wall. You want a smooth curve from top to bottom

Step 4

Sand and finish the inside. Again, work through all the grits up to 400 using sealer and oil. Make sure the finish is superb here

Step 5

Now we need to refine the base. I use a revolving tailstock and a piece of non-slip mat stuck to a piece of MDF that I attach to the chuck with a faceplate ring. Sandwich the bowl between the mat and tailstock, ensuring you place the point of the revolving centre on the mark you made at the beginning of the project. Remove the waste wood to create a smooth curve and small foot. Don't make the foot too small here; a tiny foot is unstable and will roll over easily

Step 6

Leave a pip where the tailstock meets the bowl; you can remove that off the lathe. You can now sand and finish the base, as before

Step 7

Here is the finished small footed bowl. It is now time to create the tree

Making the treep

Step 8

On my piece of elm there were one or two spots of slightly softer, lighter coloured wood. Having identified these marks I decided to use that area for the tree. If your bowl has some interesting marks then pick the other side to cut the tree. The point is to look at the wood and make a conscious decision about the positioning. Next, draw the tree. Start with a simple outline: the more branches you have, the more cutting and sanding there is to do, and more importantly, those cuts are much more fiddly and awkward. Keep the design randomly ordered. Nature looks random but quite often there are patterns which underpin the shape of things. Draw a tree that has an odd number of branches coming from the main trunk. This tree has quite a large number of offshoots from the five main branches, which are difficult to cut out so start with fewer. There is a rough symmetry to each side of the tree but it's important not to make each side a carbon copy of the other. Also try to get the branches and offshoots to become gradually thinner as they meander towards the top of the bowl. The twigs at the rim of the bowl need to be about 4-5mm (5/32-3/16in) thick. The line from the trunk needs to continue around and up to meet the last of the branches in a kind of smooth teardrop shape

Step 9

Using a rotary multi-tool – mine has a flexible shaft but it's not essential – and a cutting burr carefully cut out the spaces between the branches. It's not catastrophic if you wander slightly over a line but try to keep to lines as much as you can. You will find that the pieces near the rim cut more easily than the trunk where the wood is thicker. Around the base you may need to use a bigger cutter or burr such as the Saburr Tooth or Kutzall

Step 10

After cutting out all the pieces change burrs to a ball-shaped one. Larger burrs are ideal for big areas and tiny ones get into the forks in the branches. Start by rounding over the square edges left from the cutting out phase. The aim is to make them rounded but natural. Try different shaped burrs as they all produce interesting results. The smaller twigs at the rim are the most tricky as you have to be careful not to cut through them. The more time you can spend at this stage, the better the final result will be. Abrasives can also be used by cutting them into very fine strips – Abranet works well as it does not tear and so the strip can taper down to nothing. Be warned, though, coarse Abranet (120) cuts through branches very efficiently; standard J-Flex is another to try. Clamps can be used to hold the piece steady, but whilst working on the piece, be careful not to mark the rim or base. Non-slip mat is very useful as a cushion. Don't forget: the tree on the inside of the piece also needs to be done

Step 11

So by now you should have a fabulous turned bowl into which you have drawn and then carved your tree. You are almost there, but before you can call it finished, you need to add your final texture to it using a pyrography machine. Using sweeping strokes along the trunk and branches, gradually texture your way round. Where the branches fork you can create shadow by scorching the wood a little more than in other areas. If you are using an open grained timber you will find the softer grain chars more, which gives an interesting texture. Finer grained timbers just show the marks made from the pyrography. Spend a little time on this stage: too little and the branches look patchy; too much and it looks like the tree was hit by lightning

Step 12

The final step in this project is to use an old toothbrush to give your piece a final coat of oil; this will help to darken down the areas you have pyrographed and makes the tree really stand out. The finished tree bowl can be displayed either in a bowl orientation or as a sculptural piece, on its side. The removal of the wood between the branches makes the piece sit on its side at a perfect angle, providing your tree has a similar amount of wood taken from each side