Weekend Projects – Re-turned Huon Pine Vase

Monday 9 July 2018

A client approached me with a mission: salvage this precious piece of Huon pine (Lagarostrobos franklinii) from what they thought was a horrible vase found in a charity shop. It sat on my bench for months before I could see a more refined form waiting to be extracted from a branch of a specimen aged 300 years or more. In the 70s or 80s, this form may well have sat on a mantlepiece, prized because of the Huon pine novelty aspect.

Now we've moved on and there is a better understanding of the intrinsic beauty of wood, how to incorporate it into a form that accentuates subtleties of grain and how to meld all aspects

of wood into forms that celebrate grain, colour and form. This piece of Huon pine deserved a better life, so I needed to think long and hard about how to extract a more appropriate form from the precious piece of timber I had available.


The first hurdle with this project was how to mount the vase on my lathe to start work. The easiest method was to grip it in a scroll chuck, but considering a turner's ambition is to remove any signs of how work was held initially, I had to recreate a method of mounting the piece between centres. To do this I had to find the centre of the base of the vase and create a tenon that would allow me to grip the wood, but not waste too much of this precious material. I started by measuring the distance between extremities of the existing base, dividing it in half, marking the centre, rotating the form and repeating the process before a common centre point was established


Next, with a scroll chuck fitted on the lathe's spindle I placed a piece of leather padding between it and the vase's top before winding the live centre at the tailstock end into place to hold the Huon form between centres


This would now allow a new base profile to be turned…


… including a tenon cut with a parting tool, which enabled the vase to be…


… reversed and gripped so the remainder of the wood could be reshaped into a profile I felt was more aesthetically pleasing – and something the client would be happier with


Next, I reversed the form and held it in my scroll chuck; now the top portions of the vase could be worked


Trimming away the natural edged area of the wood, I turned my attention to the opening of the vase and reduced the diameter of the top and cut it at a 90° angle to the overall sweep at the neck. One of those 'rules of thumb' you hear about is that intersecting angles ought to be 'square'. Well, it just seems to be right so often


Returning to the overall profile of the vase I decided to cut away more of the natural edge and bring the sweeping profile starting from the neck closer to the base, in turn, making the base look lower and less dominant before sanding the area from 120 to 320 grit – with a fair bit of hand sanding with the grain along the way


The original vase had a steeply angled inside surface that ran into a cavity created by a fairly large diameter drill – not uncommon if you peruse wares on sale in craft markets. When you see these items and ask yourself how the items could be sold at ridiculously low prices, just ask yourself how they were made, and more importantly, how could they be improved


I cut the interior of the neck down with a gouge, starting from the top of the opening, running it as far down as I could before changing to a scraper, ensuring the inside and outside forms matched. I didn't hollow the form – that would be going too far for this job


Once all surfaces were sanded, it was time to apply a wax finish…


… I opted for a homemade mixture of beeswax and pure turpentine applied to the Huon with a clean cloth as the wood was spinning on the lathe. Make sure to keep fingers pointing in the direction the wood is spinning in and do not allow the cloth to wrap itself around the wood. Once the wax had melted into the wood – due to friction caused by the spinning wood – I left it to cool for several minutes.

I turned the lathe on again buffing off excess wax and worked it to a lovely subtle sheen with a clean cloth


To finish the base I mounted a scrap of radiata pine into my scroll chuck, turned down to a taper with a skew chisel that fitted into the neck of the vase…


… I wedged the Huon form onto it and brought the tailstock centre up to support the base of the vase. The centre point you saw way back in photos 3, 4 and 5 was back in use again


The tenon used to hold the form was turned down. Remember, the key aim of a woodturner is to disguise how their work was held on the lathe. I undercut the base to create a concave surface and created an outer rim that sits on a flat surface, just like a plate does…


… before sanding it smooth and then carving away the remaining waste material using a Flexcut gouge and scraping it a little with a homemade cabinet scraper to level the surface


Sanded smooth and waxed, the revamped vase was complete and a dated Huon form was reinvented into something more becoming of a precious timber that we should have more respect for