Every Mistake

I’ve been working on myself for fifty-four years; software for about forty; kids for almost thirty; and (as Jim says) sawdust for six or so. Whatever the domain, sometimes projects go great and sometimes they, well, don’t. But it’s hard for me to think of anything I’ve tried — even the worst of them — that didn’t have some useful lesson hiding in there. That’s pretty cool.

Case in point, this little pine bowl. It actually looks ok with a little distance and soft focus:

But if you zoom in, it’s a freaking disaster in pretty much every way. First of all, there’s a ton of “tearout,” which happens when the tool catches and rips the wood fibers instead of cutting cleanly. I still have pretty lousy sharpening skills, and between that and a preference for carbide scraping tools it’s something I’m always having to watch for. I ended up with a few really rough spots, especially on the inside of the piece — it’s so tempting to think you can sand these out, but that really only goes so far. Ah well.

Next, I didn’t dry the wood well enough for the orientation and shape I wanted to create. I thought I did, but clearly not. You can see in the picture that I included the pith, and that it runs horizontally through the piece. Which looks cool, but with those straight, thin walls it cracked less than an hour after bringing it in from the garage. The big one shown in the picture and then a hairline exactly on the opposite side. Whooooops!

When I first got my lathe I had no concept of how much wood moves as it dries, and how much time it can take to stabilize. Of course this isn’t the case when you buy kiln-dried stuff at the store, but most of my material comes off of the beach and it’s hard to know how long it’s been cut and/or in the water. The most reliable method is sealing the ends with a wax or glue and waiting a year or two for it to dry naturally (the wax helps the moisture evaporate more evenly), but the oven works “ok” in a pinch.

Anyways, I often reinforce blanks before turning them, using epoxy or CA glue or a wood glue / sawdust paste. And generally that’s actually a positive for the work — like the beautiful clear epoxy voids in this bowl, one of my favorites. But once something has been turned to final shape it’s a lot harder. My next mistake was doing that repair poorly. The plan was to block off the crack using metal tape and hot glue, pour in just enough epoxy to fill the crack, and then sand it flat. Which sort of worked, except (1) the tape leaked, so there’s staining around the repair, and (2) rather than being either clear or opaque, I put in just enough black pigment to make it kind of a muddy grey. Mmmmm.

The hits keep coming! I almost exclusively use oils and waxes to finish, because the whole point of what I make is to show off the great wood that floats up on the beach (if I want a hard coat I will use epoxy coats sometimes). But for this one I wanted to experiment with traditional shellac just to broaden my arsenal a bit. Sanding sealer is a pretty typical undercoat for shellac, and I was still hoping I could hide some of those tears, so I put on a couple of coats. All good, except that when I actually sanded the sealer I left a ton of marks that I didn’t notice before locking them in with the shellac coats. Awesome.

At least that was about it. Oh, except for the drips I left in the shellac, but at least I was able to buff those out with a little work.

Not my finest hour. And yet, I’ll still put this little guy up on the shelf and in the gallery. And be happy when I see it. And even post it here for everyone to see! Next time I’ll sharpen things up better, dry the wood a little more and be more patient with the sanding. All good things.