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question about how bowl blanks should be cut

Discussion in 'Getting Started' started by Brian Meyette, Dec 11, 2009.

  1. Brian Meyette

    Brian Meyette

    Oct 28, 2009
    Location (City & State):
    Cornish, NH
    Home Page:
    I'm new to turning bowls, and I've watched several videos on the subject, including the most excellent one by Bill Grumbine. Bill's video not only tells how to turn and finish the wood, it is also great for explaining how to create your own blank from a tree.

    With that knowledge, I've been buying some blanks from several ebay sellers.

    First, I'm learning that most of the blanks being sold are apparently photographed under incandescent light using daylight settings on the camera, resulting in pictures that are much more golden and pretty than the actual blank once I receive it.

    Second, and the heart of my question, is that one seller has a lot of great looking blanks in quite a variety of wood species. I just received my first order from him, and I am very disappointed in what I got. But I wanted to get some more opinions before I go back to the seller on it.

    All his blanks seem to be of 2 types. The first is where the blank is just a slice out of a log - with the pith in the center. This seems contrary to what I learned in Bill Grumbine's video about how to make the cuts for the blank, and avoiding the pith.

    The second type seems to me to be even worse. The original log has been cut lengthwise, then the round part of the blank formed by bandsawing perpendicular to the grain. But Bill's video stressed to avoid the pith by making the cut lengthwise through the center, then making 2 blanks, one on each side of the pith. What this guy has sold me is blanks where the 2 flat sides of the blank have been cut equidistant from the pith, with the pith in the center of the round part of the blank.

    Not only that, but the "waxed blanks" were apparently waxed long after the blank was cut and started drying, as there are huge cracks radiating out from the pith. This seems to me to render the blank completely useless.

    What do you more experienced people think? Are these blanks junk, or are they usable?
  2. john lucas

    john lucas AAW Forum Expert

    Apr 26, 2004
    Location (City & State):
    Cookeville TN USA
    I think I would avoid the seller. I cut the log length wise through the pith. Then I lay the new flat side down and cut the bowl blank out of that on the bandsaw. If I don't plan on turning it that day I cut on both sides of the pith so it's completely gone from the blank.
    When I donate wood to the club I do the above. If the log has been sitting I check very carefully for checks and throw out any with checks or cut it up into smaller spindle turning blanks. I seal the wood with wax almost immediately. If I see any checks later I toss the wood or turn it myself since I know where the checks are and how to deal with them safely.
    If I were to cut a slice off the log to give as a turning blank I leave it long enough so that the recipient can cut it through the pith and get the blank that they need.
    Bill's video is excellent and I highly recommend it. If you want to know more about getting the best piece from a log get John Jordan's video on the woodmovement and the Aesthetics of wood.
  3. Steve Worcester

    Steve Worcester Admin Emeritus

    Apr 9, 2004
    Location (City & State):
    Plano, Texas
    Home Page:
    Also, wax is not going to necessarily prevent the cracking. All the wax does is slow down the drying to help alleviate/lessen cracking. Even a totally encased in wax blank can still crack after time in the exact same spot, or more often, after shipment because of the change in temperature and humidity.

    Wood eventually dries to a point of equilibrium (equilibrium moisture content) with it's surrounding environment. The environment where you are can be radically different from where it was shipped.

    Now, if you bought some wood based on a photo, and when it got there it is radically different in appearance than the photo, call them up and ask about it. The worse thing that can happen is they say tough and you don't buy there again.
  4. odie


    Dec 22, 2006
    Location (City & State):
    Panning for Montana gold, with Betsy, the mule!
    Over the years, I've bought many pieces of turning wood on ebay. I've bought quite a few pieces that I wouldn't buy at all, if I could see them in my hands first! In order to return a wood blank, you will pay for shipping BOTH ways, so it turns out that you are better off to keep it in most cases.

    It's true that there are quite a few suppliers of wood that are of questionable integrity when representing what they are auctioning. Then again, a lot of them aren't turners, so I guess they can claim ignorance when knowing what it is a turner does and doesn't want. This is probably especially true for those who sell some wood for a time, fade from the scene, never to be heard from again. Those who have been selling bowl blanks for a long time should know better by now!

    Pith, cracks, knots, etc., would be of interest to someone who turns, but there are some sellers that don't mention these things, and they aren't obvious in the photo.

    You are correct that some of the photos seem to be electronically altered to make them more appealing than they actually are. They will mist them with water, use a photo editor, and who knows what else, in order to make them look appealing. What often happens is the photo is better than you will ever get with the real piece of wood. Ethics could easily be questioned.

    One thing to watch out for is an auction that has a picture of a chunk of wood that is only "representative" of what you will actually get......read the whole description before you bid. In these cases, you will be very lucky to get as good looking a blank as the one in the photo.....and, they KNOW it before they sell it to you! :mad:

    The more you purchase at ebay auction, the better you will be at making judgements about what you see, and what you are told. You will be weeding out some sellers and come back to others repeatedly.

    I recently purchased three pieces of rosewood from a seller that had given me some nice pieces of wood in previous auctions. These rosewood blanks all had fine cracks in them. The seller didn't respond to my email complaining of the cracks. Now......here's the question: Did the seller know he was sending me blanks I would reject, would not return because of the costs? I don't know. I was tempted to give a negative feedback. Maybe I should have, but it's been too long now. If I get burned again, I'll not do any more business with him. In another instance, I bought some walnut that had pith. The pith wasn't mentioned, or shown in the photo. I complained and the seller partially refunded my money. That was probably a fair thing to do, but I still ended up with a piece of wood that I never would have bid on in the first place.

    Is it all worth it?

    That is a question that will not be answered the same by different buyers. I've gotten some pretty spectacular chunks of wood this way. I've also wasted a lot of money, as well. Now that I've been doing the ebay auctions for some time now......I wish I could say I haven't been burned recently......but, my batting average has improved!

    Last edited: Dec 11, 2009
  5. Joe Greiner

    Joe Greiner

    Oct 2, 2006
    Location (City & State):
    Tallahassee FL
    Regarding grain orientation, about 50 years ago, most or at least many bowls were made from slices of a log, with the bark left intact as a design feature. Cross-grain selection is a more recent development. So I don't think you've been misled, as long as the illustration is reasonably accurate. Some folks still like them that way.

    There's an AAW chapter not too far from you, in SW NH. Consider joining, or at least attending a meeting. Members might have some surplus wood, at very attractive prices, often free. Also, contact tree surgeons in your area; giving you free wood may be preferable to paying tipping fees for them. A small electric chain saw could be a good investment, about $50, and you can select your blanks that way. Roadside orphans are some of my favorites. An 8- or 16-sided blank, cut with a chain saw, is almost as good as a bandsawn blank.

    Develop your skills, and make lots of mistakes, on cheap local wood. Then buy the imported exotics.

    As you gain experience, you might even seek the challenge of using some of the worst lumps of tree possible. There are ways of dealing with almost anything.
  6. justaccord


    Nov 5, 2007
    + 1 on joining the local club. It's the best thing you can do. Soon you will discover many sources of wood, much without cost other than the time and effort and tools to collect and cut it.

    The best part is meeting other woodturners -- some with great experience. There is no substitute for an experienced turner standing with you at the lathe and showing you how to do something.

    It is all a great learning process, and for me a large part of the fun has been in association with a group of people who share the passion.
  7. Brian Meyette

    Brian Meyette

    Oct 28, 2009
    Location (City & State):
    Cornish, NH
    Home Page:
    local club

    I do plan to join the local NH club, Granite State Woodturners. They only meet on odd-numbered months and apparently they didn't have a meeting in November, so I hope to be able to attend the one in January. There's a club in northern Vermont and GSWT in southern NH, so either is quite a long drive from me in central NH.

    Thanks for the advice,
  8. David Somers

    David Somers

    Aug 8, 2005
    Location (City & State):
    Ballard (Seattle) WA and Volcano, Hawaii....on top

    I agree with Joe and Justaccord. Go local, especially to start. You will often be amazed at what beautiful wood you will find, free, by watching to see what neighbors are taking down, calling an arborist, checking out the county landfill/greenwaste, etc. You can always order special woods for accents or special projects, but cut your teeth on the local stuff. Some of my favorite pieces have come from neighbor's downed trees and chance encounters with a private or county tree trimming operation.

    By the way....on the off chance it hasn't occurred to you, most of us will repay free wood with a bowl from that wood. It is fun to do...can often mean a lot to a property owner to have something made from their tree...and on a more selfish note...often nets you more wood in the future.

    Regarding the wood that was shipped to you. Michael had a very good thought. I often spritz the surface of wood with water to see what it will look like with an oil finish. It helps to make the figure of the wood more evident and may be what the seller did before they photographed the wood. Try spritzing it and see if it now looks more like what you saw in the photo.

    That can help you interpret the photos you see better. Also, try to order wood from sources closer to your local climate. You are less likely to get cracks once it arrives.

    Another source for some more exotic woods for accents (if not for an entire piece) would be a local hardwood supplier and furniture or cabinet shops. Just a thought.

    Have fun with the local stuff though.


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