Introduction: Cracked Clay Embellishment

About: I am a 22 year old woodturner from Sydney. I have been wood turning for about 6.5 years and have completed my apprenticeship in cabinetmaking. I left my full time work to try and make it as a wood turner

When I was traveling in Colorado, I saw a dried up river bed and then when I was back home in Australia,
I saw the texture in a Canberra creek bed. It was something that I really wanted to carve into timber. The choice of red cedar made sense as the colour and the grain really suited the dry look. It was a challenge to make the affect as realistic as possible. I really like carving textures from nature into wood as its a natural medium. I feel that it creates a really nice harmony.

I will cover some turning technique but my focus is on the carving for this tutorial.
The main carving tool that I use is a fordom micro motor. You can use a dremel or a similar rotary tool to do it but this is my preference of equipment. Here is a link down below:

Step 1: Preparing the Timber

I got these bits of timber from an old wood turner so fortunately they were all prepared quite nicely. I think that they might even be recycled from a piece of furniture. I always start by marking out my circle using my compass. Then I am able to cut out my shape on the band saw. This makes the turning stage as easy as possible.
To mount the piece, I often use a screw chuck but when I am working with thinner pieces of timber, I drill out a hole with a forstner bit. A 50mm hole is perfect for my smaller vicmarc jaws. I then expand into that hole and it makes for a great hold for roughing. It might take some adjustment to have the blank running true. I spin it by hand and tap the block into place. After its in place, that when I tighten it properly ready to go.

Step 2: Turning the Back

The first step is marking out my foot/tenon to hold on to. It is important to start with this to make sure you dont go too far in the shaping process. I start by taking the corners back and properly rounding the blank. You can see in the 2nd and 3rd picture that I have the tool handle low and Im rubbing the bevel to get a clean and controlled cut. Cedar is a soft timber so I use this shearing cut to get the best finish possible. Picture 4 shows the endgrain and picture 5 shows the side grain. This is a really good finish off the tool for a timber like cedar. I then use my skew to get a crisp cut on my foot to size it properly. When all this is done, I can sand the piece, working though the grits, 120, 180, 240 and 400.

Step 3: Truing Up the Face

To mount the bowl, I grip on the tenon. As I want this to stay on as a foot, I dont want the jaws to mark it. To do this, I need to have the foot 2mm larger than the closing size of the jaws. The second picture shows this well. After I have the bowl mounted, I can then run the gouge across the face to get a clean surface. I then mark out my rim size, ready for carving. This one is a 50/50 ratio. Sometime I do a 38/62 (golden ratio). Now the piece is ready for carving.

Step 4: Marking Out the Texture

The photos dont quite show is clearly but I have market out some lines for where I roughly want the deep grooves to go. When I sketch these out, they are more flowing curves. The lines that I draw go about 3-4 segments long until I intersect it with another line. My segments range from 2-4cm long on average but some are bigger and some are smaller. This is similar to what I saw in some of the examples in nature.

Step 5: Step 1 of the Carving

Cutter type: Star cutter (one of my favourites)

These cutter are great at doing line work. I have a set of 5 different sizes. This is the 2nd largest size. Normally you would want a nice controlled sweeping curve. With the cracked clay there are no clean curves, more rough zig zag lines. To get this, work with a shaky hand. By moving your hand like that, you get a nice random line.

Also when doing the texture, work past your line that borders the texture to the turning. You want a good transition from carving to turning.

Step 6: Step 2 of the Carving

Cutter type: Saburrtooth carving burrs

This type of cutter is great for removing bulk quickly. The are aggressive and grind away material to dust easily. These are great because grain direction doesnt matter so you can effortlessly remove the middle of the sections. I tend to work to about 3-4mm from the edge of the deeper grooves. Now that I have done a few of these and have used the cutter regularly, I dont focus too heavily on neatness as the control I have with the cutter is good enough.

Step 7: Step 3 of the Carving

Cutter type: Dremel larger balloon shaped carbide burr

I use this cutter to clean up sections like this. The carbides could to the step before as well but I think this is more efficient. To get the best cut, I work down hill on the hollow that I created with the saburrtooth cutter. I find that if I get tear out, I go the other direction and I tend to get a better cut.

Step 8: Step 4 of the Carving

Cutter type: mandrel with flat top, double sided tape and 120grit abrasive
(unfortunately I dont have a link for this one)

This is probably the best thing that I have learnt about power carving from another turner. I learnt this from Dixie Biggs when I was in Texas in 2017. I punch out 12mm discs of 120 grit abrasive with good quality foam backed double sided tape. These create great little carving discs that then stick on the mandrel. They are flexible and very effective. I always run these at a low speed (10,000rpm), otherwise the discs fall off. I also hold the tool as upright as possible, keeping the shaft perpendicular to the surface.
I sand right up to the deep groves and remove all fuzz from the first step. This sanding stage will remove all ridges from the step before.

Step 9: Step 5 of the Carving

Cutter type: Star cutter (one of my favourites)

This is same as step 1 of carving but with a smaller cutter. I use my second smallest. I tend to just do a few small lines each segment, often doing about half in a Y shape. This just adds to the little defects found in the cracked clay.

Step 10: Step 6 of the Carving

Cutter type: mandrel with flat top, double sided tape and 400 grit abrasive

(unfortunately I dont have a link for this one)

Just like step 4 of the carving, I sand down the little bits of fluff and do the final sanding with the sanding disc. For my first few, I did sand the last step by hand.

Step 11: Turning Out the Middle

Back to the lathe. I remount the bowl on the tenon/foot on the back of the bowl. Using by bowl gouge, I turn out the middle. When removing the middle of the bowl, I tend to do it in steps and then do a cleaning cut to remove the ridges. As this is a small bowl, it should only take a few cuts. Remember to take lighter cuts if you have a small tenon.
The most challenging cut is the final one. Its important to get a clean transition from the carving to turning. To make sure the tool doesnt skid, start with the gouge closed off. That means having the flute at a 3 o'clock position. That initial cut should allow you a crisp cut to start. Then open up the tool to a 1 o'clock position to continue the cut.
After that stage, you can then sand it through the grits, 120, 180, 240 and 400 to get the finished piece

Step 12: Finishing

I finish most of my works with a nitrocellulose lacquer. For these bowls I use the 10% gloss (flat). This is what I find to be the most consistent finish when sprayed on. One of the main advantages of lacquer over oil, is that oil will pool in cracks and then you get shiny spots as it dries inconsistently. Lacquer is always going to be more even.
Most of my pieces are done with 3 coats of lacquer, cutting back with 600 grit between the 2nd and 3rd coat. As I work in a dusty area, its sometimes hard to get a perfect finish so I then buff it with a plain piece of paper. That seems to knock of the little flecks really well.

Hopefully you learn a new technique or 2, found inspiration to look at nature and find textures that can be incorporated into your works.

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