I have always been interested in punky wood, the discoloration and lines caused by the decomposition of the wood makes it much more interesting to me. And since I do a lot of work with repurposed wood, including firewood, it is part of what I get for raw materials anyway.
So when we converted our wood-burning fireplace to a gas insert (that’s another story entirely) I figured I had a whole pile of future punky wood.
That was two years ago. Unfortunately, it looks like that is a year too long for turning my woodpile into punky wood.
Now it’s just half rotten wood.
But not being one to throw anything away, or burning it in the chiminea, without at least giving it a once-at in the shop, I brought a small, half rotted piece in to turn a bud vase on the lathe.
I’ve worked some rotted stuff before, but it usually had a good core of heartwood.
This piece was something less than that.
I should have known when it was really past punky when I started to tighten the live center in the tailpiece and it started pushing the drive into the other end of the wood! I kept tightening until the drive center was about 1/2 inch into the wood at which point it seemed to find enough good wood to hold.
Despite my other bouts of idiocy as well documented here in these hallowed forums I wasn’t so stupid to just turn the thing on. Stepping the old Craftsman lathe down to it’s lowest setting…about 820 rpm…I stepped to the side and flipped the switch. To my relief and slight surpise very little wood slung off into low earth orbit. I let it run for a while and then grabbed a freshly sharpened gouge.
I could have done most of the cutting with my thumbnail I think. As the gouge touched the wood it started to, well…cut is the best word to use…but the knife through butter is probably a better description. I could barely feel anything from the gouge as it started peeling the wood away. I use a full face-mask respirator when I do lathe work, for debris protection as well as dust protection, but there wasn’t much of anything flying up. It just slipped off the side of the gouge down onto the floor and lathe bench top.
I started to get some grabbing as the wood was a small branch that has some twist to it. My plan was only to turn part of the wood off and leave some of the outer surface untouched. And the good wood was starting to show up, beautifully punked under the rotten parts.
At this point a grabbed a skew to try slicing the wood. I didn’t want too much tearout, although with this wood it is more like the rotten parts just letting go and falling/flying off. So I just took light layers of wood off to work to the shape I wanted.
And I determined the shape by how the wood looked as it spun on the lathe. Due to the curve of the wood there was a point where the “bottom” bulge of the vase was evident, with a tapering up toward the top. I just cut the stuff off that didn’t follow that general outline shown while the wood was turning.
A couple of photos of what I did to this point.
(I gotta keep the shop camera in the shop.)
You may also notice some parts that are actually worm and bug holes that are filled with…ummm, worm and bug sawdust. It was packed in hard enough it didn’t sling out, so I left it.
After I got the shape pretty much where I wanted it I ran a couple of sanding pads against it using a very hard backer so as not to round off from the turned parts to the unturned surfaces.
Then I hit the whole thing with some quick-dry polyurethane.
Unfortunately it darkened the wood up so much it lost some of the punky effects.
And the next part I’ll talk more about finishing.
-- Pete, "It isn't broken, you just aren't using it right."