As The Lathe Turns #55: Burls

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Blog entry by William posted 10-29-2013 03:00 AM 1761 reads 0 times favorited 17 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 54: More Home Brews Part 55 of As The Lathe Turns series Part 56: Back To Basics »

If you have been reading my blog, you probably already know that I have a major liking for burls, and I got the chance for this post to work with some new ones.
First though, I’ll get a couple of problems I’ve been dealing with out of the way.

When turning bowls, I’ve been having a hard time with sanding, especially on the end grain. I’ve read and watched videos online about power sanding and wanted to give it a try. I’ve had in my mind several different ways to make my own. However, on a recent trip to Jackson, Mississippi, I stopped by Harbour Freight and seen the above little doohickeys and thought it was the perfect opportunity to try the method out before going through the trouble of making them. These are rather cheaply made, but I figured they would hold up long enough for me to see if I like the outcome of power sanding using a drill.

I have tried sanding end grain on cypress before and knew it is always a bear to do. So I thought it would be a good test of the power sanding method. I decided to make my wife a cypress flower pot, since cypress is known to hold up good to the elements.
The flower pot turned out great using the power sanding attachments in a hand held drill. The end grain was just as smooth as the rosewood bowl I recently done. The difference is, I sanded for two minutes on the cypress flower pot, while I sanded for over two hours on the rosewood bowl.

My next problem I worked on recently was my pen display. I show my pens to lot of people. The problem was, with them sitting out in the open in a wood shop, they always stayed extremely dusty. It’s kind of embarrassing to be showing someone a pen and have to wipe each and every one they ask about of all the dust, all the while apologizing for the messy look of them all.
So I used some oak, sapelle, and plexiglass to make a cover for the pen display. This allows them to be seen and still be covered so I can see that they’re not being messed with at a distance. Yes, I have had some grow legs and walk off on their own when they were lying out in the open. Also, it keeps dust off of the pens. When someone is interested in them, I can easily go and pick the cover straight off of the display so they can look at nice, clean, pens.
The last problem I ran into recently was with my newly acquired pen mill. I don’t know what I am not “getting”, but I just hate the thing. After forty bucks and a good resharpening, you would think it would leave the ends of my pen blanks nice, clean, and square. That just is not the case. Yes, it squares the blanks. That is about all I can say about it. The end grain tears up though and leaves a terrible look between the two halves of a finished pen. It may work great for folks who use the center rings to break things up. I make almost all my pens these days though without center bands and must have a very clean end on the blanks. So, I am still using the mill for squaring up blanks that are badly out of square. However, once they are square and a majority of the extra material removed, I move back to my shop made sanding jig that has never failed me yet to leave crisp ends.
Yes, I will have to keep up that recurring cost of sand paper for it, but it is worth it to me to keep my pens looking good.


My wife got a day off recently and we took a trip to Jackson. I had told her that I wanted to carry her to my “heaven on earth”, Pickens Hardwoods. Well, we pulled up to the place where they usually have me drooling before I even get in the door good, to find out that it is now a metal and welding shop. I was so disappointed. It turns out, they had moved from their location in Clinton to further north in Jackson. The thing is though, we had to get back home before kids got home from school, so I could not take her to show her why I liked Pickens so much.
I think my wife would tell how disappointed I was that I didn’t even get the chance to pick up a couple of cheap pen blanks from Pickens like I’d planned, so the next day she talked me heading back towards Jackson and checking out their new location.
As usual, I was not disappointed. There is a reason I call that place my heaven on earth. Although I can’t possibly think of ever affording some of them, that place has just about ever type of wood you can think of from all reaches of the world. If I was not an honest man, I may think of grabbing what bowl blanks I could carry in that place and making a run for the door.
Alright, I admit it. I have thought about it, but would never act on such a devious thought.

Besides the zebra wood and blood wood board I bought, I also emptied my wallet, and even got a few more dollars from my wife (about forty dollars more to be exact) buying pen blanks, in burls.
This first one is called amboyna burl.
I had never heard of this. The tag said it was shipped from Cambodia. At ten bucks for a set of two short pieces, enough for one pen, I was a little hesitant about even buying this one, but I just couldn’t help it. I kept being drawn back to it from across the room. Even before turning, the wood had so many twists and turns in the grain that my eyes just got lost in it.
Needless to say, this pen did not go in my pen display. I took pictures of it and put it with my own personal pens. I would love to get some more of these blanks one day. Until then though, this one is mine.

This one is redwood root burl. The blank, before turning, actually looked rather plain. It was burl though, so I had to give it a try.
If you look real closely at this photograph, you can see the gap between the two halves of the pen. This is the condition I described earlier with using the pen mill. It was too late to do anything about this pen, but it was, and will be, the last pen I finish off with the pen mill. I’d rather use my old sanding jig and be assured of having clean lines.

Next is myrtle wood burl. Again, this one was kind of a mystery from looking at the blank, but a burl nonetheless. I love the way it turned out though.
Ok, that’s the last of the burls, but I still have a few more pens from the Picken’s purchase.

This one is black palm. You may notice that, while I stick with the same basic shape on all my pens, the back end of this one is much more slender than usual. The reason for that is tear out. This wood, while a most interesting looking wood, tears out way too easily. There was a point while turning this one that I was not sure I was going to be able to save it. It did not just tear out a few stands of grain. Whole hunks along the length of the grain would suddenly tear off and go flying. I backed off with the gouge and used a skew chisel to finish it up to what you see here. With the skew, I was able to slice it off cleaner without so much tear out.

This last one is called Texas ebony. I got it because I am always, for some reason, drawn to the darker woods. As a matter of fact, woods such as this one with the almost black look, have my attention from the start. This wood also was quite hard, which allowed me to buff it out to a nice shine before ever putting on a finish. The finish is just for protection. It had plenty enough of a gloss to it when it was just bare wood.


I also got a couple of piece of spalted lemon wood. At fifty cents a blank, I couldn’t pass those up. I bought a three foot length of zebra wood and blood wood. I had no intended purpose for them, but they were in the sale pile because of some tiny imperfections in them. I just had to take them home. I am afraid I have turned the few burls blanks I got though. It always goes that way with me and burl wood. I just can’t wait to get them on the lathe and see what surprises hide underneath the usually ugly exterior.

Until next time, happy turning.


17 comments so far

View DIYaholic's profile


19738 posts in 2909 days

#1 posted 10-29-2013 03:24 AM

Great stuff, William.
I’m glad you were able to make it to heaven & yet remain here on earth with the rest of us!!! ;^)

I know which pens are your faves….
For me the Black Palm and Texas Ebony are high on my list!

Keep on keepin’ on….

-- Randy-- I may not be good...but I am slow! If good things come to those who wait.... Why is procrastination a bad thing?

View eddie's profile


8565 posts in 2848 days

#2 posted 10-29-2013 03:43 AM

they all look great William , i love the amboyna burl and the different colored clip looks like gun stock color , glad to see you finally got some shop time .the display case came out well with all those pens it should be easer to keep up with your inventory.

-- Jesus Is Alright with me

View Gary's profile


9386 posts in 3667 days

#3 posted 10-29-2013 04:31 AM

That’s some super pens, William. The display case is a great idea. Flower pot is pretty sharp too. And that burl is some really beautiful stuff.

-- Gary, DeKalb Texas only 4 miles from the mill

View stefang's profile


16208 posts in 3568 days

#4 posted 10-29-2013 09:38 AM

Very nice turnings William. I couldn’t help but like the black palm best. Very interesting grain and colors.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View William's profile


9950 posts in 3076 days

#5 posted 10-29-2013 11:27 AM

Thank you all.

Randy, the palm and ebony are nice, but I just have a weakness for burls.

Eddie, I thought about gun stocks too. The hardware on that pen is called gunmetal finish.

Gary, thank you.

Mike, the palm is a pretty wood. I wish I was better at taking extreme close up photos though. I tried getting a photo of the grain on that wood before turning and polishing but it kept turning out blurry. The grain was about the most interesting I’ve ever seen. I just can’t think of a better word to describe it beside interesting.


View StumpyNubs's profile


7689 posts in 3035 days

#6 posted 10-29-2013 02:15 PM

WOW- That’s a lot of nice pens!

-- Subscribe to "Stumpy Nubs Woodworking Journal"- One of the crafts' most unique publications:

View Mainiac Matt 's profile

Mainiac Matt

8609 posts in 2563 days

#7 posted 10-29-2013 04:42 PM

Dang William… you are certainly mastering the turning craft.

-- I yam what I yam and that's all what I yam

View William's profile


9950 posts in 3076 days

#8 posted 10-29-2013 05:36 PM

Thank you stumpy and Matt.


View gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 2924 days

#9 posted 10-30-2013 01:03 AM

William, I too am a big fan of all burls. That black palm is pretty special. I’m gonna look around as I may have some pieces of burl that are too small for me to use. I need to send you some more hedge and I’ll toss in the burls if I find any.

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

View William's profile


9950 posts in 3076 days

#10 posted 10-30-2013 11:22 AM

Thank you Andy. I always appreciate burls. Since I know that though, i’ll wait for now on making your .45 Colt pen so I can choose a nice burl to make it with.


View Roger's profile


20965 posts in 3038 days

#11 posted 10-30-2013 09:31 PM

Luv the pens, and the large holder. Well, all the holders, large and small.

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed.

View William's profile


9950 posts in 3076 days

#12 posted 10-31-2013 01:27 AM

Thank you roger.
One day I hope to make pens as nice as yours.


View Doe's profile


1420 posts in 3064 days

#13 posted 11-02-2013 11:06 AM

The swirling grain of the flower pot is beautiful. It’s hard to choose which pen I like best; they’re all wonderful.

Have you thought of making an unpowered sander? Here’s one from PSI. I’ve been using the Sorby one and it works great, even for pens. I have a bunch of Arbanet disks to save on the cost of disks.

-- Mother Nature talks, I try to listen

View William's profile


9950 posts in 3076 days

#14 posted 11-02-2013 05:20 PM

I have absolutely thought of using the same system you’re talking about.
One day I plan on trying it. Money, or the lack thereof, always seems to put a delay on things I want to try.
What I plan on doing though is buying the bushing kit from captain Eddie. He sells a kit to make the same tool that you can buy. That will cut my cost down so I can affor to buy extra sand paper.
As for the abrane, do they sell disks for that type system? Or are you cutting up the rectangular sheets like the ones I have now?


View Doe's profile


1420 posts in 3064 days

#15 posted 11-02-2013 06:03 PM

The disks I got from a local supplier who got them from England. They came in packages of twelve. I’m packing up the box to send you and I tossed in three each of 100, 240, and 400. I have a strip of 800 that I used on the sander without bothering to cut it round and it worked perfectly.

-- Mother Nature talks, I try to listen

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