The Story of Curly African Sumac

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Project by StevenAntonucci posted 05-22-2009 12:34 AM 2183 views 0 times favorited 11 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Neither picture really does this piece justice, as the wood, form and finish all beg to be inspected to truly appreciate it.

Every once in a while, it all comes together at the lathe. Your shape is expressive and the wood perfectly suited for it. I wanted to turn another one of these pots, since I had stumbled on this form many years ago. I have a habit of undercutting the rim larger than the diameter of the vessel, and thusly a fine collection of bowls. When you have a combination of undercutting and form, it’s much more difficult to get it just so… even moreso than the flat river rock vessels I occassionallly make.

The other half of this piece of wood didn’t make it. I blew it, so I didn’t want to ruin the whole log. I also struggled with producing mediocrity. “It’s only wood” is usually true, but it only goes so far. Clearly, this is a piece of wood deserving of a less callous attitude. Faced with this decision, I decided on 1/8” to 3/16” walls through a 1/2” hole. Smalller hole would be too risky (how I lost the first one) and 1/16” would also be pushing my skills (yeah, the first one was 3/8”+/- and 1/16”...and one blink of an eye later it was 0/16”)

Hollowing a vessel this size (4×6” give or take) is only about an hour’s work from between centers to hand sanding. There just isn’t that much wood to remove, so it doesn’t take very long getting it done. However, for one solid hour, you need to be in the moment. Nothing else can matter but you and the wood and the sound of the lathe and the tool cutting. No “design changes” from a catch. No dismounts. Lots of measument and compressors puffs to blow out chips. It’s like a dance, and you have to make every move and step to get perfect marks.

On to finishing. If your cuts are clean, start at 180 grit or better. I usually cut the outer surfaces with a skew to avoid tearout, and I sand back to 180 to get a level and consistent surface. Quick spin at 220 and 320 and 400, and we come off the lathe. Inspect the surface for any defects, and correct by hand sanding. Once I am off the lathe, I never go back on. Three coats of oil with a day or more in between, and sanded with 400 Grit before buffing with white diamond and a coating of Carnuba wax. Signed with a heat brand and calligraphy pen.

I am done, but this piece isn’t complete yet. African Sumac is similar to cherry in that it reacts to UV light. Over time, this piece will turn a dramatically different color- red!- with exposure to sunlight. It sits in my sunroom waiting to get to it’s environmental equilibrium

Thanks for reading.

(Epilogue: I really need to make a photo setup…)

-- Steven

11 comments so far

View a1Jim's profile


117113 posts in 3599 days

#1 posted 05-22-2009 12:39 AM

Looks wonderful and a unique wood

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View Francisco Luna's profile

Francisco Luna

943 posts in 3415 days

#2 posted 05-22-2009 12:45 AM

A nice vessel, great work!

-- Nature is my manifestation of God. I go to nature every day for inspiration in the day's work. I follow in building the principles which nature has used in its domain" Frank Lloyd Wright

View Woodhacker's profile


1139 posts in 3745 days

#3 posted 05-22-2009 12:49 AM

Steven, beautiful job…and a great write up too.

Thanks for posting.

-- Martin, Kansas

View Christopher's profile


576 posts in 3942 days

#4 posted 05-22-2009 01:20 AM

Beautiful write up for a beautiful piece.

View trifern's profile


8135 posts in 3789 days

#5 posted 05-22-2009 01:25 AM

Nice turning Steven. Your write up has my juices flowing, so back to the lathe I go. Thanks for sharing.

-- My favorite piece is my last one, my best piece is my next one.

View Dusty56's profile


11819 posts in 3709 days

#6 posted 05-22-2009 02:18 AM

If only the pix were as good as the story…Nice details in the story…I wish my old , tired eyes could behold the beauty of your turning.

-- I'm absolutely positive that I couldn't be more uncertain!

View mtnwild's profile


3474 posts in 3549 days

#7 posted 05-22-2009 02:24 AM

Beautiful the way you brought out the beautiful wood.

-- mtnwild (Jack), It's not what you see, it's how you see it.

View bigwoodturner's profile


231 posts in 3367 days

#8 posted 05-22-2009 03:54 AM

I really like the color and ripple in the summac. Great use of the piece of wood. I just got the equivelant of 6 cords of birch that I hope will have the ripples this summac has, we will see.

-- Dale

View Dan'um Style's profile

Dan'um Style

14173 posts in 4004 days

#9 posted 05-22-2009 05:34 AM

very nice work … great looking wood

-- keeping myself entertained ... Humor and fun lubricate the brain

View jockmike2's profile


10635 posts in 4268 days

#10 posted 05-22-2009 05:41 PM

Nice turning and great story.

-- (You just have to please the man in the Mirror) Mike from Michigan -

View Maxx's profile


136 posts in 3327 days

#11 posted 05-22-2009 10:45 PM

Y’know…the last thing I need is a new addiction – but with your description and the finished product…I’m not sure how much longer I can go without shopping for a lathe.

-- Where did all this sawdust come from?

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