It is very exciting to make something out of nothing. Although wood isn’t “nothing”, getting free rough wood is the next best thing. One of the most common challenges of wood turning is getting rough wood and preparing it for the lathe in order to create amazing projects.
1. Finding Rough Wood for Wood Turning
The first step is obvious, but can be tricky. After all, depending on where you live, it may not be so simple to locate the right type of wood. Based on this difficulty, here’s a straight forward list of certain things to look out for if you want to find quality wood:
- CraigsList – I’ve seen many people advertise free wood after they’ve cut down a tree. It’s very common to dispose of unwanted wood this way.
- Municipal Cleanup – Cities have to maintain “public” areas and will let you collect branches and trunks. Reach out to your city to find out their schedule.
- Local Trails & Forests – Finding broken tress is easy if you’ve got a forest or trail nearby.
- Private Land – If you are willing to do some work, reach out to a neighbor and offer them to cut some wood on their property. Win / win situation for both of you.
There are many other creative ways to obtain some wood. Look around you and make sure it’s OK before taking something.
2. Pruning the Hazard from Rough Wood
Once you have gathered the precious lumber, you need to make sure it’s safe to turn. Begin by visually inspecting the wood and making sure it has no foreign objects on the surface. Although branches will be obvious, something such as nails, thorns or suspicious residue might not be visible at a first glance. The last thing you want is a nail flying at you while you carve into the wood.
If you aren’t sure about the origin of the wood you have on your hands, be extremely careful. Take your time.
3. Rough Cuts & Blanks
As you finish your examination, start visualizing the final project you want to achieve with this piece of lumber. If you aren’t fully comfortable with cutting by the eye, mark up the wood for where you want to make the splits. Always make sure that your raw piece is larger than what you are trying to get out of it. Naturally, as you cut away, you will need some wiggle room for your creation.
As you gain more experience in woodworking, you will naturally begin to notice patterns which will lead to better practices. One great example in this case is to always cut the wood along the grain. It will make your job easier and you will have nicer looking finished projects when you are done.
4. Preparing the Wood for Clamping
You will need to mark and prepare the rough wood for clamping onto the lathe. Weather you are using your spindle, chucks or otherwise, you will need to identify how you will be securing the lumber on your table. Although this heavily depends on your project and tools at hand, do your best to maximize the volume of what you’re using. If you are working on a bowl, create a tenon for your chuck. Once again, we recommend practicing on a few pieces you are not as attached to before getting started on your main one if this isn’t something you are comfortable with.
5. Applying Sealant to the Lumber
If your plan is to dry the wood, you need to make sure to seal the moisture. Because of the nature of wood turning, without sealant, the wood will lose most of its moisture rather quickly and dry. In order to prevent this from happening, you must apply either paint, wax or a wood sealer which you can purchase at Home Depot or online.
6. Rough Turning the Wood
Select a face plate or chuck for your piece of wood. Turning rough wood usually differs from pre-cut pieces by the fact that the weight is now well distributed. Therefore, it is important to pick an appropriate face plate or chuck for the project. Smaller blanks can easily be attached to a 3″ face place. Once again, once you’ve selected the tool, try to work with the wood instead of against it. In this case, it means recognizing that you need to drive in screws perpendicular to the grain to avoid splitting while the lumber is in motion.
Working on Rough Lumber
Remember that you are dealing with rough wood. This means that it will be irregular, unbalanced and potentially pose a risk at higher speeds when you apply force to it. Start your lathe at a lower speed and adjust as necessary. Pay close attention to any vibrations and signs of weakness in your work. If the wood begins splitting, turn off the lathe and stand clear. Begin carving slowly and gently work your way toward the center of the piece.
While working on a bowl, start with the outside as it will reduce vibrations and make your life easier later on. Once you have rough turned the bowl, let it dry. Otherwise, you will have to account for shrinkage or live with the consequences.