Wednesday, 29 June 2011

My Blog Has Moved!!!

Please note that my blog has moved to my own website:

All future posting will be made there. Please come and visit! :)

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

What Is Writing All About Anyway?

For nearly two years I was a professional writer. Earning peanuts by writing quality web-site content for monkeys who had little or less hope of getting their web sites up in the rankings than anyone else in this crazy, money-driven  world.

The idea is that a well-written article gets published by a website owner on a eZine site. It contains, along with good information about currently important topics, the eZine-allowed two URL references back to the buyer's website.  The article is spied by others who recognise quality when they see it, and it is then copied and published over and over again (virally) on an increasing number of websites looking for *any* content related to their particular subject area. One of them reached 28,000 copies and then I got tired of watching. The more times the article is copied, the more times the URL of the owner's website is exposed to internet search engines. And we all know, of course, that the more times that the bots see your url - the higher your page's ranking will be in the results of searches. The aim is always to be in the number one spot, and definitely on the first page of the search results.

And if anyone has still not heard the penny drop - the reason for this is simple. If a user searches on a word, say, haemorrhoids, and you are in the top ten websites that come up in the results and you just happen to sell haemorrhoid remedies (or refer to a website that does) - the chances are that the person looking for a solution to his problem will buy from your shop (equals money) or from the click-through website (equals less, but still some money).  

I wrote 500 words (495 actually - you never, ever give them everything they ask for) for around 500 cents (American) less about 25% for fees which were taken by the introducing forum and the money transfer and currency conversion agents. Despite paying next to nothing and expecting the world,  on the odd occasion someone, somewhere would whine about a one-letter error because a word was spelt in the UK fashion rather than the American. Like they couldn't fix it themselves.

One particularly ratty day, I got a snottogram from just one such (and particularly difficult to work for) buyer who told me I had wasted his time by causing him to have to send my article back to me for correction. It was a bad day to do that to me. Having just worked 18 hours on the trot for a decent customer (he paid $10 per 495 words plus he added on fees on top) to help him out and so feeling rather testy, I sent the chap back an email suggesting that he might like to substitute this word (correct spelling in inverted commas) for the incorrectly spelled word (in inverted commas) and the job would be done and that if he was smart enough to actually be able to see a single spelling error in 500 words, then surely he was smart enough to correct it himself without asking me to send him the correct spelling?

My email had the necessary effect. The quantity of words that I came back must have taken him at least an hour to write. In reality I suspect it was about two hour's worth of composition and editing in order to get exactly the right tone, vocabulary and essence in the message - for that was the period between me sending the reply and receiving his liturgy.

On receipt, I sent him back another one which read more or less 'Oops. Sorry - before I had a chance to read what you wrote - I accidentally deleted your email. Would you mind resending please?'  That of course required further composition and of course, another hour's worth of ranting and finger bashing on his part.

Have you guessed it yet?

For those who haven't, I'll spell it out for you. The moral of the story is:  don't waste my time with inane stupidity, or you will find I will happily waste a LOT of yours... 

I deleted the next one too, but not before I sent him a third email in which I pointed out that 2 seconds of typing in one single letter and pressing a single backspace button to correct a genuine oversight on my part would have saved him 3 hours of typing. And - oh - by the way - he owed me for the time I just spent reading his rather lengthy emails (as per the sales/communications regulations of the forum through which we did our negotiations).

I wonder if he learned his lesson?

Today was a good day. I learned that people liked my hand turned pens and bought 4 of them during the last two weeks. There is nothing quite as encouraging when a buyer feeds back just how happy they are with something you have created - whether it be with your hands, out of wood, or through your fingertips on a keyboard - by means of words.

Now I need to make some more to go in the shop for someone else to come along and like...

For ready made gift pens and enough pen blanks to keep every pen maker's heart happy - please visit my website and webshop  on URL:

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Little Clocks or Standardisation...

Something different to come out of my Wonderous Cave.

Inspired by an article in one of the ancient wood turning magazines, I came up with my own design for a little clock. Having made so many since then, these can now be regarded as a JbT signature design - so if they interest you - and you wish to make something similar - do so with pleasure - ONLY don't copy my design/shape. Come up with your own. It's not hard to do and there is a certain satisfaction in making something special to sell.


While I appreciate that there really is nothing new under the sun (I mean - the Phoenicians summarised it all by the time they looked
after the planet) I did build a special chuck to hold these when turning them.

Vacuum chucking systems are wonderful and truly simplify some parts of the turning process. In other ways, they can be very frustrating, have the tiniest air leak and the integrity of the whole system is compromised and you run the risk of doming yourself as a sharp-cornered item the weight and size of a cricket ball flies off whilst spinning at 2500 RPM. That's like standing 2 feet away from the hand a fast bowler as he hurls a cricket ball in your direction (and then some)...

Which brings me on to the next topic of conversation - an object lesson. Brought home to us by the rather untimely death of a fellow lady turner (in America) who was hit on the head by a flying lump of cedar.

The consensus seems to be that had she been wearing an impact face shield and integral bump cap, she may well have lived to tell the tale.

Instead, she was wearing what most of us use to turn in - a simple pair of safety specs. While they may keep splinters and sawdust from going in our eyes, they do little to stop a sharp flying missile that emerges at mach whatever from an exploding piece of turning wood on the lathe.

It was just this type of flying object which sliced straight through her left eye socket and left temple and embedded itself into the left hand side of her brain causing extensive brain damage on it's way. She was found some hours later in a pool of blood by her husband when he returned home from work, lathe still running in the background. She lingered in a coma for two weeks in intensive care, and then succumbed to her injuries.

How incredibly sad, and a reminder that woodturning can be very dangerous and we should be taking the proper steps to prevent those head injuries from happening to us. I think I shall dust off my old Trend face shield and put up with some inconvenience until I have saved up the necessary £250 to buy the lighter high impact/bump cap model.

Back off my soapbox again - these little clocks require a four stage process, and are turned to a 'recipe' while still being individuals. The recipe involves certain shapes at specific sizes so that they will fit into and be held most securely in the vac chuck I especially made for them.

These Little Clocks come with a quality Japanese movement installed which use commonly available watch batteries which are easy to change. They are available to buy through my webshop at the following URL:

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Little things

Small things are fun to make, but they require infinite patience, a steady hand, close attention and above all, a good magnifying glass!

These are made to 1/12th scale of yew, yellow box burr and masur birch. The larger yew bowl is a shade under 25mm (1 inch) in size.

Clockwise from top left: Yew 25mmW x 18mmH,
Yellow Box Burr, Masur Birch, Yew and
Yellow Box Burr (natural edge)

Just as I would turn a larger bowl, each has been held by a screw chuck into the top. The outside was shaped,  a 6mm holding dovetail spigot was turned onto the base and the bowl reverse-chucked into a home-made set of dovetail jaws made out of corian. They form a 6mm circle when closed onto the base spigots. The inside is turned out and the bowl is then reversed and re-chucked so that the dovetail can be turned away and the foot completed.

Turning out the inside of the bowls is usually fun. The forces on the tiny spigots are so great that if you don't take it very gently and slowly, you spend a lot of time turning new spigots onto the blanks because the last one has sheered off.  Grain that runs across the width of the bowl is the most difficult, but results in a beautiful end product, just as it does in larger bowls.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

HWA (Hampshire Woodturners Association) Challenge June2011 Entries

These were my entries for Monday night's HWA Challenge - June 2011
Little Green Apples - a shallow bowl made from sycamore.
Pre-cut heart shape and turned out with a very sharp gouge
to prevent the tip from being broken off. Approx 2mm thick

Soapbox time!

Those who know me very well know that with rare exceptions I don't take competitions very seriously at all. But then I have an excuse for my attitude.

Throughout my life,  Hypermobility has been a real problem, affecting  my joints and how my body is able to perform, making it painful to participate in sports. Although I did play a select number of them, the fact was there was no chance of me getting to the top of anything.

Little Lemon Tree. I don't think many people got this.
The inference was that the challenge this month was
'a bit of a lemon (waste of time)'. I had a laugh though.

It didn't stop me trying though.

Although I didn't recognise it as a child, I believe that the knowledge that I would never get to win made the participation in the activity more important than the Silver Cup, an attitude that has remained with me ever since.

As my children have grown up, I have watched the emphasis in the way schools treat sports move away from winning to an attempt to develop team skills and positive attitude toward participation in team games and sports in general - to the point where our children don't seem to have the necessary drive to even try and make the top three (oh - sorry - these days only the top one counts) places. About 10 years ago - the shift started changing in order to try and combat that attitude, so far with little success. Sad, but true. And now the government is having to advertise on radio and TV in order to get enough competitors together to take part in the Olympic Games. Or is that as a result of bad funding for many years... ?

Ring A Ring 'o Roses.   Rings turnbed from Red Deer Antler.
They will both fit my pinkie. The roses come from
a climbing rose in the back garden. Nicely
photographed by Phil Bristow. Thanks Phil!
Anyway - getting off my soapbox and back to the HWA Challenge - the wood turning club I attend holds a challenge once every three months instead of an annual competition. The idea was to encourage more people to take part, because the format allows anyone, no matter what their skill level, to win if their interpretation of a concept titillates the imagination of the general populace present who vote for their favourite three entries.

Judging is based on how much you like a piece, not by how well it is made. This means that someone with basic skill but lots of creativity and gumption is able to beat someone else who turns the most technically advanced piece in the universe. It also means that an item thrown together in 3 minutes could beat one that took 20 hours to make.

Ring of Fire
I wasn't going to go on Monday, as I had not been inspired enough by the categories we were given to work with to actually make anything to take. Apparently a lot of others felt the same - there were only 14 entries this time round and a reduced attendance...  At 5pm, my kids pressurised me into agreeing to go out as they wanted to watch a Sci-Fi movie with loud surround sound (yuck). So at 5.15 I started putting together some entries for the 4 categories - Ring of FIre, Ring A Ring 'o Roses, Little Lemon Tree and Little Green Apples. Not terribly inviting to me, I must admit. An hour later they were ready and in my bag for their trip out to the display tables.

For what they are worth - enjoy.

Monday, 6 June 2011

A Thing for Leather

There are so many people out there who have a 'thing' for leather...

I sometimes wonder whether it is a perversion, a base desire - a compulsion perhaps, or is it a nod of recognition in the direction of our edible co-inhabitants on this earth?

No matter what - leather is great to touch and makes the best containers. It makes people feel good, and I am a part of the process that enhances peoples' lives. My knife sheaths, pocket, belt and possibles pouches are worn all over the UK by both men and women - those who love leather. And I am proud of it.

There are times when it goes well in the making, when the leather will meld and conform to my hands and moulds, and other times when no matter what - it refuses to obey. There are also times when it works well, and still lets you know that it's the boss.

This little custom-commission was one of those times. It has the delicious touchable feel of quality leather and the independence of mind that makes it unique and a one off. Made to go on the belt, it's a dual pocketed holder for the Gerber Splice and Vice Mini Multi-Tools. The owner was delighted and I was pleased that he was.

Maybe I am not charging enough. There are more orders than I can handle, I have to regularly close my order books because I can't keep up with the pressure. What's more - customers keep coming back for more. And they are well-prepared to wait the four months or so that it takes to get their orders done. One of them recently said: "I keep coming back to you Jean, because there are a lot of makers out there who's work costs the same and is to be frank crap! Your sheaths are always first class - I will wait!"

That leads me on to the next consideration - pricing. The 'best' price is always the price that the market will bear - the price that is perceived to be value for money. If I set my prices at that 'best' level, does this mean I am greedy, or does it mean that I have the ability and thus the right to make a healthy profit from my work?

This causes a dilemma because that then raises the question of why I actually do what I do - because I want to make money, or because I too have a 'thing' for leather...

Which reminds me - I have a show coming up in July - must get on and make some more stock for my shop and table! No commission orders until further notice.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Field Maple and a Sweet Treasure

Toward the end of last year I attended a full day Masters Workshop at Stuart Mortimer's house (he's the Master, not us) where he turned a type of wood that I had never seen before - FIeld Maple.

He took a 6inch diameter piece of wet (5 months down) trunk wood which was without blemish and made a hollow form out of it, intending to use it for carving on once it was dry. Holding the hollow form after that part of the demo, I was struck by the beauty of the grain, and have looked for an apportunity to turn some since then.

As you will have seen earlier on in this blog - Jaime came home with a log of wood that could be field maple, we are not sure, but anyway - to get back to the story...

My friend Rich who works for a ultility company and is involved in clearing areas called me and asked if I would be interested in some field maple - he had cut a piece that was covered by burrs and it seemed a waste not to use it.

Who could refuse?!   A trip half way across the bottom of the country (very pleasant and worthwhile on it's own for refreshing the soul) found me with a couple of pieces of lovely burr wood, Two of which I cut up into knife scales for Rich and the other of which is still waiting my attention.

One one of the pieces I cut up there was a piece of burr wood that would not make any sensible sized scales. This is the little piece I turned for my own pleasure. And here it is - my little treasure of Field Maple Burr.  A little under 4 x 2.5 inches in size, turned wet and finished with a bit of sanding sealer and wax.

Friday, 3 June 2011

The joy of grooving...

When I was training to be a table tennis coach we were taught about the term 'grooving'. This is where you play the same shot to the same place over and over and over again until it becomes 'muscle memory' and no matter where you are in future, your body will remember the shot and repeat it exactly as you grooved it, resulting in higher consistency under pressure.

 Whether we want to accept it generally or not - grooving (or practice) usually results in a better outcome. Woodturning is no different, and having done a bit of 'production' turning in the past has taught me that it's no different from when I was grooving shots so that I would be able to teach county level and above players how to do them.

What always surprises me is that I start with about 30-40 blanks for one particular item, find I work on technique for the 1st 5 or so to find the most comfortable method of making the item, and then practice that method on the next 5 pieces. I then carry on going, and am always a little surpised when I reach out for another blank just to find that there aren't any left!  It becomes a subconscious thing almost, and while you walk out of the workshop totally exhausted, there is a deep sense of satisfaction with the results of the day's turning.

Shown in the pictures are a few items that I have been making using this method - arranged in small groups. Not the most artistic of things, even 'mundane' in design and  execution, but they suit the purpose and price tag for which they were made.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Listening to the wood...

There are times when it pays to listen to the wood as you turn it.

This piece of ash was going to be a platter  - the intention was to make a large rim and carve and decorate it with spirit dyes and bonising spray - as the grain showing on the outside was fairly plain and not terribly inspiring.  After about an hour's total frustration - catch after catch, resharpening my tools, changing the height of my toolrest, re-evaluating my turning technique etc, I finally took a breather and sat in the sun outside for five minutes to calm myself.

When I came back in again - I heard myselfy talking to the chunk of wood. It went along the lines of "Ok - so you don't want to be a pretty platter - so what DO you want to be then?" I de-focussed my eyes (not always a good thing when turning), and let the grain of the wood guide my tools rather than the other way around. After another 20 minutes or so, this is what emerged - and looking at the inside and how the grain lines are just about perfect in the middle, I'd say the wood was trying to guide me all the way, only I wasn't being sensitive enough to hear what it was trying to say to me. And I don't hug trees...

Except for the foot and the slightly raised bead on the edge, the bowl is more or less the same thickness all the way through.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Latest foray into arbortech art

Arbortechs come in a couple of different models. The one I most covet costs around £120 for the blade, so I make do with the baby attachment which I needed first and bought some years ago. This one fits onto a standard angle grinder by means of a plastic housing and a wheel which drives the cutting blade by means of a little rubber band.

The idea is you turn your item and either stop the lathe or start carving at it while it rotates. A face shield is a necessity, as are ear muffs and a strong set of arms to hold the dancing apparatus steady enough to make it do what you want it to do.

Sunday is the day when I turn for pleasure - the rest of the week is for production work. Here is a 'Playtime Platter':
Called :  Approaching 50
Wood: Sycamore
How it was done:  Turned, dyed and ebonised, arborteched while stationary. Remounted slightly off-centre (a miniscule amount) and arborteched again while the lathe was spinning slowly to get that worn away effect. Cleaned up with a brass brush and hand sanding, then spray lacquered.
 The underneath was arborteched while the lathe was stationary, then ebonised and lacquered.

I was pleased with this one.
The African Blackwood stand you see in the pics is not part of the platter. It is my 'lifter-upper'.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Huichol Beadwork

The Huichol tribe of Mexico survive by making and selling the most intriguing art work - using yarn and beeswax to create colourful paintings. I have known about this for along time. What I discovered more recently was an extension of that style of art where carved wooden shapes are covered with a layer of a beeswax/resin mix and glass beads are then pushed into the wax in colourful, intricate patterns. I decided to try and combine this form of Huichol art with my own wood turning and have been researching and experimenting with the process ever since. Having come up with a beeswax mix that satisfies me, I turned a little hollow form from field maple to give it a try. The results were satisfying to say the least. Setting this little ring of beads (about 1000) took a mere 2.1/2 hours...

Beech or Field Maple...

A couple of weeks ago, my son called me at home...

"Can you come and fetch me please - I've got a piece of tree for you, only it's really heavy."

He'd gone for a bit of a walk - about 10 miles in his language - and found a piece of freshly cut tree around 10" dia and about 3 foot long. Around 50-60kg in weight, he'd carried it around 3 miles to the end of the track, thinking I may like to turn it.

I was parked in so Dad and little brother had to go to the rescue. They came home with a boot full of log.

A couple of days later I had a number of part-turned bowl blanks, all covered with PVA and set down to dry alongside loads of wet cedar bowls in my work space. Some are moving nicely turning into ovals, but one showed signs of cracking along the end grain. In order to not lose it completely, I put it on the lathe on a re-turned spigot, and started turning it down to around 6mm wall thickness in stages, wet-sanding with oil as I went.

Finished with sanding sealer and beeswax, it's gradually going more oval, and the cracks are progressing slowly as it moves.

With a bit of luck it will stay in one piece and my son can get to keep it as a reminder of his enthusiasm and thanks for his big heart, but I still can't decide whether it is a very light coloured beech or field maple...