Ryedale Woodturners

Les Thorne

Les Thorne

Thursday 1 October 2015

Snainton Woodturning Supplies


Les Thorne travelled up from Winchester in Hampshire. He has a website www.noturningback.co.uk, and is a member of the Hampshire Woodturning Association

Textured and coloured pepper mill

Les Thorne

Les chose to show us how to make a pepper mill, but more than that, used this piece to talk far more generally about woodturning, techniques, production work, tools, marketing, and a wealth of other fascinating insights into a professional woodturner's life. The amount of information forthcoming was rapid, plentiful and enthusiastically presented, intermingled with a few light hearted digs at the Yorkshire language (mainly aimed at Albert on the front row), and lots of questions attempting to engage his audience.

Pepper mill by Les Thorne The peppermill provides Les with a relatively simple, functional object to which he could apply design techniques, in particular texturing and colouring. He has now made hundreds of these, and has refined the basic shape in response to customer preference by putting different versions on display and asking people what they prefer and why. The end result is a double conical design, with as tight a "waist" as the mechanism will allow, with straight sides, and with the top diameter to suit the average hand - around 65mm.

Chrushgrind peppermill mechanism A groove was cut inside the base using a threading preparation tool (L-shape).

Les had already hollowed out a sycamore blank using a 28mm twist drillbit, and knocked the corners off square, because he would be holding the piece by friction on a tapered chuck mandrel at the headstock, and a conical centre at the tailstock end. If the corners were left on then the additional pressure resulting might cause the blank to slip and leave burn marks at the base.

Magnetic pencil Before shaping the cone for the bottom of the mill, Les showed how to turn beads with his round skew, and how to (deliberately) get a catch with one. The key to avoiding a dig in is to keep the chisel moving forward, and to present the chisel to the wood with the bevel edge square on. This necessitates moving the feet and body to get the correct angle.

blow torching A large roughing gouge was used to shape the cone. Les said he had timed the quickest way to rough out a piece to round, and this was with a forward and backward movement using the centre of the gouge blade. This is the strongest part of the blade for the roughest part of the job. This then leaves the edges of the curve still sharp for the fine tuning of shape.

Sandoflex disc Les showed that contrary to normal practice, cutting uphill on a cone is easier than downhill. Having got the shape with the roughing gouge, he finished the surface with a planing cut taken with s skew.

The top piece was made in a similar fashion to the base. A gouge was used when cutting across the endgrain - a better finish than the skew. It was a loose fit onto the base, as it needs to turn easily to grind the salt or pepper. The top part of the grinder mechanism was put in the blank before turning, because with the waist of the piece being as thin as possible, putting it in after shaping had caused others to split. Then to hold the piece, Les had commissioned an engineer friend to make a spike equivalent in size and shape to the mill stem - which on a Crushgrind is pentagonal - and this formed part of the tapered chuck mandrel used earlier.

Texturing with a ProxxonThen came the decoration. The mill was attacked with a Proxxon - preferred to a Dremel because it runs slower - with a fairly aggressive bit. Texture cut away in less than 6 minutes ("if it takes longer than 6 minutes you cannot make money out of it"). The fine shavings were blow torched away first (by way of demonstration). A Sandoflex drum was then used. Les likes these as they allow rapid sanding and variable pressure. The piece was then sprayed with ebonising laquer, and dry brushed with a wax-based gilt cream. Although lacquer is not supposed to go over wax products, Les reckoned it did in this case and this provided the durable finish required by a kitchen environment.

Turned brass Les finished by turning a brass insert for the top of the mill. Turned so a slight dome with woodturning tools, then finished with 320 grit, followed by 400 Nyweb pad with some burnishing cream on, then just the cream on a rag. This produced a shiny clean finish. The same technique would work on an acrylic pen.

Les Thorne Finally to fit it all together, make a plug which contacts the rim so no pressure is applied on the grinding mechanism, and push together in the lathe. With a good cardboard box and a catchy name, this mill would retail at £60 - £80.

Hints and tips
  • tSycamore is a close-grained evenly textured wood that works well with texturing and paint. Lime is not so good at accepting paint.
  • When drilling a large diameter hole, using a little non-drying oil such as food-safe or liquid paraffin to prevent the screeching noises
  • When sharpening a roughing gouge, sharpen from heel to edge, not the other way round. This will retain the angle on the bevel.
  • Woodturners tend to use vernier calipers for transferring measurements rather than measuring, so round off the points and take out the depth gauge to make this operation safer.
  • When using spray cans, warming them up will improve the delivery, but will also remove the contents more quickly. Standing in hot water until just verging on too hot to pick up was the recommended method of heating.