18 May 2005

Weed Pots and Walnut

I sometimes describe weed pots as vases on a budget, but they are in fact a distinct category of woodturned item. Turned vases tend to be medium to large sized pieces which are usually hollowed out and often relatively thin-walled. They may be classically shaped or free-form and sculptural. Finish treatments range from simple oiled-and-buffed to intricately colored, pierced, painted, sandblasted, charred, or whatever the turner wishes. They are admirably suited to display the turner's creativity and skill.

Weed pots are quieter, more reminiscent of a delicate woodcut print than a grand oil landscape. They are small enough to be picked up, so that the details of form and finish can be felt as well as seen. This also means that flaws in proportion, shape, and execution are readily apparent, so they are a good object on which to hone one's skills in these areas.

But weed pots have a charm all their own, which makes them more than just practice pieces. They are a perfect way to display small chunks of burl or other highly figured or spalted wood. Tropical hardwoods with their vivid hues make lovely accent pieces in this form. You can place several together on a corner shelf, and they are perfect for adding a personal touch to a cubicle or office.

Besides being decorative, weed pots are also functional. They are designed to hold miniature arrangements of dried flowers, grasses, and, well, dried weeds. A slender weedpot containing a carefully chosen assortment of grasses two to three times its own height can be rather elegant. I often include tiny teasel heads in the bouquet, when I've been able to gather and dry them myself.

Weed pots normally just have a hole drilled in them, rather than being hollowed out. This is much easier on the turner, and besides, the weight of the remaining wood is needed so the piece won't tip over when a bouquet is added. Form and finish are usually more restrained than with the big display vases, but this is of course not mandatory! With the field of woodturning in general pushing the envelope in all directions, even the humble weed pot is fair game for experimentation.

One variation occasionally seen in larger weedpots is the inclusion of a glass tube that slips into the drilled hole, either sitting flush with the edge, or deliberately extending upward. Filling this tube with water allows the weed pot to be used as a bud vase.

Walnut Weedpot

Here is a weed pot I recently completed. This piece of black walnut is quite straight-grained and lends itself perfectly to the round shape. It also displays chatoyance, evident by a slight difference in color on the upper and lower curved areas and in the neck. (This difference is not obvious in the picture.) When you stand the pot upside down, the light and dark areas are still below and above the belly, respectively. Walnut is lovely wood to work with!

I finished this piece with three coats of Watco Natural Danish Oil, applied over three days, and then gently buffed it. The day after it was finished, I took this picture. That same afternoon, a friend came to visit, saw the weedpot, and bought it. *sigh* Back to the lathe.


09 May 2005

SF and Smart Shoppers

I went to the Oregon Mensa Regional Gathering held this weekend in Vancouver, WA. There were approximately 120 paid attendees, some from as far away as southern California, and another contingent down from "the other Vancouver", Vancouver, BC. It was an excellent turnout, and the raffle and auctions raised over $2000 for the Mensa scholarship fund.

Although the theme was history, the presentations ranged over a wide variety of topics. One local luthier discussed the broad concepts of "resonance" in instruments and art, including the relationship of sandpaper grits and types of wood as they affect the ultimate matching or mis-matching of the various parts of an instrument, which in turn controls the transmission and transmutation of mechanical energy to sound. As a classically-trained violinist myself, I could resonate with some of what he was saying, but I had to leave partway thru his talk.

The after-dinner keynote speaker was Donna Shirley, who is currently the Director of the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in Seattle. Founded by Paul G. Allen and Jody Patton,
The Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame (SFM) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization created to inspire new generations to reach beyond the present, imagine the future and explore the infinite possibilities of the universe.
My interest in science fiction reaches back long before "Star Trek", and I was introduced to SF fandom in the late '70s. I have long believed that SF is a genre that excels in stretching one's mind in new directions, with the ability to stimulate interest not only in the hard sciences, but also in sociology, history, economics, politics, art and religion, for starters. This view appears to be shared by the founders and staff of the SFM.

In my opinion, good science fiction explores what could be as well as what might have been. It can draw parallels to current cultures and conflicts, and by placing them in unfamiliar context, allow readers (and viewers) to examine them more dispassionately and perhaps with greater insight. It can kindle dreams of where mankind might want to go, or paint burning images of nightmare scenarios we must strive to avoid. It can explore issues of hatred and tolerance, control and independence, similarity and diversity. It can entertain us, stimulate us, provoke us, and teach us about ourselves and the universe.

Needless to say, I very much enjoyed Donna's presentation, and I've put SFM on my list of places to visit Real Soon Now. By the way, if Donna Shirley's name sounds familiar, she was for many years the manager of the Mars Exploration Program at JPL, and the original leader of the team that built the Sojourner Rover and sent it to Mars in 1997. She has written about this part of her life in the book "Managing Martians". (By the way, she suggested buying the paperback version because the hardbound version contains some errors.)

Overall, the RG was great fun, made even better when I sold two of my pieces to fellow Mensans. One piece was a clapperless bell made of Gombeira (Swartzia laxiflora) from Brazil, and the other was the Egg of a Different Color. Definitely a good weekend!


05 May 2005

Ethanol from Wood

A friend forwarded this from the May 05, 2005 edition of the Christian Science Monitor. The article implies that the technology could be up and running commercially in two years or so.

Will wood help fill US energy needs?
By John K. Borchardt, Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Forget corn processing. Don't wait for switch grass. The real key to producing enough ethanol for America's cars and trucks this century is wood.

That's the contention of researchers at the State University of New York (SUNY). By revamping the way paper is made, they've found an economical way to extract important energy-rich sugars from the trees and then convert these sugars into ethanol, a gasoline additive, and other useful chemicals.

Read the whole thing.