Today a number of us from the Northeast Florida Woodturners headed to Keith Larrett’s Syzygy Woodworks to learn how he creates his suspended vessels, or more precisely, how creates all the different methods he uses to suspend his vessels.
These are the kinds of suspended vessels Keith wanted to demo for us.
Each of these forms has a different style of leg. Each approach is quite different and even for the style in the middle, multiple approaches are possible. Although he was planning to start with the design on the left, he had to do some prep for steam bending, one of the approaches he uses for the middle design.
Keith uses a steam box he made to get the leg blanks pliable enough to bend.
Even though this was going to be the second demo, he likes to steam the blanks for about 45 minutes before bending.
Once the blanks were in the steambox, Keith started explaining his design process, the creation of the leg design on paper and then how he creates a template. Keith is not afraid of math and is quite precise about his layout procedures taking measurements from the vessel he is going to suspend and rendering a good representation down on paper with the use of rulers, triangle and flexible rulers. Once the vessel is on paper he can play with various designs that will fit the shape of the vessel, give proper clearance of the vessel from the surface and bring in some unique design. He is often inspired by tribal art designs.
Once the design has been finalized, he adheres the paper version to a piece of thin plywood with spray adhesive and cuts the outside on a bandsaw. He was using a 1/8”, 14 tpi blade today, which gave a pretty smooth cut. However, the shape and fairness are then tweaked using an oscillating spindle sander until he perfects the design. He then uses a scroll saw to cut the interior out and hand sands this until the template is completed.
With the template complete, Keith uses a pin nailer to create a stack of three leg blanks, so that the three legs can all be cut on the bandsaw and scrollsaw at the same time, ensuring matching legs. These legs were made of maple, but since Keith generally uses black legs for the vessels, he stained the pieces black.
Keith wanted to make all the different legs first and would then show us how to attach them to the vessel, so he then moved on to the second kind of leg. This leg could be made in three different ways. First was steam bending. The quartersaw blanks he had earlier added to the steambox were now ready to go. He had three identical molds and lots of clamps set up to get the blanks from the steambox into the molds as quickly as possible. After getting the first one into the mold he asked if anyone wanted to try and Kathy jumped at the chance to do a little bending.
Once in the molds, they had to dry for about a day to retain their bent form.
Another method for shaping this style of legs is to use hot-pipe bending. Keith built a rig (he had a rig or jig for everything) where he used a propane torch to heat a 2” black iron (don’t use galvanized) pipe to 200°F. He then took some blanks identical to the steam bent ones and gradually began to bend the curves using the heat from the pipe.
Although we had a little more breakage with this method, Keith had prepared enough blanks to show us the technique and give some of us a little practice. The advantage of hot-pipe bending is that As soon as you’ve completed the bend, you’re ready to go – no waiting for the blank to dry.
The third method for making this kind of leg is bent lamination. This process utilizes a number of thin strips, glued together and then clamped into a mold very similar to the steam bending molds. Keith reviewed three different methods for creating the thin strips including a very neat vacuum fence to keep the thin strips from getting caught in the blade or flying off the saw. Keith pointed out that it was also critical to use a zero clearance insert on your table saw. He also uses circular saw blades for this operation, since the kerf is narrower than a full sized tablesaw blade and the boards he is cutting aren’t very thick.
Keith uses plastic resin (urea formaldehyde) glue for his laminations since there is no “creep” once the mold is removed. The downside to using plastic resin glue is that it takes 14 hours to dry.
Since some of the legs needed time to dry, Keith had already prepared a set in advance. Since these legs come out of the mold as bent, uniform strips of wood, Keith liks to refine the shape on an oscillating sander.
Now it was off to the lathe to begin showing us how to mount the legs. Keith makes all his vessels with threaded, pewter inserts. He uses this threaded insert to mount the vessel, using a chuck with a threaded male piece. A disk is also added to the tailstock end to aid in leg positioning and alignment.
The process of cutting slots for the cut legs (the first one Keith did) is all a matter of precision and having everything as steady as possible. Since there are three legs, Keith uses the indexer on the lathe, but makes sure there is no slop which would ruin the routed channel. Once he’s got the vessel mounted and steady, he adds his routing jig.
Keith uses a trim router on a very stable table absolutely true to the ways of the lathe. Keith shows us that it is really a plunge cut that he is interested in, so that there are no gaps and the top and bottom of the legs.
Tape is put on the vessel to help with marking, minimizing chipout and also to mask the vessel when gluing. The leg is placed against the vessel and the slot position determined and marked on the tape. The stops are then set on the router platform and the first plunge cut it made.
The leg is then tested in the slot. The leg needs to touch the disk in the tailstock and align with one of the concentric lines to ensure all the legs will be positioned correctly.
Notice how the bottom of the leg is aligned with one of the concentric rings on the disk. Sometimes the leg needs to fit a little deeper into the slot. Rather than rout deeper, Keith told us that you need to lengthen the routed channel a bit and the leg will slide in farther. Once everything works on the first leg, all the stops on the platform are clamped tightly so that the cuts can be reproduced two more times.
Here’s the finished vessel.
Keith hardly took a break and started on the demo of the second type of leg he uses for his vessels. This one was the steam bent leg and he attaches by drilling a ¼” hole in the leg and the vessel and then gluing a homemade rivet or dowel into place with epoxy.
The new vessel is mounted on the lathe in the same way as the last example. This time though, Keith used a homemade drilling device that allowed him to accurately position the drill bit.
Once the hole in the vessel was completed and dowel center was put in the hole to mark the drilling position on the leg. The leg was drilled off the lathe and then he used a homemade rivet, which he glued through the leg into the vessel with epoxy.
It was getting late by this time and Keith had been going non-stop for six hours, so rather than actually casting a new pewter ring, he just walked us through the process. We had seen him cast the pewter collars at a club demo, so we knew the process. He uses the cut legs, like in the first demo, but uses the tablesaw to cut a shallow slot, exactly the width of the pewter ring and glues the legs to the ring with epoxy. Unlike the other two versions, in this case the vessel just rests in the pewter ring. The legs are not permanently attached to the vessel.
By this time we were all beat and had a lot to absorb. We all thanked Keith for his great demo and we all surely learned a lot.