“The bell-ringing prowess of Trowbridge’s town crier has been reinvigorated after local woodturners fashioned him a new handle for his bell after the old one cracked.”
On each end of the centre column I turned a 2” tenon or spigot to make sure that when I assembled it everything lined up. I also turned a small bead that would sit halfway over the joint,this would disguise the joint and also match the beads on the Easter candle.I was so pleased with the turning of this piece that I totally forgot to photograph it on completion.
I then turned my attention to the top and bottom of the column.I used a no maths method of drawing the rings.I drew a circle and divided it into segments and then transferred the marks for the joints directly onto the timber.This is the bit that people have said is the da@vinci bit.In order to reflect the tradition of fonts being octagonal I made each ring out of eight pieces of wood. I made a jig to aid cutting the segments and although not bad it wasn’t spot on, and so I made each ring in two halves and then glued each half together.
In order to get a good joint I planed each edge before gluing.Making sure that I was planing with the grain and not against it. Because I made the top and bottom rings all in one go each ring was numbered to enable me to keep track of individual rings and not mix up tops with bottoms. There were only nine rings in total but at times it still got confusing and I would have to stop and think.
I used cargo straps to cramp the segments together at each stage,and I wiped the joints clean after assembly to aid the drying process and also to keep things clean as I worked.
After marking and cutting each ring roughly round on the band saw I mounted each one individually and turned them flat on the lathe.I sanded each face to ensure flatness,checking them with a straight edge and light source to get the best joint possible.
These pictures show the stack of segments prior to gluing up and the completed rings being laminated together. I only glued one ring on at a time to ensure that there was no slippage during the process,although the rings look to be fairly wide across each segment if they are not central on each other you very soon lose the required diameter.
I decided to make the centre column first and this needed a hole right down through the middle to allow for a copper pipe to be inserted for draining the font. This picture shows the first part of the construction with a small plug of timber inserted at each end on which the drive centres will be located.These plugs were about 1 1/2” long and about 1”square,this was big enough to support the laminated structure and small enough to be drilled out on completion of the turning. These were glued in as part of the lamination so as to give the required strength to the centres.
I then carried on laminating pieces together until I had a solid lump big enough to turn the centre column out of.In this picture you can see the finished lamination and clearly see the plug in the centre.
When I was ready to lift this piece off the bench I thought that I had glued it to the top but it turned out that it was heavier than I had anticipated and I was not strong enough to lift it. Because it was now too big to go through the bandsaw I had to cut the block to length with my chain saw
to knock off the corners just enough to let it revolve.
This next picture shows me turning the column, this caused it’s own problems as there was no room for the tool rest until I had turned away some of the waste but you can see that the corners have been removed.I kept the turning speed down until the whole thing was balanced and then it happily turned at 425 rpm.As you can see I have a Union Graduate lathe,I was impressed with it’s performance before I started this project but even more so now.
To have your work inspected by strangers is a normal occurrence for wood turners. Every piece you make, whether it is a bowl or a newel post, a work of art or a functional item, should be of the highest quality that you are able to make, this is what I aspire to. To have your work inspected before you have made it is quite strange,well it is to me anyway. I took my drawings along to the church with the cut out model that I had made and spoke at length about the design and the timber, the colour and composition and the finish, trying all the time to paint a picture in words that would do my design justice. There was one comment which at the time I was a bit narked about, the suggestion was to make the hourglass a bit thicker, on drawing this in I could see instantly that this was the right shape, I can’t remember who said this but whoever it was ,thank you. I then left the PCC meeting and went home happy that I had given it my best shot. I heard very soon after that they liked the design and had approved the forwarding of the plans to the faculty meeting. There then followed an anxious wait for permission to start during which time I proceeded to make more than 20 full sized drawings covering every detail of the font. Because of timber prices I had to re-work some of them to accommodate different timber sizes. Deciding eventually on the best size to use I then drew the final constructional details
The font sizes agreed were such that it would not fit onto my lathe as it stood and so alterations were made.A very good friend of mine for many years as well as a first class engineer,Mark made a plate to lower the lathe bed and drop it out a bit.I then made a set of cole jaws to fit my existing set and increase my turning capability, I made these from 3/4” plywood and bolted them on. These were necessary to be able to flat the rings made for the font support and bowl itself. I was delighted when turning the lathe on that the cole jaws ran true and there was no wobble, but I was less pleased when I turned the lathe of as it had been programmed to stop within 5 seconds (I didn’t know this at the time) as the spindle stopped the chuck with my newly made cole jaws carried on proceeding to unwind and fly across the workshop!!
Locally there is a timber supplier,Oscar Windebank at Box , which is just outside of the Georgian city of Bath.They allowed me to sort through the timber I needed, which was European Oak and of very good quality.I didn’t want wood that was the same colour all the way through,although it had to be as straight as possible.As it turned out this Oak was some of the best I had ever used,the colour and figuring only enhanced the finished product.And so onto the production methods used.
I attended a local fete with my lathe and stall where I was turning out spinning tops for the kids and trying to sell my wares to their parents when I was approached by the vicar of my local church. The vicar, Selina Deacon asked what size I could turn on my lathe. I opened my arms wide imitating a fisherman and said “about this big “ She then asked if I could turn a font. I gave the answer considerable thought and after about 2 seconds replied that I could. I have many times had an enquiry from people that turned into nothing (no pun intended) and thought that this might be one of those but on this occasion a short time later I had another call from her asking to meet at the vicarage with some ideas and thoughts on the design.
Up to then I had not spent a lot of time thinking about it but now started frantically trying to come up with ideas. Although I turn for a living and pride myself on my ability to make virtually anything, (I tell my customers that I am only limited by their imagination)I had never considered making something as large as this. Fonts in the Church of England are traditionally octagonal and this was my first train of thought,possibly an eight sided table type construction with eight turned legs supporting it.
It is at this point that I must clarify one or two points. I am not a regular church goer and haven’t been for quite some time now but that doesn’t mean that do not believe. I have never had visions of any type and have never had strange experiences, however , making this font for my local church was a very strange experience. During the making of it and watching the reaction of others that saw it I became aware that I was not just making another bowl.It is very difficult to explain here what I felt whilst making it,all I can say is that I was overcome with the need to make it with as much reverence as possible, and I hope I achieved this.
We met one evening and I was introduced to the two church wardens,Steve Wilcox and Pippa Smith, before hand I had wandered over to the church with Selina where she showed me the Easter candle which had been turned from wood.There then followed a clarity of thought that I have never before experienced. I had over the last couple of years started to make segmented turnings, influenced by Malcolm Tibbett’s’ and Ron Hamilton’s’ very good books on the same subject, indeed that night in the vicars’ office I logged on to Malcolm’s website in order to explain segmented turning to those present. I had drawn an hourglass shape to support a segmented bowl with crosses set into the rings.I don’t know what the others thought the design would look like but I could visualise it in my mind before I had left the office. Over the next few weeks I drew my thoughts onto lining paper in the workshop and worked and re-worked them until I was sure that I had it right. I then made a hardboard cut out and attended another meeting.
At this meeting the finished height was discussed and agreed and also the addition of a plinth that could have some form of lettering around it. Widths and heights of the plinth were set and a date made to present it to the Parochial Church Council.