"Turning Wood into Art"

"Nothing is better for a man than that he should eat and drink,
and that his soul should enjoy good in his labor...."
-Ecclesiastes 2, 24

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Why be "Environmentally Friendly"?

In my profile I talk about creating my woodturnings from trees destroyed by storms or destined for the wood pile.  I follow this practice both for ecological reasons and because it gives me almost total control over the material that goes into the work I produce.  That way - vagaries and hidden defects in the wood notwithstanding - the responsibility for any mistakes is mine.  And it is consistent with my ethic to give new - or renewed - life to a thing of beauty that would otherwise rot or be consumed by fire.

The other part of my ethic is to use environmentally friendly finishing methods.  That means using products considered by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (the FDA) as "Generally Regarded as Safe" or "GRAS."  Of those products, I typically use food-quality walnut oil and/or a polish I make myself that combines walnut oil with beeswax.  Walnut oil, which I use on all my bowls and other work intended for contact with food, is a penetrating oil that permeates the wood and hardens (polymerizes) to form a durable, food-safe finish that does not crack, peal or break down like finishes that simply sit on the surface.  For work, like my lidded boxes, that is intentded only for display, I typically use just my walnut oil/beeswax polish, which brings out the grain, enhances the color of the wood and impacts a soft satin sheen to the finished work that is incredibly warm and tactile.

While I plan to continue using these finishes, I recently discovered a Quakertown, PA-based company called the Real Milk Paint Company (http://www.realmilkpaint.com) that takes the environmentally friendly ethic to a whole new level.  To top it off, Dwayne Siever, owner of the company, is not only extremely knowledgeable, but a heck of a nice guy!  I recently used Dawyne's Raw Tung Oil for a shaving brush/mug set I made for my son for Christmas as well as for a new series of lidded boxes turned from otherwise plain white oak. In both cases, the result was superb!  The Raw Tung Oil, unlike most commercial Tung Oil products, contains no driers and is non-toxic right out of the bottle.  It has a rich brown color that adds an outstanding patina to the work right from the start - and also smells great!

Dwayne also came to the rescue with his environmentally friendly Soy-Gel paint remover, which I used to strip the cracked and pealed "salad bowl finish" from a family heirloom bowl that one of my collectors asked me to restore for him.  Under normal circumstances, I would have declined the commission since once a bowl finish deteriorates to that extent, you're usually better off throwing it away.  But since this bowl had been both a wedding present and the wood from which it was turned had from his grandfather's high school, I relented and took on the job.  After applying the Soy Gel according to label directions, the old finish came right off with no hassle.  After a quick hot water rinse and letting the bowl air-dry, I gave it a light sanding and soaked it in pure walnut oil.  Voila!  The Soy-Gel had given renewed life to a a bowl turned from previously recycled wood. A double- rescue!

-Brad Sears
Copyright (c) 2009 by Brad Sears Fine Woodturning
Portions of this post may be quoted or linked-to with attribution to the author

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