Well, that was a bind!

Published by Les on

I was tidying-up my dry wood store a month or so ago and there was a big lump of dry ash in there, getting in the way, so I did the best thing possible to avoid having to make space to put it back on the shelf, I turned it into a bowl. Despite having been in store for a few years, the very core of the block held more moisture than the rest of the block, so this big bowl needed to stand, after being finished, to be sure that its moisture constant had evened-out before I bound it with copper. Thus, after turning, this spent a month in the house then went back to the workshop today to have a sanding, a coat of sealer and the wire binding. I’ve yet to wax it as I’m still trying to decide whether to use wax or lacquer on it.

The trickiest part of wire binding any bowl is keeping tension on the wire. If you let go, at any point, the wire starts to uncoil and ends up in a tangle. The slightest awkward little twist results in a kink in the copper, which spoils the effect, so a few years ago I designed a gadget which fits on my lathe, supporting a coil of copper wire and feeding the wire, under tension, onto the bowl. Meanwhile, the bowl has to be restrained such that it can be rotated by hand, because there’s no point in keeping the wire under tension if the bowl goes slack.

The wire tensioner being used on an earlier bowl,

With this jig, the wire passes through a hole in the upright post and comes out the other side where it is pinched between two pieces of timber. Tightening or slackening a wood-screw which joins these two pieces of timber together, increases or decreases the tension and by being pulled along between the two pieces of wood, and slight kinks are automatically pressed out of the wire.

One issue with wire binding is the risk of the bowl or pot shrinking slightly and allowing the wire to become slack. If this happens, the wire tends to sag, then some of the upper turns of wire drop over the lower turns and it becomes impossible to keep them looking right. I must admit that when I first started doing this, I didn’t always get it right and soon realised that the solution was to bring the bowl into the house and allow it to shrink. Sometimes I deliberately allow the bowl to stand some where rather closer to a heat source than would be wise in the long run, so that it shrinks more than needed, which then results init swelling very slightly after the wire has been applied, thus ensuring that the wire stays tight.

Despite all these safe-guards, it’s still worth taking the extra precaution of adding copper staples across the binds, immediately after the binding takes place and on a bowl as big as this, eight staples are needed. The bowl is 45 cm diameter and 26cm tall, probably the biggest I’ve turned. I’ve made wider bowls and deeper pots, but never one that compared to the combined width and depth of this one. You don’t get much idea of its size from the photos, so I’ve added a wooden pear, which is life-sized, to give a better impression.

Were I to fill this with water, it would hold an old fashioned gallon, or just under 5 litres, and it took over 11 metres of copper wire to bind it. My next problem is that there isn’t really room for it in my display at the gallery in Dolgellau!

Categories: Woodturning

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