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15th July 2015 - Les Thorne

On the 15th Les Thorne came and demonstrated to a fairly small but very appreciative audience. He wasted no time in making it very clear that he is a practical production woodturner who is making quality work which will sell. 

Tonight Les was demonstrating one of his successful selling lines - turned, coloured and laquered and sometimes textured pepper mills. Rather than make a variety of designs and sizes of mill Les has produced a design which sells well and concentrates on hand colouring the mills he makes and finishing them to a very high standard so that they will sell for a good price. He has numerous tips for increasing the value of the items he's selling from packaging the finished mill in a smart cardboard wine box to having a catchy web-site name which will stick in people's minds.
Central to any peppermill is the mechanism and it needs to be sturdy to survive in use. Les told us that the best mechanisms available are made by Peugeot but that they are not available to buy so the best bet is either to buy old tatty but working mills from car boots to re-use the mechanisms or else to buy crushgrind mills which have a 25 year guarantee.

I'm not going to describe the whole process - just to mention one or two hints and tips which I thought were particularly useful.

The longer mills need a fairly long hole to be drilled through the wood which is difficult if your lathe has limited power. Les suggested shorter mills would be best for beginners.

Using the spindle roughing gouge to rough out the job Les had a couple of hints. First be aware of maintaining bevel contact as it will keep the tool sharper for longer. Second he uses the middle of the tool to take the wood down from square to round then, when he's done with the heavy work he can turn the gouge to find fresh sharp edges for good cleaning cuts.

There are three diameters of holes to drill - start big and work down to improve centering. Then there's a recess to cut to take the plastic locking lugs. It's a slightly tricky recess to cut with the tool trying to snatch and Les suggested that anyone concerned about cutting it should just glue the grinder in place. Once it's together it's not going anywhere!

To create a smart finish worthy of the £60 to £70 price tag, Les turns a bead which he sprays black before cutting the rest of the material back saving the need for masking. He cautioned against holding the spray can too close - you're trying to lay it on gently, not blast it on. Once the bead was coloured careful work was required to make sure he didn't catch it at all whilst forming the rest of the mill.

On cutting beads Les's advice was to try to just use four cuts - a chamfer on each side and a shaping cut on each side. Less cuts means less chance of messing it up!

On wood Les sands to 400 and no further - any finer abrasives he uses for acrylic finishes.

Using spirit stains to colour his pieces Les mentioned that the finish has to be scratch free. Any scratches will stain dark because even a shallow scratch exposes a tiny sliver of end grain and end grain absorbs liquid much better than side grain. Hence when you stain scratched wood the scratches stain much darker than the surrounding wood and stand out like so many sore thumbs!

The other trick Les used to make his finishing top class was to use rippled timber. There was some discussion about what causes rippling. Les suggested that timber ripples when it's under compression so is likely to be found below branches. 

Les was selling his own signiature spindle gouges and passed around three gouges taped together. The cross sections of all three were very different resulting in very different bevels even when sharpened in the same jig. To some degree different gouges from different manufacturers need to be sharpened differently and to some degree they just can't all be sharpened to the same shape. The intrinsic differences in cross section make it impossible.