I thought I’d have a go at one of these. This is quite a big one; the bigger ones are easier to start with. When the bines (apparently that’s what they’re called, maybe from ‘bent tines’) are far enough apart to get your fingertip in between them it makes sanding easier.
I started with a Web search and found this by Richard Madden. It’s an excellent explanation of how to go about it.
I started with an old piece of walnut – a close-grained wood but a frankly grotty example. I thought if my first attempt went wrong I wouldn’t have lost much. But actually I’m quite pleased with it.
I started, as instructed, by turning the basic shape, a sort of teardrop outline. The tailstock stays in place for the whole job, except for the final sanding of the top, but the base end also starts life in the chuck. The tailstock is there for support and to keep the centre in place but shouldn’t have any pressure on it, otherwise the bines could snap unexpectedly during the roughing out.
Once you have the basic outline, you put on the pencil marks. I started with the lines round the piece: with the lathe running slowly and the pencil on the toolrest I marked the top and bottom of the cutouts, and three more lines roughly equally spaced between them. Then, with the help of the index wheel on the headstock, I made eight equally spaced marks around the piece. I used the toolrest to provide a line of sight along the shape so I could mark the eight points round each circle. Then it’s a case of putting in the diagonal lines by hand and eye.
The next step is to get out the drill with a brad point bit. I used a 6mm bit. This step saves a lot of carving. Richard had only four lines and drilled along them; I’ve drilled between lines, either is fine. Drill towards the centre axis.
After the holes you get out the Dremel (I use a flexible shaft and hang the motor on a hook nearby). The bit is, well I’ve lost the packaging and I’ve forgotten what it’s called but it’s there in the photo. It’s very rough and ideal for this job. Start with a groove along the line of the holes, then come back and push deeper. The groove helps the bit to stay in place and not skid over the outside surface.
I’m not practised at this, in fact this was my first time with that particular carving bit. Yes, it is skittish and makes deep scars, so you need to make sure they are where you want them. I use a platform on the toolpost to rest my hand on, and I found it was worth locking the spindle. And another point that Richard made is – unplug the lathe! The brain naturally goes to the lathe switch, and turning on the lathe when you’re meaning to turn off the Dremel is not a good idea! I also had the extractor on to pull the dust away.
Eventually you develop a hollow in the middle, greatly helped by the holes from the drill, and the bines are taking shape. My best suggestion, having done it only once, is to do as much as you dare with the power tool before you get out the sandpaper. Sanding is the big marathon.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy sanding on the whole, but I do find myself thinking about a cup of tea more often at this stage. Best to use Abranet (which has a hook-and-loop backing) or a cloth-backed sandpaper and cut it into thin strips, about 12mm wide for this project, probably even narrower for a smaller version. Insinuate it round a bine and pull from side to side to tidy up the back of each bine. I started with P80, then through the grits to 240.
Take another look at it and see if it needs any more power carving and take a look at the other Dremel bits you have. By this time you’ve had a bit of practice. Find something finer and use finesse to insinuate it where you need it. I expect I’ll have more to say in future when I know the terminology and can show you what works. As it is, I decided with this piece that since its only function is to be ‘my first attempt at a twisted finial’ I would stop before I ruined it with a tool I’ve never used before.
I finished it with Osmo worktop oil, since I’d bought some for my kitchen worktop and had a lot left over. It’s excellent stuff, and foodsafe too, so it’s good for things like salad bowls and goblets.