Article: Jean Francois Escoulon Demonstrates For CMW By Bob Gunther

November 18, 2012 20:41, submitted by Tina Collison (author: Bob Gunther, photos by Tina Collison)

October 20, 2012 CMW Demonstration

Jean-Francois Escoulen

Jean-Francois visited us from France. He is a master woodturner specializing in eccentric turning. He started turning at the age of 16 under the supervision of his father. Six years later he was selected by a national competition as the best turner in France. He progressed from standard furniture and architectural turnings to hollow forms. He found his niche in woodturning producing work using multi-axis chucks. His present work has the appearance of being crooked, unequal and non-symmetrical with the feeling of fragility and imbalance. Examples of his work can be seen at

He has taught in 19 countries and has previously demonstrated and taught at CMW. In the beginning of 2012 he created l'école de tournage sur bois Jean-François-Escoulen (The Jean-Francois Escoulen School of Woodturning) in Aiguines, France. Previously, his workshop had been at his home in Puy St Martin France. In 2013 two of his workshops at the school will be offered in English.

Morning Session:

Jean-Francois began his demo with a power point presentation of his work. Boxwood and holly are frequently used woods. He showed his new workshop and school which is well equipped with 15 lathes – most of which are One-Way. Much of his work is done using the eccentric chuck which he developed and are now made by and distributed by Vicmarc.

Next Jean-Francois turned to the turning part of his demo where he would turn various examples of his off-center, multi-axis work. He turns rapidly using primarily the spindle roughing gouge, the detail spindle gouge and the Bedan tool. He likens the Bedan tool to the skew. He stated that “if you catch with the skew you have no chance with the Bedan.”

A piece of stock (2” x 2” x 8”) was placed between centers. The piece was roughed into a cylinder. Using the Bedan the piece was shaped in sections. Jean-Francois showed the placement of the tool on the wood and the cuts – very similar to the use of the skew. The finish obtained with the Bedan is not as good as with the skew. The Bedan is sharpened on the long edge, which Jean-Francois does it free hand. He hones with a wet stone and rarely goes to the grinder.

Jean-Francois then turned an egg using the Bedan. A cylinder was rough turned and a tenon turned on the tailstock end to fit into the headstock Morse taper. It was placed in the spindle and the tailstock brought up. He used a small Bedan and a spindle gouge. The gouge was sharpened at 35 degrees with a very narrow cutting bevel with the rest of the bevel relieved back to avoid contact with the wood. The piece was parted at the tailstock end and turning was continued using the Bedan. His non-tool hand was used to control vibrations in the piece when further turned. The turned area was sanded. He would not return to that area. Then another area of the piece nearer the headstock was turned, again, supporting the distal areas with his fingers acting as a steady rest. The closer he came to the headstock end of the piece the more he needed to support it.

Another piece of stock was placed between centers and turned into a trembleur, which is a long piece with turned sections and a very thin stem between the sections. The sections or areas are various artistic shapes such as a bell, a ball, etc. The object is to make the trembleur as long as possible. The longer it is the more difficult it becomes to make. Originally they were made of ivory. A maple blank about 20 inches long was placed between centers and rough turned into a cylinder using a spindle roughing gouge. When roughing, Jean-Francois deflects the shavings downward with his hand cupped over the flute. A tenon was turned on the headstock end to fit in the Stronghold chuck. A 3-wheeled spindle steady rest by One-Way was used. The tailstock was brought up. The area between the tailstock and the steady rest was turned. The tailstock was backed away from the wood. Details on the distal end were completed and sanded. The 3mm thin stem was turned about 1 to 1 ½ “ long. The stem must be round. If there are any flats vibrations will occur which could snap the trembleur.

The steady rest was moved several inches closer to the headstock end of the cylinder. Before moving it an area was trued into round and the rest placed on that area. A shop-made string steady rest was placed in the tailstock Morse taper. The rest had 4 nails placed at 90 degree intervals around the rest. The distal portion of the trembleur was inserted into the opening of the steady rest and using waxed string, the stem was stabilized to the four nails. The area between the 3-wheel steady rest and the string rest was turned into another shape or form. Details were added. The stem was formed between the second section and what would become the third section, then was sanded.

The 3-wheel steady rest was again moved. There were no vibrations so at this point another string rest was not needed on this section. Details were formed to define the third portion of the trembleur, then it was sanded. The stem was turned between the third portion and what would become the fourth one.

Because an area of vibration developed on the stem between the 2nd and 3rd sections another shop made string rest was employed to stabilize the piece. This string rest was held in place on the bed of the lathe with magnets. Four strings were used as described earlier. This process of a string steady rest was first described in 1749. When turning the trembleur one does not push the tool directly into the work. One approaches the wood on an angle thus reducing vibration. When starting and stopping the lathe one must adjust the speed gradually or sections of the piece may snap off. The 4th and 5th sections were then formed with the 3mm stems in between. This completed the formation of the trembleur. It was planned to part it off after the lunch break. This completed the morning session.

Trembleur in Steady Rest and String Rests

Completed Trembleur posted on side to compare to Trembleur in the Steady rests.

Trembleur on display.

Afternoon Session:

Jean-Francois began the afternoon session parting off the trembleur. Lathe speed was reduced. After being parted the headstock end was supported by the tool rest. Then the strings on the distal, tailstock end were removed followed by the center strings. Trembleurs would typically be displayed in a glass tube with a wood base. This completed the trembleur.

Next Jean-Francois turned his demo to eccentric turning. Two chucks were shown – each holds the wood differently. These would be dealt with later in the demo. First, however, Jean-Francois showed off center turning with the piece between centers. He used a 2” x 2” x 8” maple blank. A diagonal line was drawn on each end of the blank. The true centers were marked and off center marks were made near each end of the diagonal lines. Thus, there were three center marks at each end. What was #1 on one end was #3 on the other. #2 was in the center and #3 on one end was #1 on the other. He began his turning using the #1 centers at each end in the tailstock and drive center. He uses a tool rest longer than the piece to protect his hands from the offset corners that whip around during the turning process.

Jean-Francois is able to turn at a fast speed because the piece is balanced on each end. A ½ inch spindle gouge was used to turn. He began in the center and progressed outward in both directions. He then switched to the #2 true centers of the piece and turned another V-cut. He then went to the #3 axis at each end and another V-cut was made. Then, on the same axis another detail was formed on the tailstock end. Jean-Francois leaves all the wood on the tailstock end because the #1 center is there and he does not want it removed. He switched back to the #1 centers and turned details on the headstock end. The piece was then parted off.

He then turned a candlestick using the same technique of 3 axes on each end of the blank. An oval shape was turned in the center of the piece using the #1 axis. The true center, #2 axis, was then used and the headstock end turned. The #3 axis was then used to turn the tailstock end. This completed the candlestick.

Next an eccentric chuck was used. A cylinder was rough turned and a tenon placed on one end. The tenon had a slight taper. The wood was placed in the chuck and it was set at zero degrees. The piece was first turned on the true center. Details were formed on the tailstock end and the tailstock was removed after the piece was parted off. Jean-Francois then changed the rotation or axis of the piece and further developed the shape. It was again changed, turned, and completed.

Jean-Francois then turned an off center box. He rough turned the piece into a cylinder and turned tenons on each end. The previously used chuck was placed on the spindle and the blank placed in the chuck. The tailstock was brought up and the piece was parted into two equal halves. The piece remaining in the chuck was rounded on its distal end and the center hollowed. A small flat area was left around the box opening. The piece was sanded and sanding sealer was applied. 4-0 steel wool was used. A wax finish could then be applied. Jean-Francois rotated the chuck to the maximum and turned the piece to the desired shape. The piece was parted off which completed the bottom of the box.

The top portion of the piece was placed in the chuck. It was rounded and an opening was turned to fit the top lid piece. Again, the chuck was rotated to the maximum and the same ogee shape was made as was done before. The top and bottom were made about the same size. The top was parted off after sanding and sealing.

Next the large (#3) eccentric chuck was used. It can be used by itself or in conjunction with the previously used chuck. This lets one do off center and eccentric turning at the same time and opens up an area of unlimited design possibilities. A cylinder was turned and a tenon formed on the tailstock end. The piece was removed from between centers and the #3 chuck placed on the spindle. The cup that comes with the #3 chuck was placed in the chuck and the wood in the cup. The chuck counterbalances the offset of the wood with adjustable internal weights. The piece was turned starting at the tailstock. The degree of off center was changed and turning continued. The degree kept being changed in increments so that the shape of the piece changed accordingly.

Another piece was placed into the cup chuck and the end shaped like a flattened cone. The offset was changed by 15 mm. A small pointed tool was used to turn a crescent shape on the surface of the cone. The offset was again changed and another crescent formed, then a third. This adds a nice decorative touch to the top of a post. Jean-Francois parted off the end of the piece with the three crescents and formed a new flattened cone and a new design by making further adjustments in the degree of offset.

In conclusion, Jean-Francois placed a piece offset between centers and showed the proper cut with the gouge to produce crisp, clean details. Again, he stressed the proper presentation of the tool to the wood and the importance of sharp tools.

This completed an interesting and detailed demo. It would be most helpful to view the video of the demo in conjunction with reading this write-up. It is tricky to do offset turning but even harder to try to put the technique into words even with the pictures. A video will be available in December 2012.

Submitted by Bob Gunther