Article: Alain Mailland Demonstrates For CMW June 21, 2014

July 22, 2014 19:09, submitted by Tina Collison (author: Bob Gunther, photos by Tina Collison)

Alain Mailland Demonstration for CMW on June 21, 2014


Alain lives in the South of France. He bought an older home in poor repair and rebuilt it out of stone and wood. He was able to do this because he had been a carpenter, mason and roofer. He became a production turner and was intrigued by forms of nature. He thus turned to creative, artistic turning. He usually does not have a precise plan for a piece. He turns so that he can remove a lot of wood quickly. The turning is usually the quicker part of his creative process. The subsequent carving and sanding are the slower parts of the process. Alain’s pieces are created from burls and roots from the south of France. He turns them into vegetable or marine shapes and then carves them into their final forms. Sanding follows which usually takes the longest time.

Alain feels it is up to us to see what we wish when we view his work. Many of Alain’s pieces are truly spectacular in their intricate design and superb workmanship. He is genuinely one of the greatest artists of woodturning and design. His pieces are in collections worldwide and they are unique works of art. He demonstrated for CMW in 2004 and again in 2010 and has taught classes for CMW, the last on June 20, 2014. He has been President of the French Woodturners Association. Link to Mailland Demonstration Article from 2010:

Morning Session:

Alain began his demo turning a wood flower. Much of his inspiration comes from nature. All of his pieces are turned first and then carved and sanded. To form the flower he uses special scrapers that he makes to enable him to do specific shapes. For the flower demo, Alain used a fresh French Madrone root burl. The area where these trees grow is in Southern France and is quite dry. The trees are small but the root burls are quite large.

The burl was placed between centers. The petals of the flower were turned using three of his custom made cutters – one straight and two curved ones. First Alain shapes the outside of the burl in the profile of the desired flower shape. The first petal (at the headstock end) is the lowest petal of the flower. The underside of the petal is turned first. Then the space between the 1st and 2nd petals was opened to about ½ inch deep. The first petal was then thinned so that it bends when pressed on. Then using the second tool Alain went deeper to the central core of the flower which he left about ½ inch thick. Then the second petal was formed, thinned and shaped. Alain stressed that one’s stance is important. One needs the legs to be apart and one needs to be relaxed and fluid.

The 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th petals were then formed. Each petal was a smaller diameter than the one below it and the central core was narrower. Once the seven petals were formed the tailstock was removed and the top of the flower was formed with a small button. All the petals were turned to a thickness that could be easily bent when pressed on – less than 1/16 inch. The flower was then removed from the chuck and a jam chuck turned so that it fit over the button turned in the top of the flower. The flower was replaced in the chuck and the jam chuck brought up with the tailstock. The stem was turned to about ¼ inch where it continued into the lower portion of the flower (petal #1). This completed the turning portion of the flower.

Next the petals were cut with a scissor. Notches were made so that each petal had about 5 sections. It was then placed outside to dry and move into its final shape. Later it would be sanded.

Alain then put another piece of French Madrone burl between centers and turned a different profile that would be a plant or tree with branches. As was done above with the flower, three levels were turned. The individual petals or branches were turned thicker than the flower because they will have to be carved. Another tool with a rounded end or point was used to complete the shape of each branch in the center. The surface of each branch needs to be perpendicular to the axis of the tree so that they will dry properly after carving. The formation of the center at each level is critical so that later when hollowing a consistent wall thickness can be achieved.

The top was then hollowed using various shaped tools. The chuck was tightened before the tailstock was removed. Alain’s tools are sharpened on a rounded wheel and not the standard flat surfaced wheel. This is because of the curved cutting edges. During hollowing the wall thickness needs to be constantly checked. Alain used special calipers that he made that permit going into a deep narrow vessel. He aims for a ¼ inch wall thickness. He then checked the depth. The piece was moved slightly out of the chuck so he could have better access to the base. The piece was then parted off leaving a small hole in the bottom.

Alain then began the carving process – off the lathe. He laid out nine (9) branches on the base. These were numbered 1, 2, 3; 1, 2, 3; and 1, 2, 3. Each #1 went to the lowest branch, each #2 to the middle branch and each #3 to the upper branch. The areas to be carved away were shaded in at each of the three levels. All the carving needs to be done with the wood wet. Alain used a Roto-Zip 1/8 inch bit to remove the shaded sections and to define the nine branches. A Foredom type tool was used to drive the bit. A foot control was used so that both hands were free to hold the piece and the drill. Each layer was carved giving three (3) sections to each.

Alain then continued to carve using a coarse ball rasp in the Foredom tool. When shaping one needs to make the details fine enough so that while the wood moves when drying it doesn’t crack. For sanding, Alain uses a flap sander that is made by Dremel. It is a straight shaft with a slot that a piece of sandpaper can be inserted into. It is powered by the Foredom tool. Final sanding and shaping is done by hand. That is the most time consuming part of the entire process. In dry weather the drying process has to be slowed down by wrapping the piece in a damp or wet cloth in order to reduce cracking.

Alain then showed a brief slide show depicting examples of his work. More examples were shown at the end of the demo. This completed the morning session.

Afternoon Session:

Alain began the session placing a 12” long x 6” diameter piece of Hackberry between centers. It was roughed into a cylinder. It will be made into a Pitcher plant. It was shortened by about 3” after being turned into a 4” cylinder. A tenon was turned to fit into a cup chuck. At the work piece end the tenon should be ½ mm larger than the cup and at the distal end ½ mm less than the cup diameter. The length of the tenon should be the depth of the chuck. A shoulder was turned and the diameter reduced. The piece was then hammered into the cup chuck. The cup chuck was placed on the #3 Escoulen chuck. The tailstock was brought up and the piece trued up, the thicker end being at the tailstock end. Using the chuck the axis was moved down by 50 mm. This permits turning the top section of the Pitcher Plant. The counter-balances need to be adjusted to offset the out of balance of the piece.

The flower shape was turned (tailstock end) and then hollowed with Alain’s custom hollowing tools (curved). The tailstock was kept in place with a small piece of wood protecting the interior of the flower and giving support to turn the stem leading to the lower section of the flower. Alain’s tool rests are all bar shaped – not the customary triangular shape. The stem portion to the upper part of the flower was turned. During the turning it was found that the grain of the stem was not parallel to the lathe bed. Therefore, Alain had to carve some wood away to even out the grain and allow it to bend. If the grain is not straight it will crack during the bending process. A very sharp knife was used to remove the wood so that the grain was straight and the diameter of the stem small enough to bend. A hair dryer was used to heat the stem and make it bendable.

A wood screw was placed in the side of the flower base (headstock end) so that a string could be attached to it and the bent stem and thus hold the bend in place during the drying process. The first attempt showed that the stem needed to be carved thinner and some of the grain direction corrected. The stem was then bent and secured in place with string. The stem was bent far enough so that when the chuck was returned to its original center position the top of the flower was far enough away from center that the base of the flower could be turned and hollowed. The hollowing was extended outward to where the stem came out of the lower flower wall. When hollowing, the tailstock was brought up and a small piece of wood was placed in the flower base to give support for the turning process. The wood screw and the string were removed and the outside of the flower base shaped. Alain left the top of the base somewhat thicker to allow for the lip of the base to be carved. After carving then sanding would be done. This completed the Pitcher Plant Flower.

Alain then showed the #1 Escoulen chuck where the chuck rotates to give multiple centers around one axis. Several special tools are needed to make the necessary cuts when turning pieces using this set up.

To complete his demonstration, Alain showed numerous slides of his more intricate turnings. To put it simply – they were amazing. They certainly portrayed Alain’s creative talent and his remarkable turning ability. This completed a wonderful, unique demonstration. A DVD will be available in the club library. For those members who could not attend the demo it is a must watch DVD.

Submitted by Bob Gunther