Article: J. Paul Fennell Demonstrates For CMW October 18, 2014

October 27, 2014 14:00, submitted by Tina Collison (author: Bob Gunther)

J. Paul Fennell Demonstrates for CMW October 18, 2014


Paul was born and raised in Beverly, Massachusetts, on the Atlantic coast north of Boston. His earliest memories of woodworking were as a very young boy, sawing and nailing scraps of wood cutoffs together in his Dad’s basement workshop. Any further interest in working with wood was years later as an adult, but the reverence for wood always remained. After receiving BS and MS degrees in engineering from Ohio State University and University of Southern California he become employed in California as a mission, rocket performance and orbital mechanics analyst in the Apollo space program.

Paul was first exposed to woodturning in 1970 through a wood working course at a local high school Adult Education program in California. His first lathe project in that class was a small table with turned legs which has been in his home ever since. He is for the most part self-taught and has focused on the expressiveness of hollow forms for most of his life as a wood turner.

He presently resides in the beautiful Sonoran Desert in Scottsdale, Arizona with his wife Judy and works in a 400 square foot studio. Finding wood in the desert is not always easy. The desert does not support many large indigenous trees but because of its mild climate many exotic species have been introduced into the Phoenix area “urban forest.” Paul is able to recycle these as they become available. Many of them are quite rare and very beautiful.

Paul has been a member of the AAW for over 28 years and has only missed one of their annual symposia since 1987. He is currently the chair of the AAW’s Professional Outreach Program. He was a charter member of Central New England Woodturners, one of the earliest chapters to organize under the AAW in 1987. Currently he is a member of the Arizona Woodturners Association and an honorary member of CMW.

Over the years he has demonstrated at many symposia and local organizations, nationally and internationally. His work is in numerous private collections and several museums – most notably the Smithsonian, Detroit Institute of Arts, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Yale University Art Gallery, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Museum of Art and Design New York and the Center for Art in Wood Philadelphia. Paul last demonstrated and taught two classes for CMW in May, 2009.

Morning Session:

Paul began his demo turning a hollow form. A piece of sycamore 5x5x8 inches was placed between centers. Lathe speed was turned down for safety and protective eyewear was worn. A roughing gouge was used to turn the blank into a cylinder. The diameter of the piece was reduced to about 4 inches so that a smaller hollow form could be turned. A ½ inch bowl gouge was used to shape the piece. The top of the piece was at the tailstock and the base at the head stock. The maximum diameter of the piece should not be in the middle. It should be about 1/3 the height from the bottom or the top. A tenon was turned on the headstock end and the piece parted off. Final shaping was not done. It will be done after the piece is on the chuck because frequently the piece will be somewhat out of balance when changed from between center to on the chuck.

The piece was placed in the Stronghold chuck with number 2 jaw and the tailstock brought up to be sure the piece was centered. The chuck was then tightened. The outer surface of the piece was then trued up. Ample wood is left in the base area for stability. The tailstock was removed and the top of the vessel trued up in preparation for drilling a pilot hole for hollowing. The tailstock was brought back up and the top portion of the exterior of the vessel refined. A flat scraper was used to further clean up the surface. A teardrop shaped scraper was used to clean up the top exterior of the vessel. The tailstock was then taken away.

A gun barrel drill bit was used to drill a pilot hole to the full depth of hollowing. The drill was attached to the compressor so that as the hole was drilled the shavings were blown out. The hole was about ¼ inch in diameter. At this point hollowing was begun. At home in Arizona Paul coats the exterior of his hollow forms with medium CA glue/accelerator to cut down rapid drying. Hollowing was done with the lathe in reverse. By turning in reverse it is easier on his right wrist, arm, shoulder and neck. A boring bar was used to remove wood from the pilot hole outward. Then, using the same tool the central areas of the piece were hollowed down to the desired depth.

The depth is marked on the boring bar. A heavier boring bar was used for the deeper areas of the piece. The compressor was used to evacuate shavings. A device called a Pocket Blow Gun was used on the end of the compressor line. You are able to control the air flow with your fingers. It is available from Angled hollowing tools were then used to further hollow out the shoulder area inside the opening. His hollowing tool handles are made square with longitudinal ridges to resist torquing of the angled tools. Calipers were used to measure wall thickness in the shoulder areas. Once the upper areas of the piece were opened up he returned to the boring bar to further open up the deeper areas.

The exterior of the base of the piece was further refined. That area was then covered with medium CA glue to prevent evaporation from the wood. A small piece of plastic bag was used to spread the glue. Accelerator was used.

A fiber optic light unit was used to determine wall thickness by observing the amount of light passing through the translucent vessel wall. The fiber optic cable with the light on the end was passed into the vessel as it was being hollowed. Paul aims for an even translucency to achieve final wall thickness. In this case a 1/8 inch thick wall was made. This vessel would not be re-turned at a later date. If it were to be turned, hollowed, dried and re-turned then the wall thickness would have to be left much thicker- probably 5/16 inch thick, depending on the species of the wood and the grain orientation, to allow for changes in shape during the drying process.

The exterior of the top of the vessel was further worked on to reduce any excess wood and refine the shape. Medium CA glue was then applied to the areas around the opening of the vessel to slow down the drying process. The piece was then removed from the chuck.

A piece of 5x5x8 inch maple was placed between centers. It was roughed into a cylinder and turned into a jam chuck to accept the top of the hollow turned vessel. This would be continued in the afternoon session. This completed the morning session.

Afternoon Session:

The piece hollowed during the morning session was fitted into the jam chuck with a snug fit. For added support you can duct tape it into the jam chuck. Before reinserting it into the jam chuck it was placed in the jaws and wood was removed from the base area because it was a little thick in the bottom. It was then parted off. The piece was then placed back in the jam chuck. The tailstock was brought up against the smaller nubbin left on the bottom of the piece when it was parted off. This enabled the piece to be accurately centered in the jam chuck. Then the tailstock was removed and the bottom of the vessel turned away using a small gouge and light cuts.

The bottom was undercut in a slight concave shape. CA glue was applied to the wood surfaces followed by accelerator. After drying the piece would be sanded and finished. Paul uses an oil finish followed by Carnauba wax. His oil finish is composed of the following: one part gloss urethane varnish (Rockler), one part boiled linseed oil, one part pure Tung oil (Rockler) and one part turpentine. This completed the hollow form.

At this point Paul showed a power point presentation depicting where he lives in the Sonaran Desert in Arizona. He also showed examples of his embellishment processes and examples of his current work.

Paul continued his demo using a piece of 5x5x8 inch ambrosia maple. It was placed between centers and rough turned into a cylinder. A bowl gouge was used to rough shape the piece with the top at the tailstock and the base to the headstock side. A tenon was turned on the base. The piece was placed in the jaws. The surface was refined using a shear cut with the gouge. The top was also further shaped.

Paul then used this shaped vessel to show how he indexes a piece prior to designing and carving. He placed a flat platform in the tool rest. An indexing wheel is used. The point of the marking instrument (pen, pencil) needs to be exactly on the center of the vessel. A line parallel to the lathe ways is scribed on the vessel surface from top to bottom. The indexing wheel is turned one notch and another line made. Paul continued making the lines around the piece. He used 48 divisions in this case. Because of the shape of the vessel the lines converge at the top and the bottom. The vertical lines are drawn by eye rotating the lathe with the pencil against the wood to form a grid of squares on the vessel surface. As the vertical lines get closer to the top and the bottom of the vessel they are drawn closer together so that the pattern produced between the horizontal and vertical lines is a series of reducing sized squares.

Paul then switched to a red marker to draw a series of diagonal lines across each square. This created a spiral pattern. You can make the spiral shallower by connecting the corners of every other square.

Paul then erased all the lines from the above example by turning them away. He then placed a curved platform on the tool rest and scribed lines on the piece after rotating it (similar to indexing). This time he made lines at every other position on the indexing wheel. By tilting his custom tool rest different curves could be made directly on the vessel surface.

Again the surface was turned away. He then drew a small area on the vessel surface where he wanted to remove wood to a specific depth. An electric drill was used. The drill bit had a sleeve over it that exposed only a specific length of the bit. This would dictate the depth of each hole drilled. Multiple holes were drilled into the area to be removed. You need to drill as much as possible perpendicular to the wood so that hole depth does not vary.

For sanding Paul uses a special type of paper – Rhynowet Red Line made by Indasa. It comes in multiple grits, and is available from

The piece with the area drilled was removed from the chuck and placed on a plank foam board (a piece of rigid foam used in crating). It comes in sheets that are 2 inches thick. Scraps are usually available at places that do industrial packing and crating.

For carving an NSK hand held dental lab micromotor was used with a burr to remove wood down to the bottom of each hole drilled. Paul usually does this entire carving process after the piece is hollowed and dry. Bits can be obtained from Paul’s website

Paul then showed examples of surface texture and piercing or a combination of both. Piercing was done with a high speed air drill using dental type bits. Several patterns were shown using 1/8 inch thick pieces of wood. Paul signs his pieces using the same air drill with a needle point bit. The bit is made from a worn out tapered bit sharpened to a needle point with a diamond hone.

Sanding is done using small sanding discs stuck to double sided tape which is adhered to a sanding mandrel. It is used in the NSK micromotor at about 10,000 rpm. The various size discs are cut out with leather punches. These sanding discs come in handy especially when sanding patterns such as basket weaves and other intricate patterns. Much of these patterns are actually shaped by the discs and cleaned up by them. As the patterns get smaller you go to smaller discs on smaller mandrels. He starts at 120 grit and moves to finer ones.

This completed an interesting and informative demo.

Submitted by Bob Gunther