Article: Malcolm Zander Demonstrates For CMW, May 16, 2015

May 22, 2015 18:23, submitted by Tina Collison (author: Bob Gunther, photos by Tina Collison)

Malcolm Zander demonstrates for CMW, May 16, 2015


Malcolm comes to CMW from Ottawa, Ontario Canada. He has been turning since 2000. He admits he has a lace fetish that he blames on Binh Pho, whose seminar Malcolm attended in 2003. Immediately after the seminar he went out and brought a dental drill, compressor and airbrush. The lesson learned from the seminar is to attend as many woodturning conferences as you can because you never really know where one demonstration may lead you.

Malcolm is very interested in form, seeing manifestations of form in wood, fiber, glass and ceramic art. These are explored – both the differences and similarities in his turnings. Texture and color also are significant influential factors.

Woodturning for Malcolm is very rewarding because in a relatively short period of time one can produce something of real beauty. We cannot compete with nature but we certainly can be inspired by it. This is more than obvious, from the sweep of the Grand Canyon to the structure of a microbe to the form of a flower; the greatest artist of all is nature.

Morning Session:

Malcolm began the session with a series of slides and short movies showing his techniques of making thin wall pierced vessels from cross-grain dry wood. An outline of this presentation is available for download using the link at the right of this article.

Why thin walls?

  1. Feels delicate when held
  2. You can see through piercings at an angle when the wall is thin, giving a feeling of lightness.

Why dry wood?

It moves less and lets you finish it on the lathe and not in two stages.

Why cross-grain?

Requires no special tools – just basic gouges.

Early on in his woodturning career Malcolm turned some cross grain African blackwood vessels with sapwood tops. About that time he was introduced to Binh Pho and learned piercing which he employed on the sapwood rims of the vessels. He then decided to transform his piercing into lace patterns which consist of hexagons. This came naturally to him from his former career as an organic chemist where he specialized in steroids, which are also hexagonal structures. Thus lace patterns became a theme of his work.

Continuing with the slides Malcolm showed a natural edge piece held in a chuck. For the two wings of the natural edge to be at the same horizontal level in the final piece, they need to be perpendicular to the lathe bed for the initial turning. Two gouges are used to turn his pieces. One gouge at 60 degrees and the other gouge at 45 degrees. Calipers are used to measure wall thickness. The outside arm of the caliper is kept at a small distance from the exterior wall of the piece. The inside arm is against the interior wall. If the space between the outside arm and the wood surface remains the same as the caliper is moved back and forth, then the interior and exterior walls are parallel and wall thickness is uniform. Small thicker and thinner areas can be easily detected with this method.

Malcolm uses vacuum chucking to finish the bottom of his pieces. When turning the interior of a large vase shape Malcolm uses a chuck on the base and a reversed One Way cone in the tailstock to give additional support. This traps the piece and it is nearly impossible for it to come off the lathe. To obtain a thin wall he turns down the final thickness about an inch at a time, starting at the rim and working inwards. This minimizes wall flexing and enables one to form a very thin walled vessel. The tailstock is removed once the deeper areas are hollowed and the wall thinned, in order to complete the bowl center.

Once thinned then piercing is done. For piercing he uses an NSK Presto or a dental air drill. To design rims for his heart forms he uses a template. Then the design is cut using the dental drill and cleaned up with a sanding drum in a Foredom or similar tool, and then sandpaper. It is then ready for piercing. After piercing a hole a file is used to clean up the edges. When piercing one does not cut to the drawn lines - the lines are left in place and the piercing done inside them. Once pierced, diamond needle files are used to clean things up. Two grits of files are used: 200 & 600. This completed the slide show and movie portion of his demo.

Malcolm then moved to the turning portion of his demo. A previously rough-turned natural edge vase was placed on the chuck with the cone tailstock brought up. A 60 degree bevel bowl gouge was used to true up the outside of the vessel. The tailstock was removed and the interior of the vessel was turned beginning at the outer natural edge. About one inch of the wall was turned down at a time. Calipers were used as described earlier in the demo. Once down to a 1/8 inch wall thickness the tool rest was adjusted and the wall further thinned over the initial one inch wall area. Once this was done the second one inch wall section was thinned.

Back to the slide presentation: Malcolm showed a thin walled pink ivory vessel that was turned to 0.8 mm thick around the rim where piercing would be done. The remainder of the piece was left about 2 - 3 mm thick.

Malcolm then showed the use of compressed wood. He used it to make a fish. He laminated three pieces one inch thick and five inches wide using Titebond III. He turned the outline of the fish and then cut it in half (vertically). The head end was hollowed, reversed and finished. The tail section was treated the same and they were glued together. Then it was pierced, wetted and distorted. A tail and fins were made from the compressed wood and attached.

A seed pod was made using compressed wood. A mouse was also made. The mouse was turned initially to a pear profile. Ears were carved proud from the surface. The piece was cut vertically and front and back halves were hollowed. They were then then glued back together and cut lengthwise producing two mice, which could then each be pierced. A pierced hat with a flower and compressed wood ribbon, plus several teapots were also shown and the making explained. This completed the morning session.

Afternoon Session:

This session consisted of a discussion of form and design. Form is three-dimensional; a shape is two dimensional.

Aspects of Form:


Positive/Negative Space

Static and Dynamic Form

Balance and Proportion

Decoration and Finish

Form and Function

Finding New Ideas:

Malcolm spent the second half of his talk explaining the need to build a rich mental database to draw on for new ideas, by observing everything around one, by reading books and journals, visiting museums and galleries, going to symposiums and taking classes. He provided a handout summarizing some of these ways of finding new ideas, along with some useful reference sources.

This completed a very interesting and thought provoking demonstration

Submitted by Bob Gunther, edited by Malcolm Zander.

Additional photos below from the class Malcom Zander taught on May 17, 2015. Shows the sequence of steps taken to make two thin bowls.