Article: Ellsworth School Of Woodturning

Friday, 3 August 2001 marked the beginning of a very enjoyable and productive learning weekend at noted turner David Ellsworth’s home and studio in beautiful Central Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The Ellsworth School of Woodturning was established in 1990 so that David could provide a high-quality, small group learning environment for beginning and intermediate wood turners.

Located on a beautiful wooded 20 acre property, the school features professional lathes from Poolewood, General and Woodfast and tooling of David’s own design or adaptation. Native timber harvested on the site is used during the classes which provides for a lot of fun turning green wood while learning basic and advanced techniques. Time was also spent discussing important topics, such as “seeing the bowl in the log”, sharpening techniques and reverse chucking.

David and his wife, Wendy, also provide three hearty and healthy meals per day as part of the package. This is really a good idea as it gives everyone time to get focused, relax, learn about each other's turning and woodworking activities and learn from the beautiful collection of art work displayed in the Ellsworth home. In addition to many examples of David's own art, there is a large variety of work by other well-known and less-well known artists to view and consider.

I really recommend this experience if you have the time and resources. Sign up early as the classes book up quickly and many months in advance. And if you sign up based on this recommendation, please let David know I sent you.

I and my fellow students, Bob, Max and Dan had a great time and created massive amounts of chips and shavings as we completed about six pieces each. The following pictorial illustrate some of our activities during the three-day session.

[Click on any thumbnail for a larger view]

David demonstrates creating two bowl blanks from a poplar log, paying careful attention to “seeing the bowl” in the log and pith orientation. This exercise starts with a 20 inch long section of a tree, bark and all, and proceeds though roughing and remounting the first blank. The Ellsworth gouge grind is also introduced with instruction on how to use the various parts of the tool tip for different cuts, including roughing, finish cutting, sheer cutting and scraping. The first morning was dedicated to examples and instruction as well as orientation to the resources available in David's studio.
After lunch, we returned to the studio for our first hands-on work. Max (from Virginia), on the General lathe, roughs his first log from a “piece of a tree” to determine how he wants to orient the two bowl blanks that will result. After identifying the location and orientation of the pith, he can rotate the blank to turn the foot necessary to mount the bowl blank on a face plate.
Bob (from New Hampshire), meanwhile is busy turning that first foot on his log section. The Poolewood lathe, one of two in the studio, is a very nice machine to turn on. It's very stable, smooth and quiet and it's direct drive system is very powerful. Looks like Bob forgot to put that face shield down...ooops!
Dan (from New Jersey), works his log on the Woodfast lathe sending nice streams of shavings across the room. You may notice that neat eyeball window in the door...very kewel. Everywhere you look in the studio, you can see examples of great work and “revised” designs, as David calls them. There were also some interesting tools to see, including a huge industrial band saw that David restored and a “really-big” Thompson lathe for those...um, large projects.
The second day began with sharpening instruction, especially with regard to the Ellsworth gouge grind. David demonstrated how to use the special jig and how to move the tool through the grinding process for a keen and symmetrical edge.
Day two also introduced turning hollow objects and David’s special hollowing tools. Here, Dan positions himself on the opposite side of the lathe bed to get a better angle with the tool. This is easy to do on a short-bed lathe, like the Woodfast. On the general, the first cuts are sometimes taken while actually sitting on the lathe bed. The Poolewood was the easiest of all...the headstock swivels!
Throughout the entire weekend, David offered assistance and often took the tool in hand to demonstrate a particular action. Although there were four students in the class, the net effect was a virtually one-on-one instruction experience. Here, Dan’ working on a natural edge poplar bowl.
Yours truly intent on the cut while finishing the foot of a nice ash bowl. Using a jamb chuck is part of David’s methodology and I found it quite useful. Further, it is a natural preparation for working with a vacuum chuck in the future. We also learned a technique for finishing the foot of the piece using a specially ground gouge with many characteristics of a skew, but easier to use.
Here’s the evidence after day three completed...sure would make some horse very happy! Fortunately, there were no horses present and we didn’t have to watch where we walked...
David prefers mounting these larger blanks on six inch faceplates. While contrary to some turners’ preferences, it offers the ability to have the screws outside the area that will eventually be the foot of the turned object. This is a simple wet poplar bowl blank approximately 16" in diameter after roughing.
The same bowl after removing the inside to bring it to a consistent thickness. The Ellsworth grind offered impressively heavy cutting ability during the roughing process and very delicate finishing cuts to smooth out the piece. In fact, it was possible to get a finish that needed minimal or no sanding with the tool once the tool and body motion was fully implemented. David teaches a lot of body positioning and movement as part of the turning process.
The outside of a simple hollow vessel has been formed on the other blank from that first poplar log. You can easily see that the headstock has been swiveled to allow better access to the blank for the hollowing process.
Oh my, it’s actually a hollow vessel now. This was quite challenging for me as the tools were large and unfamiliar (I’ve been primarily turning small stuff) and I had not created an object that required such a deep side cutting process prior to this session. David supplied several very interesting “vintage” tools from his collection to help me through the process.
This is a simple ash turning that was “redesigned” during it's creation...it originally was about three inches taller, but a catch in the hollowing process with the boring bar rearranged things a bit...the parting tool came to the rescue! Several other objects were turned by me and will appear in the gallery once they are dry and finished.

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