Christian Burchard's Visit and Demo

by Fred Holder

Christian Burchard of Ashland, Oregon was the feature speaker at the Seattle Chapter of AAW meeting on Friday, May 10, 1996 at Overlake School, Redmond, Washington. He presented an interesting talk and slide show of the evolution of his work from furniture maker to artist/woodturner. At some stages he became very artistic, using the lathe to create artwork. Other times he was very practical, doing work like the rest of us. He had some beautiful pieces in his slide show and he made a point to describe what he liked and disliked about them in an analysis format. His most recent endeavor has been balls! Solid balls sell well he says. His art forms from these are decorated hollow forms that started out as balls.

Christian Burchard wood turner

Christian Burchard begins to turn a ball freehand.

On Saturday May 11, eight club members assembled at Borek Enterprises in North Bend, Washington to see Christian in action. He had a generous amount of talk mixed with his demos and encouraged questions at every point. The event got under way with Christian turning a ball of about 5" in diameter. He started with a piece of wood slightly larger than 5" square and about 5-1/2 inches long. He turned a very rough ball with about 1/8" tenons on the end grain where it was supported between centers. Before removing it Christian marked a line at approximately the center of the ball. When the direction was changed to support it between a cup chuck and a live center, the line was aligned with the axis of the lathe. He did this for every change of the ball as it was turned. Each time the center line was aligned with the axis of the lathe for the next go.

Christian mounted a piece of mahogany, with end grain against the faceplate and turned a cup chuck of sorts, at least he turned a recess. He noted that the holding was done at the outer edge, not in the inside, so one must make sure that the ball does not touch the bottom at any point. The tailcenter was unique. It was a live center, cup chuck made by F. H. Weiss Engineering Services of Ashland, Oregon [telephone: (541) 482-2368]. A wooden plug was inserted in the cup chuck and a small piece of leather had been glued onto the wood. This butted up against the ball and held it against the drive cup. Christian noted that the leather on the tail center helped to hold the ball better, especially when he did the off center turning. This live tailcenter was very impressive. Christian had brought several with him and I believe all of them were purchased.

The ball became more and more round as Christian cleaned up the fuzzy portion that you can see on the ball shaped silhouette as the ball revolves. Then he would mark the approximate center, rotate the ball to align the center line with the axis of the lathe and then clean up the fuzzy part again. Eventually, he changed from gouge to shear scraper as the ball became more round. I don't remember how many times he changed the center line, but it was several. I recognized that the number of times that I had to do this was about the same as Christian's, so I felt better at that point. You can't shortcut if you want a round ball.

Christian said that if he was only making a ball, he would sand it on the lathe. Sanding on the lathe helps make it slightly out of round because sandpaper cuts different on the end grain from the side grain. The hollow and decorated balls are sanded off the lathe with a hand held sander, moved constantly.

With the ball round, Christian marked circles on the end grain part of the ball and then laid out the areas for the decorative grooves. He positions the ball so that when the ball is rotated and a line is marked with a pencil, it just touches the edge of the top circle. He then makes another line that just touches the bottom circle. These two lines define the width of the band of grooves to be cut. He then rotates the ball to give another set of lines that intersect the first set at a angle. This set is approximately as wide as the first. There were two narrower sets of lines laid out also. I'm not sure I can describe the geometry of these lines, so I won't try. If fact, I'm not sure it really matters exactly. But you must lay out the areas for grooves to determine where to put the grooves.

He then cut the grooves, four or five depending on the width of the area, with a skew chisel, long point down. He noted that this was a good place to turn a nice spiral that you hadn't planned in your design, so hold onto the skew tightly and be careful. After turning the grooves, Christian showed how he cleans up the grooves with a short, precision file the likes that I've never seen before. I also didn't get the name, but he noted that it was expensive.

With the grooves turned, Christian made a jam chuck to hold the ball. He then drilled a hole to the planned depth of hollowing. He began hollowing with a long tool that holds a tiny cutter that can be rotated to different angles as the work progresses. I didn't catch the name of the maker. He only hollowed deep enough the enable him to show us how he cuts the square hole in the top. He says this change from round helps break up the monotony of the vessel and makes it more interesting. With this completed, we broke for lunch.

Christian Bourchard turned balls

Sample of Christian Burchard's Turnings.

After lunch, we had about 1-1/2 hours of more slides showing the evolution of Christian's work. Some of the slides were repeats from the night before, but many were new.

After the slide show, Christian demonstrated off-center turning of grooves on a ball, where in the grooves only go part way around.

His final demo was making a turned sculpture. He showed how he approached this task and stressed the necessity for pre-planning. Although the piece of wood is going to exert a great deal of influence on the direction the piece takes. He showed how he used imperfections in the piece of wood in the design of the sculpture. Christian noted that cracks are not bad, but don't try to hide them. If anything, accentuate them. Fill them with red filler, or something.

With this complete, we bundled up our things and headed for home, finishing a fine demonstration and an interesting day.