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Frequently Asked Questions


How long did it take you to make that?

Without a doubt, this is the most frequently asked question and often the first question from gallery visitors. It is also probably the most difficult to answer. I do not punch a time clock when I create a piece. I can construct simple pieces within a few days (not counting the finishing process). Complex pieces can require many weeks of effort. Probably my most time consuming piece thus far has been Deception on the Cocobolo (the table, chairs, and chess pieces). It required a period of more than two months. The answer that I would like to give people is, "it took a lifetime of woodworking experience". It is certainly not a lucrative labor, but a labor of love.

What kind of glue do you use?

I assemble the majority of my joinery using Franklin Titebond Original. Occasionally, I use Titebond Extend and/or Gorilla Glue. I have just started to experiment with Titebond III.

What kind of finish do you put on your pieces?

Because of the variety of woods, I usually do not use any paste fillers. I usually apply several coats of sanding sealer (sanded in between coats) to fill the wood pores and then I apply a minimum of four coats of a tung oil/urethane mixture. I rub the surfaces with super fine steel wool between coats and then buff the final coat with buffing compound. Occasionally, on small pieces that might be subjected to lots of handling, I apply a final coat of Trewax (carnaba).

Are there any special care instruction?

Put this under the heading of dumb warning labels, "Not Dishwasher Safe". On a more serious note, the biggest enemy of fine wood is extended periods of direct sunlight. All woods will eventually darken, but just like your skin, they will darken much more quickly with sun exposure. Unfortunately, the darkening effect on wood is permanent. It is not a good idea to display this type of art in a window facing the sun. The oil finish should provide many years of protection and should only require occasional dusting. If, over time, the surface becomes dull looking, then a fresh coat of finish oil can be applied.

How do you cut your pieces?

I use a 10" sliding compound miter saw for about 95% of all my segments and I use a table saw for large compound miter joints. Precise milling of the boards prior to cutting segments is essential. Even with perfect miter cuts, I use a disc sander (20" or 12") with a sanding jig to erase any saw blade markings on the majority of all segment ends prior to gluing.

How do you design your pieces?

I draw a detailed blueprint using a CAD program on an old Macintosh computer.

How did you learn to do that?

I have been a worker of wood since childhood. Experience is increased with almost every project; hundreds of projects results in lots of experience. If you would like to "give this a try", my book, The Art of Segmented Woodturning is now available.

Do you ever make a mistake?

Of course, if I never "screwed up", then I probably would not be "pushing the envelope" very much. Segmented woodturning can be very risky, not from a safety standpoint, but because of the potential for disaster. Many days of work can be quickly lost because of miscalculation or lack of focus. There are many opportunities for one to learn from one’s mistakes.

Where do you get all those colorful woods?

I use a combination of domestic and exotic woods from around the world purchased from various local wood suppliers and internet sites. Ebay is also a source for small quantities of certain species. I use no stains or dyes; all colors are natural. I am also careful not to acquire wood from endangered trees or woods that are responsible for destruction of the South American rainforest. I have listed a few of my favorite suppliers on the links page.

What are your favorite woods?

In general, I prefer tight grained, dense hardwoods; I usually avoid using open grained or soft woods. A few of my favorite woods are ebony, rosewoods, curly maple, myrtlewood, bloodwood, mesquite, purpleheart, and holly.

What is your favorite piece?

Usually, the one I am working on.

Who takes your pictures?

I do. My older photos were usually done using natural light during the very early morning (before the sun comes over the horizon) with either a black or gray seamless paper background. I believed this gave the most natural appearance and it minimized shiny reflections on the surfaces. I used a 35mm SRL camera. I now take almost all my photos indoors with a 5 mega-pixel digital camera using a homemade photo booth.

What is your single most important piece of construction advice?

Probably the most common mistake (including myself during my early learning period) is the failure to accommodate for wood movement. All woods change dimension with changes in long-term humidity. Wood moves sideways, not lengthwise. Long intersections of opposing wood grain orientation will usually eventually fail. Creating a glue joint with wood grain at a 90° alignment longer than about 1" is asking for trouble. Many of my pieces appear to be constructed with this type of unreliable joinery; however, upon closer examination, what appears to be a thin strip of long grain is usually a short section of cross-grain. By orienting the wood in this manner, I maintain consistent grain alignment and insure long-term bonding within the glue joint.

Do you do direct commissions with client involvement?

Yes, I have done many such pieces. Sometimes a client sees one of my pieces, but prefers something similar in a different size or perhaps using a different assortment of woods. The process of finalizing a design with a client includes discussions, sketches, and the creation of a design blueprint. I have always offered my clients the right to reject the finished piece. Dealing directly with a client can certainly be a more fulfilling and enjoyable experience compared to a gallery sale to an unknown buyer.

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Malcolm Tibbetts, 738 Modesto Ave, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150 malcolm@tahoeturner.com ©2004