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Jimmy Clewes

Jimmy Clewes

Nov 15, 2009

Jimmy Clewes Demo

This article written by Howard Cohen appeared in the 2009 December issue of Chips & Chatter.

On Sunday, 11/15, many of us spent the day watching and being entertained by professional wood turner and demonstrator, Jimmy Clewes. Originally from Newcastle, UK, Jimmy now lives in Las Vegas. His formal class schedule is up and running and he never allows more than 4 turners per class. As we experienced last year, Jimmy is humorous and entertaining incorporating a mixture of English and now American experiences; e.g. “common sense is not that common”. Also, like last year, Jimmy does not preach or insist that there is only one way to do things or that his way is better than someone else’s. He will often remind us that he is simply showing us “his way” but that “there is no right way”; he will use any method to get the desired end results.


He emphasized that, unlike some demonstrators, he believes it is wrong for professional demonstrators to assume that their audiences all seek to attain their level of skill. Rather, “enjoy what you are doing and don’t allow someone else to presume what level of woodturning we desire”.


In particular, “take woodturning to a level of skill that suits you”.


Including within this philosophy are tips and advice such as

“don’t get hung up on bevel angles and forget hand sharpening” or those who insist that if you don’t hand sharpen you must now be a real wood turner.


Jimmy said a few things about the tools he does use. For one thing, he likes a bowl gouge and uses it for many many things.


As Jimmy commented, “there seems to be a national compe-tition to determine who will die with the most tools in their shop. He particularly likes a bowl gouge with a deeper flute because the results in a smaller or less deep bevel which, in turn, allows him to get around sharper curves, etc.


Jimmy took us through 3 projects for this demonstration day, 

  1. A Walnut platter

  2. A Vase

  3. A Twisted Spindle – e.g./Candlestick Holder 


Project #1: Platter


Using a piece of English walnut, about 2” by 12”, the rough disk was mounted using a screw chuck. Jimmy explained that he choice an orientation such that the best grain is on the bottom; i.e. away from the headstock when first mounted with the screw chuck. As he explained last year, one of the most difficult skills in woodturning is to create an aesthetically pleas-ing curve without any flat spots whatsoever. In this project, he is creating an ogee shape on the inside and outside where the rim width is approximately 1/3 of he oval platter diameter.


And, yet, he was quick to point out that he rarely measures but rather uses his trained eye to gauge the desired dimensions and proportions. He also undercuts slightly the inside of the rim and rounds over any sharp edges. To strive for the perfect shape, Jimmy

  • Uses sharp tools

  • Turns fast (in fact we changed the belt position on Rich’s Stubby so Jimmy could turn faster); “it is not safer to turn slowly”

  • For a final push cut, he uses a lighter tool with a smaller cut, smaller radius – this is better for removing “disturbed” grain

  • Moves his body and keeps the tool anchored against his body


He does not turn a tenon on the bottom for chuck mounting but rather turns a recess so that he can use the chuck in expansion mode. Despite some doubts from the audience, Jimmy asserted that using a chuck in expansion mode is stronger (more wood support for one thing) than with a contraction or tenon hold. But, it is very important to cut the recess side angles to match precisely that of the dovetail chuck jaws (which he much prefers over straight, serrated jaws.) He has tool ground at the dovetail angle so that when he pushed the tool straight in, he gets exactly the angle he wants.


For finishes, Jimmy has experimented with wet sanding to eliminate dust. For this project he simply used some Deft lacquer sanding sealer that Rich had mixed at 50 50.


Project #2: Vase


This project is a natural edge end grain vase (pronounced “vauze”) from a piece of elm. Jimmy uses a Doug Thompson tool and a Dave Schweitzer (D-Way) tool.  He starts with the log mounted whole and between centers on the lathe. Because he does not want heartwood directly on center, he mounts the log slightly off center to avoid weakening the piece. Interestingly he does not rough turn the log with a roughing gouge but rather uses a bowl gouge. One of the reasons for not using a roughing gouge at this initial stage is because he cannot use a fast enough speed. To avoid the forces associated with turning a log like this round, Jimmy make a series of ‘V’ cuts along the linear dimension of the log and then removes ridges resulting from the ‘V’ cut – all of this with his bowl gouge.


For this project, the headstock end of the log will form the natural edge and opening of the vase. He turns the inside first and then the outside. He turns the basic reference curve (outside) while still between centers. With the hollowing tool, Jimmy makes sure that the handle is engaged firmly under his armpit and uses either a Rolly Munro hollowing tool or a Mike Hunter tool and cutters. Jimmy told us that there is more chance of catching with a spindle gouge.


When “eyeing” the ogee curve, his goal is to divide the curve into approximately 3 equal sections; the concave curve, the convex curve, and the inflection or transition between the two.


He also tries to make the diameter of the foot roughly equal to the diameter of the vase at the inflection curve. The vase must be turned to the same thickness, including the foot, to avoid splitting.


Project #3: Twisted spindle turning


This project is basically a spindle turning with an equal section at each end left round. While still between centers he turns a taper between these two rounded sections. He then marks circles on each end diameter, draws a reference line along the length of the piece, divides the circles in thirds, marks opposing points on the opposing ends and remounts the piece, now with an offset.


Note: Cindy Drozda showed us a similar technique when she demonstrated turning 3-sided boxes.


Jimmy is supposed to be sending Rich a diagram/explanation for better details on this process. Now, while mounted offset, he runs the lathe quite fast and turns another taper to exactly match the “ghost” taper created from the first taper. The piece then needs to be remounted one more time, offset between a different set of opposing points, and then the third taper is cut. This technique can, of course, be applied to more than 3 tapers but the more tapers the more round the offset turnings become. Sanding is manual and the top and bottom need to be finished off.