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When Bowls Explode

Spalted Beech Bowl
The bowl that exploded.

It’s not often that accidents happen in the workshop, but every-so-often, things go pop. And yesterday was one of those days.

I must stress though, that it is very rare that a bowl should explode like this spalted beech wood one did. If you didn’t know already, spalting is a natural process of rotting wood. It produces lovely lines and colours…and also weakens the wood – hence it breaking.

Now, I knew the wood was a little soft in places. I could easily dig my fingernail into it before I mounted it on the lathe, but it didn’t feel all the bad. Certainly not bad enough to worry me. So, off I went turning it more carefully than normal, and taking time to make sure the cuts were good, but shallow.

Anyway, as I was finishing a cut along the bottom to form the foot of the bowl, the darn thing blew-up.

There was no warning, it just went. I don’t even think I heard it. But I really felt the evacuating piece make contact with my left arm. It sent me twisting backwards an the lathe, dreadfully unbalanced with the majority of the bowl still spinning rapid, dancing across the floor. I could reach the emergency stop button and gave it a slap. Slowly the lathe ground to a halt and the large portion of the bowl swung steadily to an unbalanced stop too.

Picking the smaller piece up, I cursed more than once about the bowl breaking more than my arm hurting.

20141112_1029260On closer examination, I could see that the spalting had gone into the wood a lot further than I could have thought, the white pores showing clearly where the wood was weakest. (Left)

I put the lathe back into position, took these pictures and, still cursing the loss of what would have been a lovely looking bowl, went to the kitchen to make a coffee.

IMG_20141112_1039510Rubbing my arm, I thought the wood had just clumped it really hard (which it had, of course), but on removing the three t-shirts, long sleeve base layer and fleece, I saw that it had also broken the skin a bit and there was a bruise forming. (right).

If I had been standing directly centred to the bowl and it had broken, the piece would have landed plumb in the centre of my chest. The results of which I do not wish to think about. It may well have broken my sternum…but again, I’m not going to think about it.

Although I was wearing a full face shield as you see in the videos I post, it would have done no good in this case. The impact was too low.

So, what have I learnt from this experience?

Well, this post may be light and a little jovial, but it serves as a warning. Wherever possible, do not stand directly in line with the piece you are working on. It is not always possible to do this, but I have made sure I stand to the side as often as possible since I started turning.

Also, don’t take the condition of your spalted (or any, perhaps) wood for granted. You don’t know what it is like under the surface. You can get an idea, like I did, but it can change just millimetres beneath the surface.

Today, my arm is sore and a little stiff, but hey-ho…you play with spinning wood and chisels, something is going to blow-up on you at some point. Sup it up and keep going. But be careful…and get insurance!