Answers to questions that woodturner Ted Heuer is often asked. If you have a question about Ted’s Woodshop items or techniques that you’d like us to answer on this FAQ page, please contact Ted.
Q. Where can I go to find your work on display?
A. You can find Ted’s Woodshop items year-round at Ptarmigan Arts in Homer, Alaska (471 E. Pioneer Avenue). This gallery, an artist-owned cooperative, is open 7 days a week except for major holidays. We have small items at the Flying Whale Coffee Shop at the Homer Airport. During the summer months Diamond Ridge Art Studio, on the Homer Spit, carries a selection of our items. And, during the holiday shopping season, Beth and I have a booth at the Homer Nutcracker Faire held at the Homer High School the first weekend in December.
Q. Are you available to do custom woodworking?
A. Yes. I’ve made custom pens and bowls and other turnings that have been shipped throughout the United States and overseas. I’ve also done a fair amount of custom work around Homer from furniture repair to working on boats. One of my custom specialties is the turning of lidded stave bowls to serve as pet urns. You can read more about the process and the finished product at Beth’s recent blog posting.
Feel free to contact me about custom work. I can create almost any item that you see on display or on my site in the dimensions that you require, using the woods and finish of your choice.
Q. How did you get started as a woodworker?
A. I have been working with wood since I was a small boy and helped my dad with his woodworking projects around the house. I’ve also long been fascinated by the tremendous variety and diversity of trees and their woods (I have a degree in forestry). My first major projects were items of furniture for our home.
For over fifteen years, my shop and tools took up my half of our garage in Fairbanks. Winter temperatures of 40 and 50 below were a challenge, and I found that I couldn’t get a lot done during the winter months because it was either too cold to work in the garage or too cold for my finishes to set up properly. At that point, I was working full time and woodworking was just a hobby.
When we retired and moved to Homer, I was able to design a shop space to better accommodate my tools, with a separate finishing room where I can apply various types of finishes in a more controlled environment.
My first marketing efforts involved selling my work through Northwest Fine Woodworking in Seattle, at Bayberry’s Fine Gifts in Fairbanks, a store in Kansas, craft shows, and turning wine bottle stoppers from reclaimed chestnut for the American Chestnut Society. Now most of my marketing is local or online.
Q. Where do you get your woods?
A. I have local sources for some of the woods native to Alaska (birch, alder, and yellow cedar), but I purchase most of my hardwood turning stock online. Many of my suppliers will ship wood to Alaska in USPS Flat Rate boxes or by parcel post, otherwise the cost to ship heavy pieces of wood to Homer would be prohibitive. Beth and I enjoy shopping for wood when we are on vacation and never come home without a piece or two tucked into our suitcases.
Q. What is your favorite wood?
A. Black cherry and maple are two of my favorites. As furniture and cabinet makers have known for centuries, cherry machines and turns exceptionally well and has a wonderful rosy color that only gets better with age. I love maple for the great variety of colors (snow white to dark brown) and types of figure (birdseye, curly, quilted, fiddleback, etc.), and its ability to spalt and remain sound.
Q. What is spalted wood?
A. Spalted wood is wood that has been colored by a fungus attack. Spalted wood is most commonly found in dead or dying trees but can also be found in trees that are stressed by environmental factors. Spalting is part of the decay process. Spalted wood that is still sound (not punky) is highly sought after by woodworkers for its beauty and uniqueness. Some of the woods that spalt while remaining usable are maple, birch, beech, and hickory. Spalting stops once the wood is dry.
Q. What is figured wood?
A. Figured wood usually refers to wood that has irregular or unexpected grain patterns. It comes in a variety of forms (fiddleback, curly, birdseye, quilted, crotch, burl, swirl, bee’s wing, waterfall, pommelle, etc.). In figured wood, the wood cells grow in uneven, undulating, or conflicting directions and therefore reflect light differently. Some portions of the wood will darken as the angle of the reflected light changes and other areas will lighten. This quality, known as chatoyancy, can create a three-dimensional effect in the wood that seems to give the surface depth. Figured wood is rare, highly prized by woodworkers, and consequently commands a high price.
Q. Your woods are so colorful. Do you use stains?
A. Once in a while. I like the natural grain, figure, and color of wood enhanced only by careful turning and sanding and by the finishes that I apply. I make turnings from two wood products, Stratabond and Spectra-Ply, which are formed from layers of pigmented birch veneer, laminated together into a block. When viewed from the side, the wood blank resembles a ream of multi-colored construction paper. It turns beautifully and produces an unusual striped effect. Occasionally I apply an analine dye to bring out the figure and pattern in light-colored woods such as maple and oak.
Q. Do you use patterns in your woodturning?
A. No. I like to constantly experiment with different designs, shapes, and forms. I rarely make two pieces that are alike. My fish trivets would be one exception to this. The salmon, halibut, or rockfish are the same; however, I did go through a number of prototypes before I came up with designs I really liked.
Q. What kind of finishes do you use on your pieces?
A. I use four primary finishing processes. The first is wipe-on polyurethane, which requires multiple coats that have to be wet-sanded and dried between applications. Some of my pieces have as many as 30 coats, but most have 6 to 10. This finish produces a glossy, glass-like sheen. My high-end bowls, some of my peppermills and salt/pepper shaker sets, and most of my pens have a polyurethane finish. I also occasionally use cyanoacrylate (super glue) to finish pens.
I dip my wine bottle stoppers into a gloss polyurethane finish, then set them in a drip rack for a minute or so before wicking off the final blob of finish that forms at the lowest point of the stopper. This process is repeated many times until I am satisfied with the result.
The second finishing process used in my work is done by my wife, Beth, and involves the application of multiple coats of a durable Danish oil finish. This is a wipe-on product that is applied and allowed to set for about 20 minutes before it is wiped dry. Another coat is applied after 24 hours and the process is repeated as many times as necessary. Some woods, such as spalted pecan or maple, soak up more of the oil and require more coats than dense, oily woods such as cocobolo or morado (Bolivian rosewood). After the final coat, we set the item aside for 3 to 5 days before I wax and buff it using two buffing compounds and a carnauba wax. This finish produces a satin sheen. I often use a Danish oil finish on lidded boxes, peppermills and shaker sets, and some kitchen implements.
We also utilize food-safe finishes such as walnut oil or butcher block oil on serving and utility bowls, cheese trays, and other pieces that are likely to come in contact with edibles. Beth applies several coats of wipe-on oil, allowing at least 24 hours of drying time between coats.
Occasionally I will use a spray-on finish. Certain items, such as turned wooden ornaments, sputnik sea urchin ornaments, bookmarks, and golf ball markers are so small and delicate that I can’t apply a traditional polyurethane finish evenly. The result is the same as the traditional polyurethane finish — it’s just a different application technique.