Turn a Bernson Showcase Vase

A test-tube insert enables this beauty to hold fresh-cut flowers

Bruce Bernson, a self-taught woodturner, lives near the beautiful coastal city of Santa Barbara, California. He has been known to search as far as Oregon for uniquely grained woods, such as wild lilac and buckeye burl, for his turnings. He's even found some turning "treasures" in such unlikely spots as land-clearing sites and along the seacoast after storms.

Bruce turned the vase shown from a big-leaf maple burl dried in his own kiln (built from a 2,000-gallon gas tank).

Here's how Bruce turns this vase: "I start with a cube of wood approximately 412 " square. I bandsaw the block to a cylindrical shape and mount the block between centers. Next, I turn it round, and remove stock from the ends to form two dowel-like supports."

Bruce uses a 12 " roundnose scraper to form the sweeping neck and bulbous body.

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To finish the vase, this craftsman turns it as smooth as possible on the lathe, and hand-sands it, using as fine as 600-grit paper. He then removes the turning from the lathe, cuts off the dowel-like projections, and drills a 916 " hole 3" deep in the center of the top for a test tube.

As Bruce explains, "I apply a single coat of Watco Danish Oil to the vase and allow it to dry for three days." Still not satisfied, Bruce then applies tripoli to a 10"-diameter cotton pad mounted to an arbor, and hand-holds the vase against the spinning pad to buff it. At a point where most people would call it quits, Bruce proceeds to use a lamb's-wool bonnet mounted to another arbor, and applies a coat of pure carnuba wax to the burl vase.

"Finally," Bruce concludes, "I use white glue to adhere a piece of protective leather to the bottom of the vase. After the glue has dried, I trim away the excess leather with a sharp utility razor blade. I then sign and number the vase in the wood along the leather base with a woodburning tool."

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Photograph: Bob Calmer; Dan Olmstad Illustrations: Kim Downing

If you like this project, please check out more than 1,000 shop-proven paper and downloadable woodworking project plans in the WOOD Store.

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