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The Story of the Walnut Platter, pt. 1

We obtained a very wide slab of walnut wood that I was very happy to get. When we first got the slab I was planning on making a slab top for a table. It sat in my wood storage area for a few months, acclimating to my shop environment. I kept looking at it, and I realized that I could get some nice platters from this slab. It had beautiful grain patterns and I could make platters that would showcase this figure. My lathe can handle platters up to 18” in diameter. Having a single piece of wood that is that large in diameter is not easy to come by, so I settled on the decision to process the slab into four platter blanks.

I cut the slab into the four blanks, then let them sit for a few more weeks. Now it was time to put the first blank on the lathe and see how it turned out. When you make a platter or bowl, most of the time you completely sand and finish the outside of the piece, then turn it around and complete the inside. This is because once you take it off the lathe and turn it around you can’t easily work the first side, and it is almost impossible to get the types of finishes that I use onto the outside after taking it off the lathe.

I turned the outside of the platter and was very pleased with the way it turned out. I was excited to see what the inside looked like when it was done. After all, the inside of the platter is the side that will be seen when it is displayed. I attached the Pugsley Craft maker’s mark, then took it off the lathe.

The original slab was air dried, as opposed to kiln dried. Air dried wood will have more moisture content than kiln dried wood. A piece of kiln dried wood will have a moisture content around 6 percent and will maintain that percentage better than air dried wood. This is because kiln dried wood tends to have its cells collapse more, not allowing moisture back in again. On the other hand, air dried wood will usually not be less than 8% moisture content and tends to absorb moisture back when it gets into higher humidity. However, air dried woods tend to keep their color and figure better than kiln dried woods.

Knowing this about air dried woods, I like to bring bowls and platters into the house for a while to acclimate to an environment like where they will end up living in a customer’s home. So I brought the platter into the house and it stayed there for a few weeks.

If you look at the end section of a log, the very center contains what is called the pith. The pith is very reactionary wood tends to develop cracks as it dries. You really don’t want the wood pith in your wood items, as it is hard to manage and can cause problems. Branches also have a center pith, but sometimes you can get away with these in your bowls and platters. Branches appear as knots in the wood.

As the platter sat in the house, it dried more. Oops! A crack started to develop where the knot is in the platter. My first thought was to fill the crack with some black epoxy or thick instant glue. This would seal it up, and since it was black it would blend in well with the figured walnut. But the longer it sat, the larger the crack became. If you look at the picture of the crack, you can see that it spans across the knot, but stops right at the edge of the knot.

In my opinion, the crack is now too large to fill.

After Erika and I consulted about this development, we reached a decision. I will remount the platter on the lathe and turn it down past where the knot is. The platter will be smaller, but will have crack gone, and be a more stable piece when completed. When working with a natural material like wood, sometimes you have things happen and you just have to make a new plan for the piece you are making. Look for part two of this story when the smaller platter is completed.

I still have three more platter blanks to work with, so our fingers are crossed that we get a couple of platters full sized from the blanks.

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