Mushrooms are probably one of the most popular items that woodturners make, no matter where you go or who you speak to in the field of woodturning, mushrooms are common to everyone.
They are simple to make and the wood usually does not cost a lot if anything, most garden pruning’s can be used, trees like Cherry, Rowan, Hazel, Birch, Apple, Pear, Plum, Laburnum to name but a few, basically any hardwood branch will do, all that needs to be done is to dry them first.
When cutting material you think might be useful to make mushrooms, cut them into as long a length as is possible, bearing in mind that you have to be able to carry them and that you will need somewhere to store them. I like to cut all of mine into lengths no shorter than 1 meter, and no longer than 2.5 meters, the girth of these can be anything from 25mm diameter to 150mm diameter, after 150mm diameter I would always cut the logs lengthwise, in half or more if big enough. The reason for cutting them in long lengths is to prevent loss when drying, every cut you make across a log exposes the end grain, this will usually shake, crack in the ends, it’s practically impossible to stop, there are ways to try to stop this by waxing the ends, and this is something you might consider, especially if you have a rather scarce type of timber. On the whole I prefer to let nature take it’s course and let them dry naturally with no wax on the ends at this stage, I remove about 100mm off each end after they are dry, taking all the shakes, cracks away with that.
As for how to dry them, I have found that if they are stored in a cool airy place that has some sort of cover from the rain and most importantly the sun, they will dry out fairly well at a rate of roughly 1inch (25mm) of thickness for one year of drying, it has also been my experience that tells me you should also dry these standing up, ie. Vertical, and preferably the same way as they were growing.
Once they are dry they can be cut into the lengths that you will ultimately use, at this stage it’s vital that they be waxed on either end, for this I use paraffin wax, it comes in a solid block, heated to a liquid and the ends dipped in it. The reason for doing this now is that your blanks could now still loose moisture, but they could also still gather it, this process prevents this from happening, or at least slows it down to a rate that does not degrade the blanks.
How to hold them on the lathe, a variety of methods could be applied, from between centre’s, a screw chuck maybe, or my preferred way is to hold them with hot melt glue. As your blank has been waxed, you will have to remove the wax from one end only, (wax and hot melt glue just do not sit well together) to do this I take a very thin cut with the band saw, no more than the thickness of the blade.
You will require something to glue your blank on to, for this cut a disc of any wood about 100mm diameter and fix this to the lathe, it could be with a screw chuck, or a face plate and screws, or if your chuck will allow, straight into the chuck, (my preferred method). You will need to true up the disc in both directions, ie. edge and face, once you have done this put a series of grooves in the face, about 3mm deep and 5mm apart, I have provided a picture of my own set up, see below.
To make a mushroom , follow the steps below.
How to make a Mushroom
The backing disc held in the chuck, trued and grooved, ready to accept the blank.
The prepared blank, ie. wax removed from one end ready for the glue.
The blank is Elm.
Hot melt glue applied to one end, be generous with this.
The blank now positioned on the backing disc, bring up the tail stock for support, apply some slight pressure and lock off, the blank will be ready to turn as soon as the glue cools.
Start to turn the head first, working from the tail stock end back to the centre of your blank, always with the grain, ie. downhill, or from thick to thin, use a spindle gouge, leave a small pip at the tail stock end, as shown.
Now that the head has been roughly shaped, it’s time to determine the base of your mushroom.
Put a cut into the base just above the glue line
leaving about 3mm of material on the base plate, use a parting tool for this and go in about half way.
The stem of your mushroom should now be formed, use a spindle gouge, start near the bottom and work towards the head, cutting with the grain, ie. downhill or from thick to thin, at this stage, leave quite a wide band of bark at the base of the head.
Under cut the head as shown, to do this turn your tool rest in towards the stem and using a sharp parting tool make a series of shallow cut to create the under cut, working from the centre out, be very careful near the outside edge, if anything goes wrong it’s likely to be here, that’s why the bark of the base of the head was left rather wide, should a mistake take place there is enough material left to rectify the situation.
The shaft needs to be blended into the undercut head, to do this use a spindle gouge and working downhill, ie, thick to thin, take a series of very light cuts from the base of your mushroom up to the point just below the slope of the undercut. You may need to bring a light cut back down the undercut slope in order to fully marry up the two cuts, as shown above, to do this a small spindle gouge turned well over onto it’s side, should do the job.
Once you are happy with the stem and the undercut, it’s time to rework the head. You will see from the two pictures above this one that the width of the bark left on is considerably more. Re-work the head until you get it to a profile you consider complete, except for removing the pip at the tail stock end, use a spindle gouge for this purpose. Some of the sanding can be carried out with the pip still there if you feel you want the added support, otherwise it’s time to remove the pip, again using a spindle gouge.
Having removed the pip at the tail stock end, carry on with the sanding. I use the Powerlock system for most of this, starting with a 120grit disc, moving up to a 180grit next and finally with a 240grit. Most of the mushroom is accessible with the 2”size, the only part requiring hand sanding is the underside of the head, use the three same grits to do this, this time using a sanding cloth , I use J-flex which I find excellent. Finally finish the entire mushroom with steel wool (0000).
Now it’s time to seal and polish your mushroom, the sealer I use is a Mylands product, Mylands Cellulose Sanding Sealer.
This needs to be applied fairly liberally, by that I mean not allowing any part to dry before the excess is taken off, to do this I use a brush with copious amounts of sealer on it and apply it to all parts as quickly and evenly as possible, as soon as this is done wipe off the excess with paper kitchen towels, this has the effect that any sealer applied is now only in the wood as opposed to on the wood, all of the above two procedures are done while the lathe is stationary.
This surface now needs to be flattened ,(the sealer will have raised the grain of the wood) to do this 0000 steel wool is used.
Turn on your lathe and with a pad of steel wool firmly rub all over, this should remove all the raised grain leaving a clean smooth surface for the polish. I use a lacquer for this, again it’s a Mylands product, this is applied to the stationary item using a pad of kitchen towel, rub the lacquer on evenly all over making sure to rub it well in, once done the mushroom will look a little dull at this stage, turn on your lathe and with a new clean wad of kitchen towel, burnish the entire mushroom, as you do so you should see the dullness disappear and be replaced with a nice lustre, a final coat of wax polish can be applied after this if you feel it’s required,
I generally leave them as they are, the wax I would use is Liberon’s Black Bison Clear Wax Polish.
Your mushroom is now ready to be parted off the lathe, use the parting tool and cut gently towards the centre and with a slight incline towards the right of the chuck, as you get closer to the cut off point you will need to be in a position to catch the parting mushroom, this will require you are cutting with one hand whilst catching with the other, using a loose hold with the left hand on the mushroom, you will feel the mushroom gently sway just before you need to catch it. With it now removed from the lathe, the base will require some cleaning up, remove any last parts of the final parting cut with a sharp chisel, give the base a good sanding and coat with sealer as applied above, sand lightly with a very fine sanding cloth and finally apply some wax and polish or buff up once dry.
Your Mushroom is completed.
This one is Elm