Carl’s Photo Studio 2018

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Carl’s Photo Studio 2018 Photo: Photo Setup 2018

Here is my new photo setup. I started using it in 2018. I am very happy with it.

I am now using "softbox lights" with a big graduated black to white background. See photo above.

Previously I used a "Photo Tent". (See photo at the end of this blog post.) Like recommended in AAW Symposiums, etc. It worked ok for years. But then I decided I was tired of it. I did not like the lights all that much. The tent was to small. I wanted to take photos of bigger things and groups of things. Moving things around and positioning them inside of the tent was a pain.

I looked around and decided that "softbox lights" were the way to go.

Photo: Softbox Lights Softbox Lights

I found some softbox lights on Amazon that I liked the looks of in my price range.

They are "LimoStudio 700W Photo Video Studio Soft Box Lighting Kit, 24 x 24 Inch Dimension Softbox Light Reflector with Photo Bulb, Photography Studio, AGG814". $64 on 2/2019.

I like them.

Photo: Big Light Bulbs Big Light Bulbs

The bulbs are big. Really big. 4" diameter by 9" tall.

I think big is good. They create lots of light that is soft from the start because it does not all come from a small point source.

The bulbs are marked "eTopLighting photo bulb PB-85 120V 85W". No other markings. But, I think they are 6500K, daylight neutral.

Photo: Big Black to White Background Big Black to White Background

I decided to get a big background so I could take photos of big things. I like the background in photos to trail off from grey to black. Thus I use a graduated black to white background.

Real photographers use a huge studio and let the light trail off naturally. I don't have room for that.

My background is from Amazon. It is a "Flotone Vinyl Graduated Background 43" X 67" Black to White #609". $74 on 2/2019.

There are lots of similar choices on Amazon. The price was more than I would like. But, it was the best I could do.

I wanted a vinyl background so I cold wash it off when it got dirty. However, that does not work well, because all these backgrounds scratch really easily!

Note: I use the smudge tool in Photoshop to wipe out any scratches I see on the background in my photos.

If you want to go cheaper you could just use some photo gray paper.

Photo: Photo Studio Stowed Photo Studio Stowed

Here is my new photo studio all stowed. I just roll the background up to the ceiling. Then shove the lights, back out of the way. The table is part of my photo set up. I just, leave it up and use it for other things. Stowing things takes just a minute or two.

I made my own background roller. More about that latter. Before, I made the roller, I used some big binder paper clips that hung the background from the ceiling from some wires. I never put the background away and thus ended up with scratches on it.

Note: I had to use the flash on my camera to get a photo of the screen up against the ceiling. Err… I hate on camera flash! The light is just way to harsh.

Photo: Photo Studio Ready To Go Photo Studio Ready To Go

Here is my photo studio set up and ready to go.

The tall light is lighting the background and the over all scene. The low light is my accent light. For this big group with lots of shiny things, I have the accent light higher than normal. Later, I had to dork around with the accent light, quite a bit to get rid of hot spots on that glossy red plate.

I am using an old GOOD tripod, I got from a friend. A good tripod is a must! A cheap tripod that moves around will drive you crazy.

The big black binder paper clips on the bottom of the background just add some weight so it hangs down, out of the way. The paint cans, keep the background from slipping off the table.

I adjust the height of the background and paint cans to get a nice almost black background at the top of my photos.

I always take my photos in a dark room at night or on a cloudy day. The photo lights are the only source of light. I don't want any other sources of light that may reflect off my work, cast weird shadows or color shifts.

Note: My good camera is on the tripod. I am taking this photo with my old camera. Thus the quality of the photos in this blog entry, vary a lot.

Photo: My Camera My Camera

Here I have my camera set up ready to take a shot. I am going to live with the hot spots in centers of bowls. They are virtually impossible to get rid of in a group shot like this. The top of the red plate is still a little to bright. I need to adjust my lights a little more.

In the viewfinder you can see the edge of my background on the left. For this big group, I have to frame the photo based on top and bottom of all items in the photo. I will cut left and right off latter in Photoshop. I also leave some room on the top and bottom of shot for cropping in Photoshop.

My camera is an "Olympus TG-3". I really good camera. I really like this camera. But, it is totally the wrong camera for this application. But, it works just fine. This camera is designed to be really tough for travel. It can be bounced off a concrete floor, dropped in a lake or you can take photos in pouring rain. I have done most of these things. It has a piece of glass in front of the internal folded lens to make it really waterproof and thus totally the wrong camera for this application.

You can put this camera in manual mode. And lots of other stuff. But, I never do, because it takes FANTASTIC photos in AUTO mode. Here I have forced the flash off, set it to 8m (3216 x 2144) photo size (not the max), 3:2 photo with a 1 second self timer, in auto mode.

The most important thing here is to FORCE THE FLASH OFF! No flash for any reason come hell or high water with digital cameras.

A 1 second self timer is also real important. i.e. take the photo 1 second after I push the shutter button. Wait until, I let go and the camera stops shaking then take the photo.

These days, any good point and shoot camera will get the job done.

Note: If I had a ton of money to waste then I would get a fancy OFF CAMERA flash unit that I could ADJUST the brightness of. Then I would not need to dork with my lights, etc. I could just use the flash. On camera flashes like I have and can afford, do not work! Only one brightness (usually super bright) flashes like I have and can afford do not work!

Photo: The Original Photo The Original Photo

Well, sort of the original photo. The original is 3316 x 2144, 1.46 MB. The photo here has been down sampled to a reasonable size for the web.

Here is the photo I decided to go with. It is one of 10 or so, taken from slight different angles and heights. I picked the best one.

If you are taking photos on Auto. Just moving the camera a little often makes a BIG difference in how the light is captured by the camera. Big differences in ISO, F stop, shutter speed, white balance, etc.

I have found the best solution for ME is to take 10 or more photos on AUTO and then pick the best one. Because, I don't really known what I am doing. Taking photos on manual is a waste of time for ME. What F stop, etc should I use? I have no clue. Once in a long while, I will take a photo on Auto and then switch to Manual, where I tweak the settings that Auto mode came up with.

I often rotate the pieces around a little or lot. The grain on some pieces only looks great from one angle. Often not the angle I start out with.

There are lots of scratches and some dust/dirt on the background in this photo. Can you find them? I did not touch them up. I can't find them even in the 1.46 meg original with out a lot of zooming.

Photo: The Cropped Photo The Cropped Photo

Here I cropped the photo a little in Photoshop. Remove the edge of the background on right. Leave a nice amount of space all around.

Auto Levels in Photoshop often does wonders. Makes the background look better. Removes the dull gray cast. Auto levels did not do much to this photo. I got the lights, etc right from the start. My TG-3 camera is not the right camera for the job, but it does a pretty good job.

In Photoshop I did an Export, Save for Web. Saved the photo at 1600 px wide (1600 x 1160), 648K. Then I let Jalbum program down sample it to 828 x 600, 93K for my blog on the web. I normally shoot for original images saved on my computer for the long term around 600K to 800K. If just one object in the photo than I save at 800 px wide. If you save photos anywhere on the web (Flickr, Google Photos, etc) they frequently get saved way below this size.

Photoshop use to be head and shoulders above any thing else. That is no longer true. The programs that now come with most digital cameras are pretty good. They all support cropping. And most support some form of "auto levels". You don't need Photoshop. Photoshop is a tool. A tool with a HUGE learning curve. The programs that now come with digital cameras are often a lot easier to use.

Note: This is one of the promotional photos for my Woodturning Workshop class at Peters Valley on July 12-16, 2019. PV is calling it "An Exploration of Woodturning". See

Photo: Pick the BEST Photo Pick the BEST Photo

Like I said eariler. I ALWAYS take 10 or more photos from slightly different angles, heights and rotations of the subject. Then I pick the best one.

Photo: Photo of a Big Thing Photo of a Big Thing

Here I am taking a photo of a lamp that will definitely not fit in my old photo tent. I have raised the background up to make this work.

Photo: Background Rolled Up for Storage Background Rolled Up for Storage

Here is what my background looks like when rolled up for storage. The big black metal binder clips add a little weight to the end of the background. They make things a lot easier.

Notice that my roller is roughly 6" wider than my background. I did this on purpose. I didn't want the edges of my background getting all screwed up.

I made the roller out of 4" Sewer and Drain PVC pipe from local big box store. I wanted a big diameter roller. I did not want the background to get screwed up by being rolled to tight. I also, did not want it to develop a memory and try to roll back up on it's own.

Note: Before, I made the roller, I used some big binder paper clips that hung the background from the ceiling from some wires. I never put the background away and thus ended up with scratches on it.

Photo: Background Rolled Down Background Rolled Down

Here you can see that I put 3 feet of heavy construction paper above my background. This allows me to roll down the background further.

I REALLY like this roller because it has a clutch mechanism built into it. It will not roll down on it's own while I taking photos, etc. You have to pull on the white chain on the right to roll it up or down. See next photo.

Photo: Clutch Mechanism for Background Roller Clutch Mechanism for Background Roller

I purchased some roller brackets with a built in clutch mechanism. I purchased "Good News Roller Blind Shade Metal Core Clutch Bracket Cord Chain Repair kit 38mm" from Amazon. $9 on 2/2019.

I turned some pine wooden disks to reduce the 4" PVC pipe down to the 38mm required by the rollers.

Photo: Close Up of Roller Bracket Close Up of Roller Bracket

Here you can see that I cut the long slots off of the roller brackets in previous photo. Then I drilled my own new mounting holes.

Photo: Old Photo Tent Old Photo Tent

Here is picture of my old photo tent with lights. The one, I no longer like.

Photo: Carl's AAW Photo Gallery Carl’s AAW Photo Gallery

Recently, I decided to start posting one photo per week of my recent work on the AAW’s Photo Gallery.

Go here to see some recent photos taken with my new photo studio set up:

Lathe Accessories for a New Turner

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Here is some advice I wrote for a new turner who has just purchased a Powermatic 3520C lathe. He was looking for advice on chucks, faceplates and a drill chuck. A threw in a little extra stuff.

Join the American Association of Turners (AAW)

You should join the AAW for there Journal magazine ASAP. The great mag easily pays for membership. It has lots of GOOD stuff for beginners and experience people. Go here:

You should also check out the AAW’s Woodturning Fundamental magazine and other stuff for new people. Go here:

Take A Class – Try before you buy!

You should take a class with a well known turner and/or a well known school. Try tools before you buy!

If you live in Colorado. Then take a class with Trent Bosch or a beginner class at Anderson Ranch. Or Google “woodturning classes”.

Turning Tools

I recommend taking a class and going with tool set used by your teacher/mentor. Otherwise my tool set is here:


Faceplates are a no brainier. The Oneway steel 4″ faceplate is the best out there. You don’t need stainless steel.

Note: Oneway is the manufacturer name.

Avoid the cast iron, thin steel ones and aluminum faceplates on the market. They are OK for making Jam Chucks, etc. But, not for everyday work where you “ride the plates hard and put them away wet”.

The faceplate that comes with the Powermatic 3520C is an exception to the no cast iron rule. It is OK. But, to small. Only 3″. Get a 4″ one.

If you want to go big. I would wait and see. If you go there, I would go with a Oneway Versa Hub with a 6″ Versa Plate. You could go the Versa Hub & Plate route for the 4″ faceplate. However, removing the plate from the versa hub to put in screws tends to be to much trouble for a 4″ plate.

The info here is out of date on the tools stuff. Use my new modern tool set stuff on my blog. But the screws and faceplate stuff is still good here:

Drill Chuck (Jacobs Chuck)

Any of the “MT2 Drill Chuck” search results on Amazon will do. I would go with keyless. You don’t need high quality.

Currently (2/2019) the “PSI Woodworking Products TM32KL Keyless 1/2-Inch Drill Chuck with a 2 MT Mount” looks good for $38.

Look for a Rohm Supra chuck made in Germany if you want to waste some money on high quality you don’t need. There are some nice Rohm MT2 chucks on eBay. I just purchased one for $106 for my drill press.’

Note: Your Powermatic 3520C has a MT2 (Morse Taper #2) hole in the tailstock. The headstock is 1-1/4 by 8 threads with a MT2 hole.

Woodturning Chuck

Now we get to the more controversial subject of chucks. I will try to stick to the middle of the road and be brief.

Wood Magazine has a good intro to how chucks work and terminology here:

Think about Jaws First

Sooner or latter most people decide they need/want more than one set of chuck jaws. Different size jaws, different shape, etc. Thus you should look at the cost of extra jaw sets BEFORE you pick a manufacture. Because you can NOT interchange different brands of chuck bodies and jaws. Vicmarc jaws only fit on Vicmarc chucks, etc.

Note: Vicmarc, Oneway, and Nova are the names of well known manufactures.

In general, extra Oneway chuck jaw sets tend to be cheapest. Then Vicmarc, Nova and then Easy Wood is out of this world expensive!

Oneway has a good jaw size and shape table here:

Chucks in a Nutshell

I agree with most of the professional turners that Vicmarc makes the best chuck bodies. The VM120 chuck is loved by many. However, all these people tend to be in the “dovetail jaws are best camp”. They tend to turn mostly dry wood. They often expand the chuck jaws into a recess in the bottom of a piece. Making generalizations like this is obviously going to elicit negative responses from some people. Go with a Vicmarc VM120 if you are in the dovetail jaws camp.

I turn mostly green wood from FRESHLY cut logs from trees. Fresh cut wood is soft and cuts like butter. Thus, I am firmly in the “profiled serrated jaws are best camp”. They work better on green wood. I ALWAYS clamp my jaws down on to the OUTSIDE of a tenon. Expanding into a recess in the bottom of a green wood piece almost always ends in disaster.

You can ONLY get serrated jaws from Oneway and they only fit on Oneway chucks. Thus I recommend the Oneway Stronghold chuck. It is also loved by many. I have 5 of them. I don’t like the smaller Talon chuck by Oneway. Go with a Oneway Stronghold if you are going to turn bowls or hollow forms out of green wood.

You can get dovetail jaws for Oneway chucks and extra Oneway jaws are cheapest. So you can have the best of all worlds with a Oneway Stronghold.

Dovetail Jaws verses Serrated Jaws

The advantage to dovetail jaws is you can removed a piece from a chuck and then remount it latter. It will still run almost dead true, with no wobble, etc. If and only if the wood has not warped. You can’t do this with serrated jaws that are clamped down over a tenon. You can if you expand the serrated jaws into a recess. However, dovetail jaws expanded into a recess are better.

You have to cut a dovetail for dovetail jaws. This can be a huge source of pain for new people. They make dovetail scrapers that will cut a “perfect dovetail”. However, they tend to catch. Then all hell brakes lose. Serrated jaws use a simple straight tenon that is easier to create.

Other Chuck Manufactures

I started out with a Super Nova chuck. I still really hate that chuck. It’s the chuck key that I really hate! The newer Nova chucks that use a simple Allen wrench key are OK. It’s hard not to like the low price of the Nova SuperNova2 direct thread chuck bundles on ebay. But, extra Nova jaws tend to be expensive. Some people love Nova chucks. They are not going to agree with me here. Sorry, it’s my blog.

The new kids on the block, like Hurricane chucks use to be cheap. No more! I see no reason to go with one of these new kids when the above well known manufactures are in the same price range.

Record brand chucks just splashed onto the scene in the US. They have existed for a long time in Europe where they are known for being made by Nova. Why not go with a cheap Nova on eBay?

Sorby and Axminster chucks are UK companies. They generally are not cheap in the US.

When it comes to chucks for Mini Lathes the field has gotten pretty muddy. I have not been keeping up. I still like the Barracuda2 Chuck by Penn State Industries. Mostly, I like the $149 price. I don’t known that it is any better than the look-a-likes by other manufactures.

There is no way on the face of the earth I want anything to do with these new “no jaw screws” chucks! Like, Easy Wood Tools, Easy Chuck, etc. Jaws need to be securely screwed on to a chuck! Otherwise they are just an accident waiting to happen. Sooner or latter jaws with out screws will come flying off and kill you.

Chuck Size

Bigger is always better in the US. Thus sooner or latter someone was going to come out with chucks bigger than the Vicmarc VM120 (5″) or Oneway Stronghold (4-1/2″). They are just trying to knock these chucks off their well earned thrones. You don’t need any of the bigger chucks. The extra weight will just be a pain in the ass when you take them on/off the lathe. It is the chuck jaw size of work ranges that makes a difference. Not the chuck body size. Well, maybe if someone made an 8″ chuck it would be better. But there is no real difference between a 4-1/2″ chuck and a 5″ or 6″ chuck.

Turning Smocks

Get yourself a turning smock before “he who must be obeyed” complains about wood shavings in the house. I like the AAW Turning Smock best. It’ll make a good valentines day gift! 🙂

Cactus Plate Bowl

Ric Rac Orchid Cactus Plate Bowl Photo: Ric Rac Orchid Cactus Plate Bowl

Last month, I found these old photos that I never got around to writing up. They are still relevant. Thus, here is my Ric Rac Cactus Plate Bowl.

I created this plate bowl back in 2013. Not long after taking a class with Al Stirt at The Center for Furniture Craftsmenship in Maine.

I used Al's pattern layout, and sgraffito process.

My inspiration for the pattern was my Ric Rac Orchid Cactus. See photo above.

Note: I call a plate with a small blow in the center a "Plate Bowl". Sgraffito definition "decoration by cutting away parts of a surface layer (as of plaster or clay) to expose a different colored ground".

Here is how I created the decoration on my plate bowl:

Photo: Inspiration Inspiration

My inspiration for the pattern was my Ric Rac Orchid Cactus.

Boy this cactus was small back in 2013. It is now a big boy. I have propagated it into numerous plants. See photo at end.

Photo: Trace the Pattern Trace the Pattern

Here I have traced the leaf (stalk?) pattern onto the plate bowl with a yellow water color pencil.

I am using a WATER COLOR pencil because I can easily remove it with a wet paper towel. Water color pencils are easy to find in art supply stores.

I turned the plate bowl out of maple wood. Then, I prepped it with (one or two coats, I don't remember) of black acrylic gesso paint. I thined the gesso a little with some water. The gesso dries flat. I like to use a good quality gesso. I use either Golden or Liquitex brand.

Latter, I will top coat the finished piece with a semi gloss or gloss finish. For now, I just want a nice flat surface I can draw on.

After the gesso dried, I sprayed it with flat lacquer to toughen up the gesso and make it water proof. In 2013, I probably used Deft brand flat lacquer. Sprayed on from a rattle can. Today (in 2019) I would use 2 to 3 VERY LIGHT coats of Krylon brand "Matte Finish 1311". Matte is the name of the finish. It dries fast and makes a great surface to work on top of.

Photo: Transfer the Pattern to a Template Transfer the Pattern to a Template

After I create a pattern that I like, I need to replicate it over and over on the plate. I do this by creating a template.

I get some thin, yet rigid, see thru plastic sheet from local craft or fabric store. Quilters use this stuff. Low cost. You can get it with or with out a grid on the plastic. It looks like I had the grid stuff back in 2013. I now prefer it, with out the grid.

I trace the pattern I like onto the plastic with a run of the mill #2 pencil. Click on the photo for a better view.

Photo: Cut Out The Template Cut Out The Template

I cut out the template with an X-acto knife.

Note: Should I call it a Template or Stencil? I am going with template.

Photo: Test The Template Test The Template

Here I am testing out the template. It looks good.

Notice that I discarded the part in the middle. The part that most people would keep. I want the outline of the shape. Not the shape. Why, will become obvious in the next couple of photos.

Photo: Template Positioning Gizmo Template Positioning Gizmo

Now I need a way to rotate the template around the center of the bowl and position it at the same angle.

The photo shows the gizmo, I came up with. I cut a piece of plywood that fits in the center bowl. Then I attached the plywood to a chunk of scrap metal.

Then I taped the template to the metal with some masking tape. Now, I have a template that can be rotated to any position on the bowl.

This gizmo works on any outside shape plate (square, oval or round) with a round bowl in the center (or off center).

Photo: How Many? How Far Apart? How Many? How Far Apart?

Now I play around. I move the pattern around and decide what visually looks best. How close together, do I want the leaves? How many leaves fit nicely all the way around the plate?

I can use my yellow WATER COLOR pencil to temporarily draw things on and see how they look. Because I can easily erase the water color with a damp paper towel.

I decided, I wanted 7 leaves. 7 is an odd number. Things often occur in nature in odd numbers. 3, 5, 7, etc. Odd numbers often look best.

7 leaves allows the widest part of the leaves to almost touch. About 3/16" apart. The pattern will visually fill up most of the plate. But, not to much! See photos below.

Photo: Make Reference Marks Make Reference Marks

Now it is time to make some reference marks that will allow me to evenly space the pattern.

360 degrees / 7 leaves = 51.43 degrees. Thus, I need a reference line every 51 degrees and then fudge the last one a little if needed to make it look good.

I used my protractor to mark the first 51 degree spot. Then, I just attached the protractor to my gizmo and rotated it, to make a mark every 51 degrees.

I made all the marks with a WATER COLOR pencil so I can easily erase them latter with a damp paper towel.

Photo: 7 Reference Marks 7 Reference Marks

This photo shows the 7 reference marks.

Why didn't I use the index in the lathe? Well, I find indexes built into lathes, are generally, completely and totally useless in my not so humble opinion! They are way to hard to use. They are often buried inside and/or hard to see. They have way to many holes. I only need like 12! Counting every fifth hole or what ever is for the birds! It never comes out right! Are they zero or one origin? Err……

In this case, there is no doubt, any lathe index is completely and totally useless! I want 7, an odd number. Lathe indexes are always even numbers!

Photo: Replicate the Pattern Replicate the Pattern

Here I have taped the template to my gizmo. I am rotating the gizmo. Lining it up on my reference marks. Drawing on the pattern with a WATER COLOR pencil.

Photo: Read To Go Read To Go

This photo shows the pattern all drawn on and ready to go.

Photo: Circle T-Square Circle T-Square

This photos shows my circle T-Square. I got this from Al Stirt. The t-square has been adapted to ride on the outside edge of a circle.

In this case, my outside bowl is circular (rather than square or oval) and my inside bowl is in the center, thus I could have used this rather than my gizmo.

I could have just taped my template to the t-square and then rotated the t-square.

Photo: Outline the Pattern Outline the Pattern

Here I have started carving in the pattern with a 1/8" ball cutter (burr) in a rotatory tool.

Note: You can only sort of see the shaft of the tool in the photo. The cutter is not visible.

It looks like, I was using my Foredom Flex Tool back in 2013. Today, I would just use a Dremel style tool. It's the pattern and operator that matters. Not the tool!

Photo: Fill In the Pattern Fill In the Pattern

Here I have RANDOMLY filled in most of the pattern.

Photo: Carving All Done Carving All Done

Here the carving is all done. I used a 3M Radial Bristle disk to clean up any carving fuzz.

Ready for a finish. Hum? Well, I don't really known. It may already have a semi gloss lacquer finish on it.

Photo: The Finished Piece with Inspiration The Finished Piece with Inspiration

Can you see the resemblance?

Photo: Finished Piece Finished Piece

Here is the finished piece.

My Ric Rac Cactus Plate Blow. 8-1/4" diameter, 1-1/4" tall. Cherry wood. Power carved pattern. Semi gloss lacquer finish.

My Ric Rac Orchid Cactus in 2018 Photo: Ric Rac Orchid Cactus in 2018

Here is a picture of my Ric Rac Orchid Cactus. Out on my deck in 2018. It's a big boy now. Click on the photo for a better view.

The Ric Rac Cactus is on the right. Pointed to by magenta arrow. There is another Orchid Cactus on the left in full bloom. I love the red one. I don't known the name. It was a cutting from a mother plant with fantastic flowers.

I love Orchid Cactus because they have fantastic flowers. They are really tough. Easy to grow. But, they can be a bit ugly when not in bloom.

I love the shape of the Ric Rac Cactus leaves (stalks?) and the flowers look great. The flowers are white and orange. However, the Ric Rac flowers do not smell good. They have sort of an industrial smell. Not really foul, but not sweet and pleasant.

The red one in photo smells good. But the smell is faint.