A Woodturning Masterclass with Mark Sanger

Planning and Creating Artistic Pieces

23rd March 2013

At our spring Professional Demonstration, Wight Woodturners were very pleased to welcome back
Mark Sanger to present a Masterclass on how to plan and create works of an artistic nature. A small sample of Mark’s signature work is shown below. Mark has displayed these pieces in a composite setting using contrasting shapes, colours, materials and textures to complement and enhance the main feature. This demonstrates his creative artistic approach to his work.

 A small selection of Mark Sanger’s signature work


Mark started his Masterclass encouraging us to be open to many sources of inspiration around us for our work. Examples from nature, in plants, in geological formations and animal silhouettes. From the world of ceramics to mathematical curves. Don’t be restricted by the opinions of others – just see what you can get away with!

Once we have got these ideas flowing Mark introduced us to the well tried Mind Mapping technique to aid formulating our ideas. A sample map is shown below. Here, we start in the centre with our Form, which can be open, closed or a hollow form. Next, we can think about the possibilities of different Rims and Bases. Then we have Decoration, Texturing and all the variations of Colour and its contrasts. Not forgetting Size and Scale. All these features are brought together in the Map. Mark explained that once we have made one selection of options we can subtly change just one or two features and have another unique piece! The number of variations for a single form are vast.

A typical Mind Map process

If we need sources of inspiration Mark recommended two good books together with an excellent book on Woodturning Design by Derek Hayes. All details are in the Resources Section below.

To illustrate some of the design aspects in practice, Mark demonstrated three very different projects during the day.

The first was an attractive and purely decorative piece using techniques of turning, carving, texturing, colouring and finishing. The second project, a small rectangular winged bowl made from branch-wood, was purely a turning exercise. The final piece was a fascinating sculptural form showing us the many possibilities of this technique. Mark’s demonstration pieces showed how the lathe is sometimes only a minor part of the creative process.

Throughout the day Mark was constantly giving us valuable tips on turning tool techniques. He encouraged us to think about type of cut for each particular tool, slicing or scraping, the angle of approach, the grain direction and how the grain is supported in the cutting action. If we can understand the physics of wood removal Mark ensured us we would get a better finish.

Mark also stressed the need to use sensible PPE. When turning at high speed Mark recommended a full, impact resistant, face mask together with a dust mask/respirator and extraction. Be especially alert with irregular shaped work and keep fingers behind the tool-rest! Sand these items off the lathe. 

The following pictures illustrate just a little of the three projects during the day.

To see a larger image just double click on any of the pictures.

Your first project could look like this when finished!

Mark shows us the basic hollow form we need to turn before it is decorated

A kiln dried sycamore blank has a hole drilled near the periphery, turned to round and a chucking spigot turned .

After basic shaping of the spigot side between centres it is mounted in the chuck and a recess cut ready for a cross grain plug

Within the recess wood is removed ready to start the hollowing process. Do keep fingers away from the whirling hole if you want to keep them!

Here Mark explains how the tooth-pick cutter is held handle up and rotated slightly ACW as the tool is arced round to give a controlled scraping cut. Put a marker on the handle to indicate when the cutter is horizontal.

With the hollowing complete, Mark forms the basic shape on the plug side

A cross grain plug has been turned in the chuck and made to tightly fit the recess. The hollow form is glued onto the plug using tail-stock pressure

Once the glue has fully set, the blank side spigot is turned off and the side shaped

Here Mark shapes the details around the hole while the piece is firmly held in the chuck.

The sharp edges of the hole are relived using a small burr in a Dremel multi-tool to “lighten” the effect around the hole

A power carver is used to create decorative contours on the surface of the piece prior to parting off from the spigot.

Mark makes a friction drive from scrap so the plug side of the form can be shaped. A paper tissue provides friction & protection

The stalk used for the tail-stock support is finally sawn off and the plug area cleaned up by hand

Now Mark is applies a texture to the surface with a pyrography tool with a coiled wire element. Mark advised us to use a smoke extractor with a carbon element.

A band-sawed base with a complementary curve is added. Just another three days or so of texturing and colouring & it will look like the pic at the beginning!

Mark explained that the turning is only a small, but vital, part of the time spent on this piece. He went on to show us many different techniques of texturing, colouring and “toning down” to give an antique finish. Just a few examples are shown below.


Just a few examples of texture used by Mark Sanger

A small rectangular winged bowl was Marks second demonstration and was purely turning. This was made from unseasoned sycamore branch wood which is less prone to cracking than yew or oak where thin wings are turned. Mark carefully explained the all turning techniques to make this as seen in the pictures below.

This is the finished winged bowl measuring about 180 mm in the long dimension

Mark explained about “reaction wood” in branches and the differing rates of shrinkage. Divide the log so the dense reaction-wood is all on one side.

The sawn log is mounted between centres, a chucking spigot turned and the underside of the wings turned back

Mark continues turning the underside of the wings up to the point where the blank allows for equal thickness of the wing at all four points

If the wood has a high moisture content the wing must be less than 6mm thick so it remains flexible while drying out
With the spigot gripped in the chuck, the inside of the bowl is turned out with a 6mm bowl gouge. The glow through the wood from the light behind is used to gauge the bowl wall thickness Here Mark has reversed the bowl onto a friction drive so the foot can be finished.
The wings should be hand sanded OFF the lathe!
Finally the edges are finished and sanded and a lemon or orange oil applied to give a natural finish

Needless to say Mark did stress the importance of keeping your fingers behind the tool rest and not to be drawn into the rotating work when closely inspecting it. Mark recommended a full face mask at all times.

The final project was quite different being a multi-layered sculpture.

This is the sort of end result this inspirational project can have Wavy layers are drawn out on a block of wood, numbered and sawn ready for gluing

Here the block is glued up with paper joints (for later separation)

"Just like that"!
Mark has drawn concentric circles on each end and marked radii every 45 degrees. These define the offset centres on each end of the block

Offset turning with various centres produces a randomly shaped block

The glue lines on the block can be separated and each piece individually carved.

All you need is imagination!


The carving can be done with a large burr which can be  devilishly efficient at removing wood AND your flesh

During the break times Mark willingly answered members questions, often giving practical demos to tooling questions

The Club Members expressed their sincere thanks to Mark for a most inspirational and informative day.

The Club also wishes to acknowledge and thank Red Funnel and the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Community Foundation for sponsoring the cross Solent travel arrangements of our Professional Woodturning Demonstrator Mark Sanger.


Additional Resources

Just a few resources to help you realize your inspiration!

  • Details of the books that Mark recommended:-
      Sources of Inspiration by Carolyn Genders ISBN 978-0713670981 More details here & here
      Ceramics Design Course by Anthony Quinn ISBN 978-0500286890 More details here & here
      Woodturning Design by Derek Hayes  ISBN 978-1861088659 More details here & here
  • A Link from Mark Sanger’s website to Philip Streeting’s  brilliant Woodturning Design Guides is here

  • Information on the “tooth-pick” hollowing tool (Crown Revolution) is here

  • For more information on “reaction” wood, the technicalities of moisture retention and shrinkage do see Michael O’Donnell’s excellent book “Turning Green Wood” with suburb diagrams.   Info.    here  and here

  • Information on the carving burrs is (Saburr Tooth) is   here  scroll down the page to find the burrs

  • Information on the Peter Child Pyrography Machine Mark used is  here


Peter Smart – 27th March 2013