George Westbrook

 

The Alabaster Turning Process

George Westbrook purchases alabaster in its quarried state. The first step in making a finished piece is to take the quarried stone and, using a 14" diamond-tipped circular saw blade, rough out the blocks of alabaster, preparing them for the wood lathe.



A chop saw is useful for eight-siding or roughing out smaller pieces of alabaster for the lathe.









​Here is a piece of alabaster "dogged" to the face plate. The tail stock of the lathe holds the alabaster against the large circular face plate. Dogs are the pieces of wood screwed to the face plate, keeping the alabaster steady.






This is Westbrook turning the tenon and cleaning up the underside of the piece -- smoothing away the chop saw cuts and rounding out the basic form.








​Here is a piece of white alabaster, roughed out on the wood lathe, now ready to be epoxied onto a waste block.







Here is an orange piece of alabaster, ready to be epoxied to the wood waste block/face plate. Note the tenon on the alabaster (left) and how it will fit onto the waste block (right). The tenon is the section which is sacrificed when cutting the finished piece off the waste block.







​This is Westbrook preparing the white alabaster piece for a wood rim. Westbrook uses a carbide-tipped turning tool to scrap the alabaster away. Note the alabaster dust leaving the piece on the left. He works back and forth on the outside and inside of the piece bringing it down to its final shape. Depending on the piece's shape, various carbide-tipped turning tools are used. The more closed a shape at the mouth, the more curved the tool and the more difficult it is to scrape out the inside.




Once the piece is near its final shape, a rim may be applied with epoxy. In this piece, the rim is purpleheart wood. A gouge is used to give the rim its final shape.







​Here is Westbrook turning the rim with a gouge. He also uses stone rims, African wonderstone gives a very dark black appearance.








​Here is a finished Italian white bowl, with a segmented purpleheart rim. Once the piece is complete, with or without a rim, the sanding/finishing process takes place. With the piece still on the lathe, Westbrook sands it, starting with 80 grit sandpaper and working down to 320 grit. He then uses Scotch-brite hand pads, going from coarse to fine. Next he buffs the piece with buffing compounds. It is cut off the lathe at this stage (the tenon is sacrificed). He cleans up the bottom of the piece, then does a final buff of the piece on a buffing wheel. He oils the finished alabaster vessel with Danish Watco oil. After drying, he signs the bottom. It is ready for customers.


Photos by Kevin Shields

The Process – Start To Finish