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When I first started turning as a hobby around 18 years ago the mainstay works were salad bowls, potpourri holders and a number of other utilitarian items. As a member of the South Auckland Woodturners’ Guild ( part of the club’s calendar was to hold a sale over the three weeks prior to Christmas. This has become a popular event for customers who can choose from more than 2800 items that are for sale over this period. As you can imagine the shop can be a bit daunting for those trying to choose what to buy. One day I had a light-bulb moment when I was wondering how I could add value to my work and also make it different from the hundreds of other bowls on sale. As it happens I had just been given a second-hand Dremel. This is where my love affair with the Dremel began.


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Being a self-confessed toolaholic many have said I could start my own Dremel resale centre. Recently I’ve added some mates to the nine or so I have as Dremel have brought out the cordless range which now allows me to take one away on holiday—great fun sitting on the beach and being able to pick up a piece of driftwood and start carving.

I started using the Dremel tool to add some fairly basic squiggles or dots to the rims of small platters and bowls. This soon advanced to whole works that were embellished with texture and then colour added.

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What I soon learnt was that texturing was no excuse for bad workmanship as when a finish was applied, any chisel marks or sanding scratches along with bad form would only be enhanced by the embellishment. It may seem a strange thing to say but the finished surface is better to be removed entirely wherever you are adding texture because when a finish is applied all you will see are the shiny areas like stars in the sky that you have missed texturing. It does take a bit of practice so you don’t get lines of texture which can also look ugly.

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For 90 percent of the time when I am using a Dremel it is with the flexi shaft as the pen-like hand piece gives more freedom and accuracy of movement. It’s important to hang a Dremel so that the flexi shaft is kept as straight as possible. Essentially the cable is the same as a speedo cable and if the radius is too tight this puts load on the Dremel motor and creates friction which means heat is transferred to the hand piece.

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Have I had mishaps or failures with a Dremel? Yes but always through my own doing or by using it in a way that Mr Dremel would not approve, such as the time I was in my workshop in the winter wearing a large bush shirt. I tend to tuck a piece into my chest if I am unable to hold it in a carving jig. I slipped off the work and the bit came to a sudden stop, wrapping itself in the woolen material of the shirt and breaking the shaft. But the dremel didn’t stop so it was flying around like a fantail above my head until I pulled the plug out of the wall. Adding texture or embellishing and now carving to my work has been an enjoyable learning experience. I can, however, spend days on a work and still not be happy with it. In this case there is only one thing to do but sand it off and start again.

Texturing a bowl or hollow form is not just limited to a stationary object. Using the Dremel bits on a turning piece of timber can create some amazing effects by using different bits and burrs and running the Dremel against the running wood. It is wise to exercise care in this and don’t try it with the lathe running at speed.

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I have built a fitting to allow me to use the Dremel on a piece that is chucked so I can add texture or embellishment as if the piece is indexed.

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I tend to be a bit unconventional in my use of the accessory bits:

• The diamond burrs make great sanding accessories for timber and allow me to shape incredible detail.

• The cut-off wheels leave a crisp, burnt line on any timber.

• I use the wire brushes in the hundreds as they give a sandblasted effect and also take off any burrs of timber that have been left by conventional bits.

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Aged look


I call this texturing texture—basic pattern then wire brush followed by a light burning with the Versatip soldering iron and you have a real aged look. It is recommended to run the wire brushes at a low speed as they tend to disintegrate with the speed on high. As a builder I am always finding other uses for a Dremel. Just recently I used a grinding stone to ease a door striker plate that I was unable to take off the jamb. My wife’s kitchen knives have also had the Dremel treatment.

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I make my own sanding discs by using an old Dremel bit, inserting a small wooden disc turned on the lathe, then adding Velcro and a piece of closed-cell foam rubber.

The inspiration for a lot of the texture and the shape in my work is from nature. We are fortunate living in New Zealand to have such a variety of shapes and textures present in the bush. I don’t consider myself an artist in the sense that I can draw well so I adapt natural forms either by tracing them directly or creating large collages of forms of leaves, for example, and reproducing them via photocopying or scanning to create shapes that are recognizable and in a format that I can trace onto the work. Sometimes I paste the image directly and carve around it.

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The texturing work can be driven either by the shapes and effects I can derive from the Dremel bits, particularly when I use them in unorthodox ways such as using grinding stones to derive relief form, or from natural inspiration such as tree bark or the fine texture of a leaf.

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Inspiration is everywhere—from the clouds in the sky to the blooms and leaves you see on your morning walk. You just need to open your eyes and breathe it in.

Sometimes it helps to talk to others who are creative to get ideas about what gets their creative juices flowing. I have also learned that my best work often comes when I don’t really care about the outcome, when I am just messing around in my workshop with the art supplies trying new techniques or just making shavings at the lathe.

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True creativity requires a willingness to play with the raw materials, whether those materials are timber, paint, pyrography or creating new textures with the Dremel or carving chisels.

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The standard utilitarian pieces I originally turned operated within basic stylistic conventions, however I eventually felt that to achieve my underlying desire of shaping wood into exciting and progressive forms I had to look beyond the traditional. So I have diversified towards enhancement of the basic grain and texture, carving and coloration. I delight in successfully making the viewer pose the question: “Is that form crafted from wood?” The versatility of the Dremel rotary tool and its attachments has played a major part in this progression.



Terry Scott

About the author:

Terry Scott is one of the best-known woodturners in New Zealand who also has a formidable reputation overseas and is often asked to speak at forums and symposiums on the craft. His work is distinctive and characterized by its often elaborate decoration. Terry today spends nearly all his time involved with the craft as owner of Timberly Woodturning which sells tools and lathes to enthusiasts all over the country. An active member of the South Auckland Woodturners’ Guild, Terry has been turning since his teens. Terry is also an inveterate collector of and user (and abuser) of Dremel tools. At last count he had nine but that was rapidly increasing with the acquisition of the new cordless Dremel Micro.

See more of Terry's work, visit his website at:

Check out our interview with Terry here: Behind the Art with Terry Scott

We also wish to recognize the National Association of Woodworkers NZ Inc ( as being first to publish Terry's article.

If you have any questions about techniques in this article, please feel free to contact Terry.



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