There are many techniques to achieve translucency of Norfolk Island pine and the chance to experiment is what makes it fun.  Once again, I strongly recommend Ron Kent’s website and his very generous section on techniques.  To keep it simple and as inexpensive as possible, obtain a five gallon bucket with a top at any of the big box hardware stores.  Into this bucket add an 80/20 mix of boiled linseed oil and mineral spirits.  The dunking or soaking should be done successively over a period of two to three months with 24 to 48 hours in the mix and 24 to 48 hours out to dry.   By propping the vessel on a couple of wooden battens (paint stirrers) across the top of the bucket, all excess oil will drain off and the piece will start to dry.   Paper towels will also help dry the piece and prevent the oil from building up on the surface.  Sanding with 400 grit wet/dry paper will also help. The wood will immediately show some of the dramatic colors you want but as it dries it will revert to the dull, gray color.  Only after five or six soakings will it begin to achieve the final look.  It’s difficult to tell just how many soakings a piece will require and a thinner vessel will certainly require less time.  After several weeks the vessel will no longer absorb the oil mixture and a sheen building up on the surface will indicate that it is saturated.  The drying process now is critical and although there are some comments on the web about using a two or three day drying time, I like to give it around four weeks.  During that time oil will continue to seep out of small areas of the vessel and dry or coagulate on the surface.  It is important that this be sanded off so the piece can continue to seep and dry before accepting a finish.  Oftentimes it pays to leave the piece in direct sunlight for short periods to accelerate the drying process.



The piece should be sanded to at least 400 grit and sometimes even up to 1200 grit.  Again, due to the softness and the fibrous nature of the wood, special handling during sanding is needed to avoid cracking.  To achieve the most translucency I use five or six coats of clear gloss wipe on polyurethane, waiting about 48 hours between coats.  The wipe on poly will leave a glass like finish and accentuate the vessels’ values, or the relationship between its light and dark colors.  A final buffing with Tripoli, white diamond and carnauba wax will complete your project. 

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Photographing translucent Norfolk Island pine is very easy.  I forego a photo tent and just place a black sheet of construction paper on my hydraulic table with a shop light directly overhead in a dark garage.   Experiment by taking several photos and changing the distance of the shop light from the piece on each and one of the photos will be perfect. 

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Translucent Norfolk Island pine requires a lot of time and effort but if you’re looking for a spectacular and unique look, it’s worth it.  The finished piece will look particularly dramatic when displayed in a dark colored bookcase or cabinet with a bright light directly over it.  It will glow with breathtaking beauty showing off magnificent and striking colors and patterns.  With just a little imagination, some of those patterns look strangely like animals with red eyes where the knots are.  Onlookers may suspect that it is not wood but Venetian glass.  It’s clearly one of the most impressive designs in woodturning and well worth the effort.

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Bill Donahue

Bill Donahue is a financial advisor with over 30 years experience at Merrill Lynch.  He started woodturning in 2005 just a few weeks before losing his house and all of his woodturning equipment in Hurricane Katrina.  Bill, his wife Beverly, and their three school aged children had evacuated to Pensacola, Fl. and decided to stay.   After a two and a half year absence from woodturning he returned in 2008 by taking classes at John Campbell Folk School from Doug Barnes and from Stephen Hatcher

Bill has had two articles published in Woodturning Design magazine, “Pendants: A Family Project” and “Translucent Norfolk Island Pine”  He received a third place for one of his Norfolk Island pine vessels in the Pensacola Museum of Art’s annual juried show and received third place in the 2012 AAW challenge to design a Christmas tree ornament.

Bill is active in many civic organizations and is on the Boards of both the Pensacola Museum of Art and the Pensacola Symphony Orchestra.  In addition to woodturning, his interests include long distance cycling, scuba diving, underwater photography and offshore fishing.

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Wednesday the 21st. Thanks for visiting Woodturners Unlimited.