Tribute Bowl


Tribute Bowl:
Mark Palma pays tribute to his watchmaking grandfather with this pertinent bowl

Mark Palma pays tribute to his watchmaking grandfather with this pertinent bowl

In 1932 my paternal grandfather, James F Palma graduated from the Stone School of Watchmaking in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His name was really Wilbur but he informally changed it to ‘James F’, with the ‘F’ having no meaning, other than sounding good to him. He bought a used watchmaking workbench from a retiring watchmaker and struck out on his own.
I now have the workbench with all of its treasures, just as it sat all those years in my grandfather’s office. In one of its many drawers was every spare gear, crown, jewel (the kind found in watches, not the ones found in tiaras), mainspring and movement that he ever removed from a watch. One day, I opened this ‘junk drawer’ and decided it was time to do something with these parts.
Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) was chosen for this project due to its pronounced grain pattern. However, if you want the watch parts to be the main element that is pronounced in the final piece, choose a blank with no discernible grain pattern. The design is intentionally kept simple, with a basic ogee shape, which makes it easier to achieve a wider rim and yet maintain a bowl that isn’t too thick or heavy. The rim is wide and deep to accept the watch parts. Since you will be creating a wide rim, pay particular attention to the rim area to ensure that sound wood is present in that area. I also chose to make a small inset on the bottom to accept an old pocket watch face I found in the workbench.

Information and plans
Equipment used
• Round 16mm carbide-tipped cutter
• Round 10mm carbide-tipped cutter
• 10mm bowl gouge
• Parting tool or square carbide-tipped cutter
• Clear two-part resin
• Black dye
• Acrylic lacquer

1. First, shape the outside with a bowl gouge or carbide tool. While shaping, be sure to remember that you need to leave a wide rim. Form the foot area and cut a recess within this area. This recess will double as a place for a surprise design element. Sand the bowl down to 320 grit abrasive and clean up any tear out

2. You can either leave the bowl nice and smooth or, if you want to make the grain more pronounced, use a fine rotary wire brush. Once done, sand with 320 grit abrasive to remove any marks made on the wood by the wire brush. Use good lighting and inspect the wood carefully. Black dye is unforgiving and will highlight any wire scratches you have missed

3. Remove the bowl and fit it on a chuck, holding it in the recess. Use the tailstock for support and remove the bulk of the waste with a bowl gouge or a round carbide-tipped cutter. The tailstock offers extra protection in case of an unexpected tool catch or too heavy a cut being made

4. The bowl has a double rim, featuring a recess to hold the watch parts. The outer rim is 10mm wide, the recess is 20mm and the inside rim is 10mm wide. This results in a total rim width of 40mm. The centre recess is 14mm deep. Use either a sharp parting tool or a small square-tipped carbide cutter tool to cut the rim. Once cut, start on the outside and work down the bowl, leaving a cone in the middle and reducing its diameter as you proceed. You can cut the whole interior of a 150mm or larger bowl and have room to manoeuvre a round-tipped tool or bowl gouge

5. Take time to measure the wall thickness as you proceed. The thick rim can act deceptively if you just rely on visual inspection of your progress. Aim for a consistent wall thickness as you are hollowing the interior

6. When the cone has served its purpose and the bulk of the wood is removed, it’s time to remove it. Reduce the size of the cone as much as possible, then remove the tailstock completely and turn away the cone and shape the bottom of the bowl. Sand down to 320 grit

7. It is time to colour the bowl. Spirit dyes do not discriminate in terms of their ability to turn anything they touch into the chosen colour. Protect your bench and place the bowl on sticks to prevent it from sticking to the surface underneath. Use a brush, dipping it into the dye and coating the bowl. Take your time to ensure the bowl has even coverage. Allow the bowl to dry and then look for any missed spots

8. Once the outside and inside are dyed, you need to seal the bowl. Acrylic lacquer works well and two coats should be enough

9. Mask the bowl carefully and precisely to prepare for the resin, keeping the tape just at the rim and pressing it down carefully. Use shorter pieces of thin tape around the entire rim on both the inside and outside. Then use small pieces of wider tape to fill in the bowl. Overlap each row of tape so that any resin spill doesn’t seep through the tape

10. You will need about 12 to 20 watches. Men’s watches provide larger parts; women’s and children’s watches provide parts that are just right to fit in the gaps. Parts can be ground down with a rotary tool if needed. Trim off long stems or parts that rise up too high. It is best to disassemble the watches on a tray so that the parts do not get lost on your workbench

11. Start with the largest pieces and place them at somewhat even intervals around the recess. It is easier to place the parts from large to small. The goal is to fill in the recess in such a way that the parts appear random, yet create an interesting layer within the recess by placing each part in position

12. Adjust the arrangement of the parts as required to create the look you want

13. Use a bespoke board to test the resin prior to pouring over the watch parts. This test board is dyed orange to see if the dye would bleed into the resin. I tested two different types of resin, each over a dye with an acrylic lacquer finish. Follow the directions for the resin carefully and avoid introducing air into the uncured resin

14. Rehearse your mixing and pouring plan before you mix any resin. Read all of the instructions and safety precautions again (yes, you should have already read them!). Take eye and skin protection seriously. Make sure you have several mixing sticks (you may need to mix three separate times, depending on your type of resin), spare mixing containers, extra gloves and anything else you may need (such as a pin to pop bubbles). As I learned through trial and error – I wrecked two bowls by not getting things right – maintaining the correct temperature is a critical requirement

15. As soon as the resin is just set, use a hobby knife to lift the tape without marring the surface of the finished bowl. The resin I used requires the correct temperature to be maintained for a 48 hour curing period. To prevent the tape from sticking to the bowl, remove it as soon as you can without disturbing the resin. Be sure to keep the bowl in a dust free environment during the curing process and try not to jostle it. Patience is key to proper curing

16. Here is the final result! There are no flaws in the resin; it has cured fully and shows the detail of the watch parts perfectly

17. Remember the extra recess in the bottom of the bowl? I sized mine to house a face from an old pocket watch. The watch face seems to make people smile when they turn the bowl over and no one seems to worry about the chucking point that remains. You can create your own surprise in a suitably-sized recess

Finding spare parts
• Note: no working or reparable watches were destroyed for this project!
• My grandfather, like so many from his generation, repaired everything reparable and until it was finally declared junk
• Online auctions often have watch parts


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