Design Tools

April 24, 2020

The most common question I'm asked as a segmented bowl turner is, "Do you use software to design your bowls?" The answer is a resounding, "YES!" After the first attempt designing a piece with software, realizing the possibilities available, I was hooked. There is a learning curve, but once you spend some time learning the ins and outs of the program, the sky is the limit!

Early on, when I got interested in turning, after buying my first lathe, I would cut blanks using my chainsaw and mount them on the lathe and turn them. While that was a fun start, it became pretty tedious and frustrating after a while because it was a lot of work...finding timber/logs, cutting them, finally turning them and watching them warp because they weren't dried. For me, there had to be a better way. Enter segmenting.

I got interested in segmenting for two reasons: 1) The ability to use kiln-dried wood that I could go to a hardwood store and buy; and 2) The ability to mix and match different species of hardwood and create repeatable and interesting patterns.

I started out designing my bowls using grid paper, a sharp pencil and a ruler...and a simple formula: Diameter times Pi divided by the number of segments in a row. I built a couple of fixed sleds for my table saw that allowed for 8 and 12 segments per row, but they had drawbacks: they weren't accurate and allowed for gaps in the finished ring. I would have two half rings that didn't butt up to each other without a gap, so I'd have to sand the edges to make them work. It worked but I didn't like it and knew there had to be a better way. Next, I built a jig for my chop saw with variable presets to cut segments...which now is up in the attic! Again, not accurate.

My "ah-ha" moment came when I stumbled onto two items that forever changed the landscape in segmented turning for me: segmenting software and the Wedgie Sled. Game-changer!

The combination of software and the Wedgie Sled completely changed the way I approached designing and building segmented bowls. They are just tools I use, along with my saws and lathes, to create. No secrets...anyone can do what I do...and there are many of you out there that do a better job than I do! The Wedgie Sled (something you can build in your shop) gives you the ability to create perfect segmented rings with no gaps EVERY TIME!

I would encourage anyone to look into using software as a design tool in bowl building. It simplified and enhanced my ability to produce a quality product, and it opened doors as to design possibilities.

I freely share tips and techniques about my work, what wood I use, tools I use, and which software I use for each piece, if asked; what I don't share are the specific design renderings. I have dozens and dozens of designs/patterns I've accumulated over the years. I have almost as much fun in the design phase as I do the construction phase! If you're interested in any one design, I encourage you to get familiar with the software I use, described below, and build your next piece!

Regarding the programs I use, I alternate between Segment Pro and Woodturner Pro. They each have unique features that I find helpful in different situations. They aren't free, but they aren't expensive. If you are interested in either or both of these programs, please visit woodturnerpro.com for a complete rundown on these two programs as well as a few others. Lloyd Johnson is the creator of the site and the software and has always been very helpful in assisting me.

Jerry Bennett is the creator of the Wedgie Sled and has a site dedicated to his products, segeasy.com.