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Project by Stephen Mines posted 03-08-2011 04:01 PM 2127 views 1 time favorited 10 comments Add to Favorites Watch

This is my first Lathe Art piece. Because of it’s exotic (to me!) Egyptian look I named it LUXOR SURPRISE after Luxor, the ancient necropolis near Thebes. The base is 12” dia, overall ht is 60”. The base, cap, and round dot details on the vase shape are Purpleheart wood; the shaft is two 12/4 pieces of Alder glued together to make a 6” square turning blank. The vase shape on the top is part of the turning blank (not added on) and is actually hollowed inside. When the cap is removed the handle of a 20” spiraled magic wand, also in Purpleheart, is accessible and is, of course, the surprise.

About two weeks before I made this, I noticed an article in the Los Angeles Times announcing the opening, in Los Angeles, of an exhibit called Challenge IV, a ‘lathe art’ show. Up to this point I was very definite about what wood turning was all about: it was to make practical, preferably pretty, things; things like chairs, tables and other furniture parts…things like stair balusters and newel posts and columns to hold buildings up. Well I thought this would be a giggle and made plans to see the opening of the exhibit, which featured some of the ‘artists’ on hand as well as several speakers. The speaker I paid attention to was Dr. Irving Lipton, a noted collector of lathe art who was, I later discovered, known as the patron saint of woodturners. He was so enthusiastic and clear in his talk it was contagious. After the talk I wandered the exhibit looking at artful bowls, platters, asymmetrical and round, all kinds of strange things. I stopped at one artist, admiring the large plate-like thing he was represented by. His name was Giles Gilson, a very affable fellow, and he told me all about the special painted finish on his turning. During our conversation I casually asked how much he was asking for his plate. He said, “Oh, sorry, it’s sold. I got $12,000 for it”. Wow! The light bulb that lit up over my head would have dimmed half of L.A. if I’d been tied into the grid. I went back to my shop fired up and raring to get my piece of the action! I had to make a piece of LATHE ART!

Two weeks later the Luxor Surprise was standing, finished, and I called Dr. Irving Lipton who had a pediatric office only 3 miles from me. I told him I attended the exhibit opening, heard his talk, and maybe I had something that might interest him. He arrived at my shop within an hour, bought the Luxor Surprise (fascinated as much by the wand inside as by the rest of it) and spent several hours with me telling me all about the ‘lathe art movement’. From that point on I was, and am, a believer.

The genesis of this piece is kind of strange. Sometime before the Luxor Surprise, I was given the opportunity to bid on the fabrication of two variable pitch columns that were to be 13.35” dia X 96” high. The architectural firm that asked for the quote told me that they had found only two other woodturners in the United States that could (or would!) fabricate a varied pitch structural column, one in Texas and the other in Massachusetts. The architects were based in Pasadena, CA only 18 miles from me, and the house site where these would be used was in Laguna Nigel, CA, about 60 miles away…they said they’d like to keep the work local if possible.

I had no idea how to accomplish this, to make a single lead barley twist that made a complete turn in 18” of length at the bottom and then gradually tightened the lead until it was 12” for a complete turn at the top. I did a logical thing: I quoted a price that would cover me if I had to do it all by hand.

I had lots of lead time (which I mostly spent scratching my head trying to figure out how I could make my lathe do this job!). I did come up with a viable solution, and turned a 1/2 scale model to test it. This Luxor Surprise was made from that model (seen hanging on my wall…with arrow…to the right of the gray cabinet).

Incidentally, the two 8’ columns (called Twisted Sisters) and the actual solution will be posted here on LJ as a project.

Photo 1 is the finished piece. Photo 2 is raw wood, just sanded. In photo 3, the turning to the right of the gray cabinet (with arrow) later became the Luxor Surprise. Photo 4 is actual performance photograph with 1st place ribbon at the Del Mar Design In Wood exhibit, Del Mar, CA.

The Luxor Surprise is in the Irving and Mari Lipton Collection, Encino, CA.

-- Stephen Mines ([email protected])

10 comments so far

View RPKnikker's profile


64 posts in 3122 days

#1 posted 03-08-2011 04:26 PM

Nice work ’’Stephen Mines’’ Its nice!

-- Register at my website if you're interested in my projects... It's FREE!

View poopiekat's profile


4521 posts in 4214 days

#2 posted 03-08-2011 05:23 PM

Fantastic piece of work, Stephan! Anxious to see the ‘Twisted Sisters’, too! You are truly gifted.

-- Einstein: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." I'm Poopiekat!!

View Jim Jakosh's profile

Jim Jakosh

23197 posts in 3585 days

#3 posted 03-08-2011 10:53 PM

Very nice pieces. What do you use to make the twist cuts? Is it done on a Legacy machine?

-- Jim Jakosh.....Practical Wood Products...........Learn something new every day!! Variety is the Spice of Life!!

View sras's profile


5155 posts in 3608 days

#4 posted 03-09-2011 04:29 AM

This is a very impressive piece! The 4th picture helped out a lot – I had totally misjudged the size. Its about twice as big as I had guessed form the earlier pics. Would be nic e to see the wand as well.

Nice story to go with it as well.

-- Steve - Impatience is Expensive

View poopiekat's profile


4521 posts in 4214 days

#5 posted 03-09-2011 06:54 PM

A timely reminder of what ancient Egypt is all about, in these days when we equate the name of the country with civil strife.

-- Einstein: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." I'm Poopiekat!!

View Al Killian's profile

Al Killian

85 posts in 3105 days

#6 posted 03-19-2011 11:47 PM

What kind of lathe do you use to make them? I noticed in the pics that your lathe as a lead screw like a metal lathe.

-- Owner of custom millwork shop

View Dave Dufour's profile

Dave Dufour

274 posts in 2458 days

#7 posted 01-09-2013 09:31 PM

Nice Work, thats not easy to do.

-- Dave, from Canada,

View Stephen Mines's profile

Stephen Mines

226 posts in 3170 days

#8 posted 01-09-2013 10:32 PM

Wow, I posted a couple of years ago, while in the throes of time-tunneling…amazes me that it still intriques! Thanks to all who noticed it, and felt moved to comment. . . it feels good to get a little nod now and then!
To: Jim,
No, the Legacy machine was a kind of ‘upstart possible’ at the time I made this. (see below)
The lathe is a 1909 Imperial that I’ve changed radically over the years I’ve had it (since 1982 or so). My driving need to make things spiral is the impetus that drove me to teach this lathe to do what it does. It was sold originally as a ‘Pattern Makers Lathe’ and I’ve enhanced the hell out of it. If you ever hear of an IMPERIAL lathe up for grabs…get it!
Thanks! I really appreciate your comment. BUT…not doing it would have been impossible!
Best to all, Stephen Mines ([email protected])

-- Stephen Mines ([email protected])

View a1Jim's profile


117711 posts in 4056 days

#9 posted 01-09-2013 10:50 PM

This is amazing,cool design and turning. $12000 wow I need to start turning more!

View Billp's profile


804 posts in 4679 days

#10 posted 01-11-2013 09:20 AM

Hi Steven, having been to your shop I’m truly amazed at the quality of your work. Steven has turned the legs for my grandsons desk in building. Steven I decided to make it a roll top. The basic desk is made just need to make the top. I have run out of mahogony an am saving up to buy what I need.

-- Billp

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