Thursday, August 4, 2011

Could You Polish My Piston????

That was the unusual request that I received, first by email and then to my studio phone.

Now before you jump to any naughty conclusions, let me explain. Eugene Henson, of JE Pistons, Huntington Beach, California, ( had a wood piston that he and his crew made as a gift to present to their boss, who had been promoted and would be moving to Texas. They bought a piece of wood from Australia, and created a piston using the same CNC machines that cut the aluminum ones that are used in high performance race cars. The choice of wood - I’m guessing Sheoak, or Lacewood, but if any of my Aussie woodturning buddies can help me out, please do - was intentional, said Eugene, because they made pistons for an Australian race team.

“I guess we didn’t really think this through, because after we cut the piece, we wondered how we could put a finish on it, to make it really shine”, said Eugene. “I came across your work on Youtube and your website, and thought maybe you could help us out.”

Working on about a 10-day window, I received the piston that Eugene had shipped overnight, and began working on cleaning up some of the sharp edges. The CNC machine did a fine job of cutting the wood very cleanly, almost too clean, because the edges were sharp enough to cut you. I had originally planned to clean them up with a diamond stone held in a rotary tool, but most of the interior angles were too steep. I resorted to a good-old-fashioned hand tool, a fine tooth Auriou rasp.

Several coats of hand-rubbed tung oil every 24 hours, followed by an application of microcrystalline wax, and the piston was back on its way to California. Because of the time deadlines, I didn’t have time to set up my back-drop and photo lights; I had to photograph the finished piston using natural (outdoor) light on my deck.

I have the coolest job in the world...except maybe for Eugene and his crew!!

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