The Gorgonian Coral Sculpture

A Thing Of Beauty is a Joy Forever!

the woodturning of Jason Smith R.P.T.

How did I turn my Gorgonian Coral Sculpture?

A side view of the thinned-down blank showing the movement of the wood
The thinned blank shown from the front
The fans are cut out from the thinned blank

Below this you will find further information giving you a more detailed understanding of some of the processes I use to make woodturned art.


It all starts here: with the production of the rock base of the piece.

A suitable sized piece of dried wood is selected, and mounted on the lathe. The “top” of the rock is then turned to the appropriate size and rough shape, at this point a tennon will also be produced at the top of the rock (to be carved off later). The rock is then remounted on the lathe using the tennon to hold it securely in a chuck. The underside of the rock was then hollowed out to reduce the weight and the underside sanded to a finish.

Using rotary and reciprocating power carvers the top of the rock was then carved using appropriate reference materials. The texture now needs to be added to the rock. This may be done with a mixture of sand/PVA glue and a number of proprietary artists acrylic mediums.

The rock was then sponge-painted with a variety of grey, blue, red and earth pigment tones. The base is now set aside and the fans begun.


A number of 40cm diameter maple blanks were selected – each about 2-3” thick to provide sufficient support to the remaining wood while turning was taking place. These were thinned down to approximately 1.4mm thick – quite a challenge as the natural stresses in wood lead to movement as the piece is thinned (see photo). The outside edge of each disc are left thicker (at 5mm) in order to give the base of each stem more strength.

Once off the lathe the shape of the fan is sketched out on the wood and roughly cut out – leaving plenty of wood around the fish. Piercing and shaping using and dental technician’s high speed air turbine is done at this stage using a number of dental burrs, paying attention to the way the growth of each frond would occur in the wild.

Each fan is then sanded down at least twice on each face from different directions using jewler’s 3M Bristle Brushes. Each fan is then sprayed with water to raise the grain and the whole sanding procedure repeated when dry. To sand each whole fan 8 times may seem excessive to some, however because the wood may have grown in slightly different directions and the piercing cutter is cutting from different directions it needs to be sanded from different directions to ensure all raised grain is controlled, it also means that after examining it 8 times under magnification I am unlikely to have missed anything!

The stems and "flow lines" showing growth of the fans are pencilled in before  piercing starts

The fans are then offered up individually to the base and a corresponding hole drilled by eye using a micromotor and an end-mill bit used in the manufacture of circuit boards (as craftsmen woodturners will take tools and adapt them from many different backgrounds to do what we want). The stems are then masked off, inserted, and hot-melt glue used to form the “roots”. The masking is then removed – this means the fans can be re-inserted and taken apart any number of times for transport purposes. The roots were then painted by hand under strong magnification, and the finished base sprayed with matt acrylic lacquer to protect it.

I then returned to the fans and fish, painting them in the way already described for the coral bowl, adding a little extra texture. The supporting wood was then removed from around the fish before touching in the final painted details, and protecting with matt acrylic laquer.


The piece can then be assembled – voila!


Woodturned Gorgonian Coral Sculpture
Coral Sculpture detail
Woodturned Clown fish Close-up
Coral sculpture alternate view
woodturned coral sculpture from a different viewpoint