The two most common questions about bits of equipment tend to be: Is it worth the money? and Do you actually use it much? One of the most common areas I get these questions is about hollowing (hollow forms or vases and pots as they are called in our house) and hollowing tools so I thought I'd do a little long term review of the Simon Hope hollowing rig/jig as its now been in use for over five years.
The system is based on a jointed arm which is fixed to the lathe bed and holds a bar which in turn holds the cutter, in its standard format the cutter is one of the tried, tested and much loved Simon Hope carbide cutters: and if you're not a carbide fan then tough, it works and they're here to stay - rant over!!
The jig/rig is used for hollowing on the Wadkin lathe and when purchased it was supplied with an extra plate to allow it to be used on the RU because apparently 15 inch centre heights are not the norm....who knew? At any rate Simon went to the trouble of making up a height increasing block for me and sent it with the system which meant I could use it straight away - thats the advantage of buying from another wood turner I guess.
So to answer the second question first (Do you actually use it much?) the system is used on pretty much all hollow forms I make, I make quite a few hollow forms and I would say that over the years this system has been used a lot by me and by people at the workshop wanting to try out making hollow forms on the lathe.
The system has stood up very well, the only maintenance required has been to clean it and to tighten up the bolts at the joints on a few occasions ...hardly a vast amount of bother. The system works well and gives the user much better control of the tool - especially those learning how to create hollow forms.
The small cutter size should not be underestimated, it removes material quickly...very quickly indeed, the short time taken to remove bulk is always something which takes people by surprise. The other comment I get is that the system removes a lot of the stress and strain from hollowing out, with some of the other tools this can be an issue but the Hope system takes the stress out of it....which is a major plus for those of us who are .....not in the first flush of youth.
On the negative side the small cutter can give you some issues with ridges in the surface however this has been thought of and the system also comes with an HSS scraper which can replace the carbide tip to allow you to get that nice smooth interior finish which is especially important on open hollow forms. So to get a finished wall thickness of say 5mm I would normally aim for 7mm with the carbide cutter and then take off the last little bit with the HSS scraper to end up with 5mm and a nice smooth interior.
If you are making hollow forms which have or need a significant undercut, for example the area just inside a hollow form with a narrow working aperture then you can use the supplied cutter tip with the offset shank...or as I do you can simply do that little bit manually, its not a big deal.
If you are hollowing up to 9-10 inches deep then the standard bar will most likely do the job for you, on open hollow forms you want to get the rest in as far as you can to support the bar and reduce any vibration to a minimum as the vibration will show up in the finished surface.
I routinely make hollow forms deeper than the 9-10 inches so I have purchased the heavier 19mm bar which allows me just a bit more reach and damps out the vibrations to make for a more pleasant experience.
The system came with a laser and a mounting system to allow for easier thicknessing of walls and this has proven useful in helping to get wall thickness even on a reliable basis. However you need to understand what it can and can't do: On straight side walls you can set the thickness and work down the side walls as you are always going to be cutting on the same part of the cutter.
On encountering changes in walls such as curves or more importantly in the transition areas between the wall and the base and across the base you are using a different part of the cutter so you are going to need to reset the laser to suit that new section of cutter being brought into use.
So no getting excited and forgetting or you could end up with a somewhat shorter hollow form than planned or a lampshade. Always remember there are no mistakes, just intense moments of opportunity - or decorative firewood.
I think that if you were looking at one now then the camera system would most likely resolve the issue with resetting the gap for the laser but I have not succumbed to the urge to buy one yet - though if ordered one before midday it would be here tomorrow.....
The system is robust and has stood up well to the use/abuse it has had over the past 5 years and is in use on a very regular basis. It is quick to set up and easy to use, it saves a lot of upper body and back stress - not a bad thing. Yes I do have lots of other hollowing tools (you have to do research - thats my excuse) but I would reckon this is one of the two that gets the most use.
Overall if you are in the market for a hollowing system then I would recommend this one as it has proven itself well worth the outlay, you can find the system here: