A Journey Through Time

When teaching new turners I always try to instill in them the need to honour the wood, to always give it their best effort. In the past, wood was so prevalent that it was considered – and still is by some – utilitarian and disposable. Nothing is more disrespectful than referring to wood as mere “fiber”. This is the story of wood that took me to the other end of the spectrum; reverence.

I often collaborate with my friend Steve Smith (Dla’kwagila Oweekeno), making turned vessels and sculptures for his contemporary First Nation art. He asked me to turn some vessels from some old growth Red Cedar he had from Vancouver Island. Although Cedar has many wonderful qualities, it is one of my least-favourite woods to turn because it is hard on tools (very abrasive) and suffers from excessive tear out in the end grain. Nevertheless, I agreed because it was Steve. The wood was magnificent; tight grain, straight, clear – and huge.  

I turned the pieces then let them dry for a couple of months, finally facing the part I dreaded: sanding. The largest was 24” tall by 11” diameter, there were two natural edge pieces for his “eagle nests” and three smaller conventional vessels but still quite deep. The vase/bowl forms were turned end grain so the bottoms inside were nasty and hard to reach.

It was a days-long process, so I had lots of time to reflect on the pieces I was working. My first observation was that the tree had undergone both good times and bad, several times in its lifetime. There were bands of wider grain lines about a millimeter apart but there were also bands that were so tight I couldn’t discern actual grain lines without a jeweler’s loop. Usually the change between the two was sudden, adding mystery to the story. I decided to try to determine the age of the tree. Anything to take a break from the sanding. Even though much of the heart of the tree was not present in the pieces, the arc of the innermost rings offered a clue to the missing years. Several times in my past I have counted annual rings in a tree, but this one was tougher than most (I counted the rings in three Douglas Fir trees that were felled on our property when I was a kid. All three were in the order of 1500 years). Without being able to stick pins in to assist counting I resorted to very thin pencil marks (that I could sand off), so the count was not completely accurate but still provided a decent order of magnitude. After a couple of trips through time I estimated the tree to be about 1000 years old.

I started to put that into context. The sapwood had been laid down between about 2005 and the present time, so during my retirement, more or less. My whole adult career (when I had a real job) took place in the next 1 ½” and I was born a ½” before that. Captain James Cook first sighted the island where this tree grew in 1778 when it was about 3 feet in diameter. It was a pretty decent sized tree at the time of the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215 and the tree probably started growing somewhere around the Battle of Hastings in England in 1066. That gave me pause.

But then a staggering thought crossed my mind. I had been using event markers from history that related to a background drawn from history textbooks. A background that by modern era standards are way back in time relatively speaking. It suddenly struck me that in other relative terms, this was a mere blink of an eye. Steve’s Kwakwaka’wakw ancestors called the northern end of Vancouver Island (and adjacent mainland) home thousands of years before the tree ever sprouted. Thousands of years before all the markers that I had been using. Thousands of years in a defined culture that honoured – among other things – the mighty Cedar. In another age, this tree might have yielded a sea-going dugout canoe, a house post or posts in a longhouse, countless utility items like blanket boxes or possibly a massive totem greeting visitors to a long-established village.

I always try to honour the wood, giving it my best effort and wasting none of it. Any unused pieces of this cedar that can yield small carvings will go back to Steve.  I’ll use the scraps around the shop if possible and what I can’t use will go to heat the shop at the Farm Museum. The shavings will one day provide a beginning for new plant life. I don’t know how I can fully honour this wood other than to acknowledge how insignificant my small part played in the life of this tree. A tree that watched down on this land over the ages, then came through Steve to my lowly shop.  The physical things that I make from it are but a tribute to that legacy. Steve’s art will give it a new life. Wherever it ends up I can only hope that the legacy will continue to be honoured by the new keepers.

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New IRD dates for 2021

We have posted the new dates for 2021 IRD (Interactive Remote Demonstrations). Don’t miss out! Book early. Here they are:

Beyond ABC – 26 January 2021 – 3:00 – 5:00 pm PST

Butterfly Crack Repair – 10 Feb 2021 – 3:00 – 5:00 pm PST

This is a Wednesday group, sorry, but my birthday is Tuesday the 9th.

Colouring Wood – 23 Feb 2021 – 3:00 – 5:00 pm PST

Sharpening Woodturning Tools – 9 Mar 2021 – 3:00 – 5:00 pm PST

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Sharpening Woodturning Tools

This demo covers sharpening equipment requirements and options including grinder/belt types and wheel types and accessory grinding jigs. Basic tool steel pros and cons are explained. Considerations when sharpening all types of tools (including vee vs. parabolic fluted bowl gouges), how to pre-determine the shape of any type of gouge are demonstrated. Honing vs. straight-from-the-grinder (with magnified viewing), handled vs. unhandled tools, possible modifications and addressing any specific tools that someone might have are all discussed.

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Sharpening Your Woodturning Tools Properly

Originally written for Craftsy’s by Ed under the title: “Sharpening Woodturning Tools Properly Changes Everything”

So many people attempt woodturning and struggle with it or give up altogether. Others have stuck with it faithfully, trying to advance but stayed at a frustratingly low level of achievement. Properly sharpened tools will change that. Even if you are an experienced woodworker, sharpening woodturning tools is counter-intuitive to sharpening flat woodworking tools. Understanding the difference makes your woodturning experience enjoyable rather than frustrating.

Sharpened Chisel

Bench chisels and turning chisels are two different animals

Bench tools use either the flat side of the tool (i.e. bench chisels) or the tool surface (i.e. planes) for reference for guiding and depth of cut. To control the cut effectively, the reference surface must rest against the wood. Imagine, for a moment, a plane with the iron out even just a fraction too far and you have the idea of an uncontrolled cut.

When using a turning tool, the bevel of the tool rests against the work and is therefore the reference surface used to guide the direction and depth of cut. Most woodworkers are familiar with honing a secondary bevel on a cutting tool to make it sharper by tilting the hone off the bevel by a couple degrees. This makes an ultra-sharp edge that is also stronger because of the steeper angle. There is no change to the reference surface in this case. Because the bevel is the reference surface on a turning tool, honing only the edge eliminates the bevel as a control surface. Having no control surface produces the “catches” that scares the willies out of turners and at the same time prevents them from getting the shapes that they want.

Highlights of a properly sharpened turning tool

The top photo shows the features of a properly sharpened skew. This skew has a clean grind from cutting edge (tip) to the end of the grind (heel) and a hollow or concave grind, providing a control surface from tip to heel. Note the hone marks on both the tip and heel. If honing is required, equal pressure is applied to the tip and heel at the same time, maintaining the line through the two points leaving the reference surface intact.

Note: Honing is required on a skew. (See below)

Hollow Ground Bevel

The photo above shows not only a proper hollow ground bevel, but a second bevel further down to reduce the width of the main bevel as well as a rounded heel. On this bowl gouge, the reduced width of the cutting bevel provides more maneuverability on inside curves and the rounded heel prevents bruising of the wood, however the cutting bevel is still wide enough for control. Note the hone lines are still on the tip and heel of the cutting bevel.

An Edge Straight Off the Grinder

This photo shows an edge straight off the grinder. This is acceptable in all turning tools except a skew. Because both bevels on a skew are reference surfaces, the burr from the grinder must be honed away on both sides.

Sharpen accurately, quickly and often

The style of grind on the bowl gouge above is referred to as an “Irish” or “swept back” grind, making it a very versatile tool. It is also a very complex grind, which is extremely difficult to produce freehand. Almost impossible for a novice without grinding off ½” of tool each time.

So how do you get the sweet, clean, consistent bevels on the tools pictured above?

First, buy a good grinder (1725 rpm maximum) with a “blue stone” (gray burns tools) available through retailers dedicated to turning supplies, online or otherwise. There are various wheels available. The CBN wheels I use are about $200 each but worth every penny and pay for themselves due to their long life.

Next, buy one of several grinding jigs dedicated to turning tools available at the same retailers. The price of the grinder and jig will be more than offset by the tools that you don’t grind away because you remove practically no material each time at the grinder. Bonus points for having the same exact grind every time. I guarantee your turning experience will be enhanced a thousand-fold because of the consistent and sharp edges that you will produce.

Turning tools are more akin to planer knives than bench chisels considering the lineal feet they cut in a short space of time. For that reason you should be sharpening at least three times in one bowl (1. rough cut outside, 2. finish cut outside/rough cut inside, 3. finish cut inside). It’s not unusual to have to sharpen more than that depending on the size of your project and material used. It’s not hard to see that sharpening is an oft-used skill and the more repeatable it is, the better your turning will become.

You MUST be good at sharpening woodturning tools, like it or not. A grinding jig will do that for you. I have been turning for over 50 years and I use a jig as do many, many world-renowned turners.

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Workshop Dust Control – A Must

Originally written for Craftsy by Ed, titled “Breathe Easier With These Tips for Workshop Sawdust Control”

A lathe easily contends for top spot for dust production in your shop. Your only hope of having any control at all is to capture as much as possible at the source. To do so effectively you need to have your system working as efficiently as possible and have an effective means of directing the airflow to the right place.Sanding with "no dust"

How large is large enough?

That’s a tough question because a pen turner will produce a tad less dust and shavings than one who turns and sands large salad bowls. The easy answer is to “go big or go home” unless you absolutely will never turn anything but pens. Referring to my bible on the topic, Woodshop Dust Control, by Sandor Nagyszalanczy, a small lathe requires 400 cubic feet per minute (cfm) and a large lathe requires 750 cfm. My recommendation is to think only in terms of “large.”My system has a 1200 cfm blower and I think 750 cfm would be a bit on the low side for me considering the speed that I turn and the size of most my projects (itty-bitty handles aside). Not to despair if you have a smaller system — even a shop vac — we’ll talk about making any system as effective as possible.Lathe-specific dust collector hood

Making your dust collector collect more dust (and shavings)

Most dust extractors come with one or more 4” ports on the blower, so the tendency is to build a system using 4” duct. Unless you have a very small blower, you just choked your machine to about half (or less!) of its capacity. If you look closely you will see that there may be a reducer from 6” or even 7” down to one to three 4” ports. This means that 6” or 7” should be the size of your main duct. Any reductions should be made as close to your machines as possible. The friction loss through ducting that is too small won’t allow your blower to draw the volume of air that conveys the dust and shavings. Tight 90-degreebends also greatly reduce the flow due to turbulence. Make all bends with large radius elbows or two 45-degree elbows.

At times I see folks using flexible duct instead of solid duct. The friction loss in flexible duct is much greater than clean, straight metal or plastic because of its rough interior.

Duct openings at some machines are built in and the stream of chips is directed right into the duct. A lathe does not offer that opportunity because of the varying lengths and diameters involved. In Woodshop Dust Control, Sandor recommends installing a rectangular or cone-shaped “boot” at the end to increase the collection area rather than a simple open-ended duct. More importantly, as in the photo above, install a frame around the opening to block wasted air from being drawn from behind and further cut losses. The frame itself on mine doubled the airflow across the work. Being able to place the duct in the best place for each job is important rather than simply fixing it somewhere near the lathe. If you look closely at the picture at the top of the post you can just make out a bit of dust right at the sanding point. Rather than blowing around from the draft off the spinning wood, it streams rapidly toward the duct opening. By the way, the flex duct in the photo is 5″.

To review: Make sure your ducting is of adequate size and type, use large radius bends, keep flex line to a minimum and construct a duct opening at your lathe that restricts losses from behind the opening.

Recommendation: Get a copy of Woodshop Dust Control. It will pay huge dividends.Vacuuming chips to eliminate the dust from sweeping

What about the stuff on the floor?

No matter how hard you try, a lot of shavings end up on the floor. In my experience at least half the dust that escapes into the air is created by scooping and sweeping those shavings then dumping them into a bag or can. Walking through them as you work also throws more dust into the air. The best way is to “vacuum” the shavings so that no dust escapes while you pick them up. The more often you do that, the less you kick dust into the air as you work.

By building a shop-sized “central vacuum system” you can pick up large quantities of shavings quickly and easily. I obtained a super-flexible 4” hose made by Rockler Woodworking specifically designed for this use. It’s much more flexible than standard flex line and includes a “wand” to pick up from the floor and a “dusting brush” for general clean up. Simply connect it into your ducting with a 45° wye and you’re in business.

The cool thing is that you very soon get used to not wading in fathoms of shavings which encourages you to clean up more often. It’s also a slick way to find lost tools because it picks up shavings but not a small hone or caliper.

Of course none of this precludes the use of proper respiratory protection. By all means, continue to use good quality respiratory protection at all times.

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How To Turn a Wooden Scarf Ring and Pin Set

Originally written by Ed for Craftsy as “Turn a Wooden Scarf Ring and Pin Set For Christmas”>

A gift made by hand is a gift from the heart. A turned scarf ring and pin set the ideal gift for a woman who wears scarves. Make these easily turned sets and perhaps color them to match any scarf in her wardrobe — or for you ladies who turn, for your own wardrobe.

An added bonus is that making more than one set improves your tool control skills by establishing muscle memory.

Let’s check out the process of turning a wooden scarf ring and pin set.

Matching set and scarf

One nice thing about small projects is using wood that more than likely would end up in the fireplace or stove.

In this case, we’re talking about kindling. Figured wood is the best because it adds a bit of interest yet doesn’t take away from the scarf or the woman wearing it. Better yet, figured wood is the best for coloring since you will get different intensities of one color — one of the secrets that turns a piece of colored wood into a piece of art. Not to fear, if you are using wood with a simple grain, it will still be a subtle yet elegant piece.

Colored and natural scarf sets

Set up

The ring in this set will have to be turned using a chuck or at least a faceplate with a specially made mandrel. The following description of the mandrel for a  chuck can be adapted to a face plate. The pin is easily turned between centers.

Because I turn these sets 50 at a time, I have a special aluminum mandrel that I made for my smaller chuck to turn the outside diameter of the ring. No metal lathe? Just make a wooden copy of the one in the photos.

Aluminum mandrel

The smaller chuck diameter allows me to easily reach both sides of the outer radius of the ring without turning it over. The advantage of the aluminum mandrel is durability and consistent set up; it can be removed and replaced knowing the center will always be on center. A  wooden mandrel will likely vary slightly every time it is remounted, however that isn’t a problem. The key features of the mandrel is a center hole tapped to fit a 3/8″ bolt and a maximum diameter slightly smaller than the inside diameter of the ring. A 3/8″ lag bolt in a wooden mandrel will do the same job.

Face view of ring on mandrel

I have the luxury of having a second larger chuck with deep jaws to turn the inner diameter. In this case only one side of  the inner diameter of the ring can be turned at a time so it must be flipped to put a radius on the second corner.

Ready to cut the first inner radius

Large chuck used to turn inner radius.

Both of these operations can be done using a single chuck using the smaller mandrel and switching to another suitable  accessory jaw set. Perhaps the best jaw set for holding the ring by the outside diameter is the type that allows you to attach pieces of wood to the jaws  so that you can turn jaws to your requirements. An added advantage of this method is that they will definitely not mar the surface of the finished outer diameter.

Step 1

Determine the inner and outer diameters of your ring(s). Mine are 4″ outside diameter and 2 1/2″ inside diameter. Things to consider are the bulk of the scarf and the capacity of your chuck. Cut a square blank no less than 1/2″  and no more than 3/4″ thick. Drill a 3/8″ hole in the center. There is no need to cut it round on a band saw because you can turn it round in seconds. The key to this is high speed so make sure the wood is sound and that your piece is secure.

Once the corners are gone and you have a rough diameter, you can mark the finished inner and outer diameters. I have a story stick for this because of the number that I turn, but for one or a few it’s easy to measure off with a ruler.

Story stick with inner and outer diameters and center pin

Story stick with inner and outer diameters and center pin

Marking diameters

Finish turning the outer diameter, then turn the radius on both sides. If you can only reach the outer radius, leave the second side until you flip the piece over. In this case, it would be a good idea to true the face of the blank prior to marking out and turning the diameters.

Turning outer diamter

Use a parting tool or other suitable tool to size the inner diameter. At this time, penetrate only half the thickness of the piece. Use the tool as a measuring device by determining where half thickness is on the tool. Cut the inner radius but make sure you remove enough wood from the core waste to allow clearance for the gouge.

Inner diameter turned

Finish sanding the outer radius.

Outer radius turned and sanded

Step 2

Part the ring off, being careful not to let the ring fly. The sound of the cut changes drastically just before it breaks free so stop the lathe at that point and break it off manually.

Ring parted off

Change your setup to the larger chuck, holding the ring by the outer diameter with the unturned inner radius exposed.

Inner radius finish turned and ready for sanding

Finish turning this radius and finish sanding. Flip the ring and finish sanding the inner radius. The ring is complete.

Ready to cut the first inner radius

Step 3

The blank for the pin should be about 3/4″ square stock about 8″ long. If your ring varies from the dimensions above, then adjust the length of the pin proportionately.

Pin blank between centers

Mark the centers on the ends and mount between centers. Whatever drive center you have will be fine but I use a Oneway safe driver for small items such as this because if you get a catch, the piece simply stops turning rather than the usual dramatic and, in the case of a small diameter like this, catastrophic failure.

For something turned between centers you usually choose  straight grain material but for this project you may have chosen  figured wood. In this case, be prepared for a few failures since the grain will be running across the axis (several  times, in fact). Not to worry, there’s not a lot of wood lost and if the piece breaks, you will be using your hand as a steady rest so it won’t fly anywhere.

Turning rough diameter

Turn the piece round with a spindle roughing gouge. Turning any very small diameter spindle should be done in stages. Rather than reducing the diameter over the full length, turn the piece to finished diameter in short lengths. The length of each stage will vary with diameter so you will have to experiment, but for this project the photos will give you an idea.

My preference — and for probably all right-handers — is to have the large end on the right so that you will be turning with the grain. In this case, start reducing and tapering the diameter right to left, leaving about 3/4″ on the right end to make the rounded end plus some waste allowance. Steady the piece loosely with the left hand and use the tool with the right (this is where left-handers may chose to have the “handle” on the left and work left to right). It is unlikely that you will hold the work too tightly since it will get too hot to hold almost instantly. A bare hand (e.g. no glove) is best for this for both safety and control.

Roughing the next section
First section done

Turning about half the length to finished diameter and shape is the most suitable in my case, however the stability of the piece is the deciding factor. If you are confident with a skew, make the finish cut with a skew. Once down to the preferred diameter (in my case, about 5/16″), turn the remainder to finished diameter in stages.

Finish cut with skew

You can see I turned about half of the remaining length and then the remaining length. In any case, take as many steps as you require to reach the end. The length of your piece, the grain orientation and your level of confidence will be the determining factor. Remember, it’s not unlikely that you will break a few pieces so don’t loose heart if this happens. Because of the figured grain I allow for 10 percent failure, so 5 in 50, and I have turned a lot of these.

Half bead finishes the "handle"

Use the long point of a skew as a scarper to rough the very last length, being careful to leave enough to finish with a proper skew cut. Alternately, cut your blanks long enough that this close work isn’t required. Use a spindle gouge to put a radius on the “handle” end. Carve or sand the waste nubs off the ends. I prefer to miter the small end so that it slides under the scarf easily.

Pin complete and ready to trim the ends

Carve or sand the waste nubs off the ends. I prefer to miter the small end so that it slides under the scarf easily.

Completed set

At this stage, I color the pieces. Coincidentally, I use the same dyes as the silk weaver that buys these, but you can use whatever method you prefer. I leave several natural because they look good as well, so you choose. I use two coats of Tung oil but again, that is your choice.

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Spindle Turning Without a Copy Attachment

Originally written by Ed for Craftsy as “One and the Same: Spindle Turning Without a Copy Attachment”

If Eli Wallach were a wood turner, his famous line would have been, “Copiers! We don’t need no stinkin’ copiers!”

It seems that many turners assume that producing several identical items on the lathe requires a copy attachment. Not so! You probably already own the needed tools to turn as many similar pieces as possible. You may already possess the necessary skills. If not, they are easy to learn.

Learn spindle turning without a copy attachment with the tips below.

Set of spindles for historical Kaslo City Hall restoration.

A set of spindles for historical Kaslo City Hall restoration. The green spindle was the sample.

Spindles — whether chair legs, table legs, stair spindles, newel posts or handles — are made up of three elements: beads, coves and connecting straight or curved lines. The example above shows that sometimes there are also half beads and coves.

Basic elements of a spindle

Spindle designs consist of three elements: beads, coves and cylinders. Sometimes the beads and coves are complete, sometimes only half. The cylinders may be straight, tapered or slightly curved. Typically there are only two or three measured diameters in the length.

For example, the major diameter of the material (minus a bit to allow for errors in mounting), one smaller diameter to separate beads from coves and perhaps a third to designate the location of a minor diameter of a taper. The spindles in the photo above have exactly that. They look far more complex than that, don’t they?

The major diameter of beads is usually the major diameter of the stock, the minor diameter is the transition between the bead and the neighboring cove, the minor diameter of coves is determined by the wrist action of the turner. The shapes between lineal elements are all determined by the turner’s style, so repeating the same element the same way is the key to the whole works.

Reduced to simple terms, turning a piece to a specific design is simply connecting the dots. The turner’s skill is the key. With practice, any turner can produce quality duplications like a musician playing scales.

The linear spacing of the elements (vertical or horizontal) is the most critical aspect of a spindle, especially if they are oriented alongside one another — as in a balustrade — where they can be compared to one another. The eye can pick out variations in height much easier than variations in diameters.

My “Aha!” moment

I grew up in a home with many fine antiques, several with turned elements. One table had four legs that were simple spindles attached in pairs to a “horse” at each end. Either one or three of those were upside down. My mother dusted that table with great care for over 50 years and never noticed. Another table had four cabriolet legs with very ornate finals rising from them as they supported a finely turned and carved central post. The finials each had a turned ball that was finely carved with leaves. One was noticeably smaller than the rest, clearly the turner “flubbed” and simply turned the ball smaller. No one ever noticed except this inquisitive turner and only when I was examining the work in minute detail. This was an exquisite piece, clearly sporting the finest craftsmanship, yet that error passed.

It became clear to me that when viewing several pieces that are supposed to be the same, the brain assumes they are the same until each individual piece is considered on its own. This was an epiphany! In these modern times with machines that spit out identical pieces, the fact that spindles used to be skillfully reproduced actually differing slightly from each other… and no one noticed! Look at the batch of spindles in the photo above. They are all slightly different in the smallest ways, but do they look different?

This led to my first and so far largest spindle job — 650 spindles in a pub. Six hundred and fifty spindles in a darkened room filled with drinkers focusing totally on the opposite sex. How could I go wrong?

The story stick

A story stick is simply a lath with marks along its length designating relevant diameters and their locations by cutting a notch at each location the pencil slots in at the exact same spots every time. If the story stick is aligned along the length at the same spot, every spindle will have their lineal elements aligned with the rest.

Story stick in use

Story stick in use. Note the heavy shading indicating which side of the line the sizing cut will be made.

Close up of story stick.

Close-up view of a story stick. Note the notches to ensure the pencil is in the same place every time. The “X” indicates which side the sizing cut is made and the diameters are noted.

By turning the cylinder to the major diameter of the design, the first diameter is already determined. If there are one or more pommels (square sections where such things as rails or spreaders are mounted), a “pommel cut’ is required to transition between square and round sections and can be one of several different shapes.

The story stick is the length of the turned section(s) only so that it can be held against the wood while it is turning in the lathe. Once the cylinder is marked, sizing is done with a parting tool and calipers. It’s important that the sizing cut is done on the correct side of each mark so it’s a good idea to shade that side on the first few until you are comfortable with the sequence.


I have a caliper that has a sliding indicator showing the diameter as the parting tool sizes the piece, so I only have to use that one caliper for many jobs. It has size limitations so if diameters are too large or small I use multiple spring calipers and even a vernier caliper set to each diameter. It’s a good idea to turn a test cylinder with all the sizes used to check the calipers every now and then because vibration can change the setting. For a couple of repeat order jobs (small handles) I have permanent calipers made from thin steel plate with slots cut in them to the diameters I need. Using a single caliper introduces errors and wastes a lot of time constantly re-setting the diameters. All calipers should have rounded tips to ease them over the wood without catching on the moving wood.

Turned elements of a spindle

Each element is created using the correct tool for each, with gouges being the most versatile. Gouges can be use to cut beads, coves, halves of both and pommel cuts. Skews can be used for cutting beads (and halves), and planing straight, tapers, convex cylinders and some very long, shallow radius concave cylinders. A spindle-roughing gouge is an excellent tool for forming the larger portion of large beads, large coves and most, if not all, cylinders. The small, rough flats created by the parting tool while sizing are easily cleaned up with a planing cut from a suitable skew. A slight taper rather than a flat next to a bead or cove highlights the element much nicer than a flat and are easily created using the skew.

How to put this information to use

My objective in this post was to present the basic design aspects, techniques and tools used in repetitive turning. The skill that ties the whole thing together of course is turning the design elements themselves. My next post will follow the steps in creating yet another project for the Kaslo City Hall restoration: spindles for a balustrade (stair railing). I hope to include information on the proper use of the tools to create coves, beads and pommel cuts. Proper use of the basic tools has already been covered in a previous post.

Remember that practice is the key. Once you learn the technique for turning beads and coves (two of the three main elements in a spindle), it’s a matter of practicing them just like a musician practices scales. The cool thing is that this develops tool control, which is directly transferable to bowl turning, so there is no wasted effort here if you are a bowl turner.

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Mounting Work in a Chuck

Originally written by Ed for Craftsy as “Helpful Tips for mounting Work in a Chuck on a Lathe”.

Chucks are one of the handiest ways of holding work on the lathe. There are a few types of chucks but the most common and versatile are the 4-jaw, self-centering chucks. Let’s talk about things to be aware of in general use and ways of taking advantage of that versatility.

Some of many chucks available for a wood lathe

Types of chucks: variations on the theme

In the photo above you will see that chucks are opened and closed in two ways: two “tommy bars” or a single chuck key or chuck wrench. The tommy bar chucks on the right are less expensive but still hold smaller work very well. Keyed chucks are easier to operate because you use one hand to tighten them but more importantly they can be tightened more securely. The jaws move in and out by rotating a “scroll” plate with the tommy bars or through a gear operated by the key.Keyed chucks vary in size, ranging from very small to large, covering most work for the average turner. Very large or irregularly shaped work pieces require a faceplate, held to the work with strong screws, so chucks do have their limitations.

The jaws are able to hold work by clamping externally on a tenon on the work piece, expanding internally into a recess in the work piece or screwing the worm screw into a hole drilled into the work piece. The worm screw is held by the jaws. Be sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions to insert the screw into the chuck properly.

By the way never, never, never leave tommy bars or a chuck wrench in the chuck unless you are actually using them. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a chuck wrench go through a block wall when the lathe is turned on inadvertently.

Holding work with a screw chuck

Screw chucks require a starting hole in the work piece

The screw chuck is usually used at the start of a project to hold the work to make either a tenon or recess for the jaws. When using any chuck, it is always wise to use the tail stock for added support when possible, but it is highly advisable when using a screw chuck. A screw chuck does not have enough holding power by itself for anything other than a very small piece.

To use the screw, first drill a hole in the work to accommodate the diameter of the screw shank. This hole will be turned away in the finished product because it is typically made in the top of the piece.

Creating and using a tenon to hold the work

A work piece ready to be mouned on a tenon in a chuck

Note that this piece is a demonstration only — typically the tenon is associated with the bottom of the bowl.

The jaws hold the tenon by clamping it tightly but the jaw faces provide the most security by resisting lateral forces, so the wood immediately adjacent to the tenon must be square and flat. If anything, the bearing surface could be slightly concave so that the outer diameter of the jaw faces can bear against the wood. Further, the tenon should not bottom out inside the jaws to ensure that the face of the wood bears on the jaw faces.

Cutting a tenon make s a cleaner surface for the chuck

The difference between a cut and scraped surface can affect the security and accuracy of the piece.

The tenon surface should be cut, not scraped. A scraped surface has soft spots that will cause uneven clamping. The shape of the tenon should reflect the profile of the jaws rather than expecting the jaws to crush into the wood. The tenon on the left below is cut to fit a Nova chuck while the tenon on the right below is cut to fit a Oneway chuck. Others may vary. The objective is to hold the work square and true and you should do everything you can to make that possible.

Tenon cut for a Nova chuck
Tenon cut for a Oneway chuck

When mounting the work in the chuck, bring the tail stock up to hold the work tightly against the jaw faces. Holding the piece only with your hand is never as firm or as square.

The tenon is usually on the bottom of the piece and is created at the same time as turning the external profile of the piece. If you design your piece accordingly, the tenon can be worked into the foot.

Creating and using a recess to hold the work

Recess cut into the bottom of a work piece

The jaws expand into the recess to hold the work and like the tenon, the jaw faces resist lateral forces so it is important that they bear squarely against the wood surface in the recess. Wood is not strong in tension so there should be adequate wood surrounding the recess area so that the wood doesn’t break from the outward force of the jaws. Like the tenon, all surfaces should be cleanly cut rather than scraped to eliminate weak surface areas. Some tool companies sell scrapers for creating recesses. Save your money, cut them cleanly with a gouge and hold your work better.

When mounting the piece, just like the tenon, hold the work against the jaws with the tailstock to ensure it is firmly and squarely held against the jaws while tightening.

Often turners work the recess into their design by adding a couple of rings, other decorative work or turn them away completely to make them appear to be part of the piece rather than part of the process.

So why buy a chuck?

Chucks are a bit pricey, for sure. Their big advantages are ease of use and versatility. Even though your may be able to mount a piece in the lathe in some other way, it can take almost as long to create that holding device(s) as it does to turn your whole piece. Not only that, faceplates — the main alternative for work holding — typically limit your design opportunities simply because they limit the diameter at the mounting point. Since turners often have only an evening or an afternoon to be at the lathe, using a chuck will make that time far more enjoyable.

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Turning Tool Handles – Turn Your Own

Originally written by Ed for Craftsy as ” Turn Your Own Turning Tool Handles”>

Turning tools come handled or unhandled, meaning of course, with or without a handle. A ready-made handle is fine but it may not suit the turner’s preference, turning style or needs. My preference is to make my own and I like them to be wood. I prefer a wooden handle over metal because I like the feel in my hand, the balance of the tool and quite frankly, the appearance.

I’ve turned with purely metal handles and metal handles covered with PVC tubing, and although the PVC cover eliminates the “cold” feel of the metal, they are always straight and I prefer my handles to not be straight. Perhaps I’m a purist, but I like my swept wooden handles that fit my hand and body. Strike me down for being practical, but what you will spend of a ready-made handle will get you another useful gouge.

So, why not turn your own handles? We already have the machine to do the job.

A variety of tool handles. The handle on the left is a fixed handle with ferrule. The rest are all have ready made ferrules with set screws securing the tool.

Turning a handle

The wood used for handles should be sound, strong and flexible. Not that they bend like a baseball bat, but they shouldn’t be brittle. Some woods are very brittle so are prone to cracking. My dad always disliked acacia for handles because it is so brittle, so one time I made a hammer handle out of acacia. It cracked. I like to hear a ring in the wood when it is struck (I learned that from a bagpipe maker) indicating it is sound (pun intended) with no cracks or voids. It should be hardwood, obviously, but also a wood that machines nicely. These are tools, not showpieces so is no place for fancy figured grain: straight grain only, for strength.

The copper ferrule is pressed on and has been in service without moving for ten years at least. The gold colored ferrule in the picture above is a Hosaluk ferrule that glues into the handle. In the end, it fails to provide the same strength as a proper ferrule because it does not encircle the wood (and actually I just noticed that this handle is cracked). The red ferrules are from Oneway and have a tapered female thread that holds the ferrule on the wood and also compresses the wood as does a proper ferrule. Hidden in the picture, they also have two set screws to secure the tool.

A handle needs a ferrule to prevent it from splitting. Wood is not strong in tension and the lateral torquing of the tool inside the wood during use can provide that tension. Traditionally a piece of pipe, wire wrapping or even string can provide the needed strength. Modern “store bought” ferrules are just dandy in my books because they have set screws to secure and release the tool when desired. These are great for storing the tool in transit (pointy end inside), swapping tools and sharpening (no extra weight and no dodging the handle). Also for travel, a couple handles will suffice for several tools.

One of my first handles turned over 50 years ago. It still works just fine.

A handle may often need a bumper of sorts on the back end to prevent damage if dropped or stored on end. Sometimes a short ferrule will suffice.

Unless there is a particular reason not to do so, the handle should be bored on center and parallel to the axis. This is a key factor in the use of the tool since much of your tool control is attributed to rotating the tool on its center. The last thing you need is a “hinged-in-the-middle” tool that swings rather then rotates or in the case of a parting tool, for example, that points left one time and right the next, depending on which way you picked it up.

1. Boring the center hole

Drilling on a drill press

Cut your blank to the dimensions that you require, but make those cuts as square as possible. The bore for the tool is the first operation and should be done in a drill press using one end as the reference. Alternately (and probably better) you can clamp the piece vertically against a 90-degree support fence. The object is to make that bore as true to the lineal axis as possible. This will ultimately determine both centers that you will use for turning. A third choice is to drill the blank in the lathe. This would be my last choice but, if you must, allow for extra waste when sizing the blank because it won’t be as true. Good luck drilling by hand.

2. Mounting between centers

Drilling on a lathe

Clamp a waste block in a chuck about 2″ square and as long as the bore is deep, up to about 4″ maximum. Turn the block to fit the bore, relieving the outside diameter in the center portion so that it fits tightly but doesn’t bind. The key here is a tight fit that holds the handle straight on its own. Use this as your drive center. The bore in this handle is for a double ended bowl gouge so is much deeper than normal.

Install the handle on the drive center then bring the tail stock up and tighten the live center into the end of the blank as it rotates at a very slow speed. This will probably not be the geometric center of the blank, but it will be on the natural axis of the blank, ensuring that the handle will be centered to the bore.

Blank mounted between centers

Step 3. Turn the handle to shape

Drive center. Note the relieved portion between the pencil lines.

Drive center. Note the squared face and the relieved portion between the pencil lines.

You can make the handle any shape you desire. I prefer mine to have a larger diameter at both ends that fit my grip nicely with a little swail between so that I can slide the tool in my hand by loosening my grip but still not loose the tool from my grasp. The length of this tool is short by my standard for a bowl gouge because I will be using it on a mini lathe where the longer handle gets bound up in the ways.

Once the butt end of the handle is marked on center, it can be switched end to end as required. In the case of any type of ferrule, it is good to switch ends so that the ferrule end is at the tail stock for test fitting. I use a large, single-point center in the bore hole for centering. It is wise to turn the ferrule diameter first so that you can blend the handle into that area.

Ferrule profile

The ferrule that I will be using has a tapered inner thread. It comes with a profile gauge to fit the handle to the ferrule. I have found that these ferrules tend to require tightening fairly often while new until the thread seats into the wood, so I have allowed extra taper for cutting off as the ferrule advances.

It fits! With a little extra room for trimming later.
Starting the taper

The “viewing hole” is drilled at the end of the hollow center of the ferrule. It is easy to see when the handle bottoms out in the hole and is time to trim the end.

I have found that the threads have seated permanently after trimming about 1/4″ off the taper. A small disadvantage of this type of handle is that the ferrule loosens up at times during use until the threads truly seat. Once seated, this occurs only very rarely and even then only on my 5/8″ gouge, which gets some serious torquing during use.

Final shaping, complete with signature lines.
Fitting the ferrule. Note the "viewing hole" for checking the position of the handle in the ferrule.

Fitting the ferrule. Note the “viewing hole” for checking the position of the handle in the ferrule. 

After finishing

I don’t put a finish on my handles. This is for no particular reason other than they get a natural patina over time and have plenty of oil from my hands to feed the wood. I believe a smooth wooden finish is less likely to slip in your hand once it develops some wear. I have had to actually sand the finish on some commercial handles to take that initial slippery feel out of the lacquer finish.

A good handle is like any other quality item. It should do its job without fanfare and without complaint. It it is well made you should be able to use it without even noticing it and it should serve you well — probably for years.

Tips for turning wood handles

  1. Use dry wood. Shrinking due to drying after turning will cause ferrules to become loose, providing no support to the wood.
  2. If the tool is to be permanently mounted in the handle it should rely on a tight fit. I have glued the odd tool in an emergency, but it’s a sign that you need to make a new handle. Drill and form the hole for the tool (or tenon if it is a male fit) to fit the tool properly. Forcing the tool into a hole that is the wrong shape won’t make it fit tighter. It will likely become loose sooner. As a kid, I spent the winters with an old hand re-handling fire shovels, axes and mattocks for the next forest fire season. He never let me get away with anything other than a perfect fit.
  3. Pipe ferrules should be very tight. I turn the handle the same diameter or even a couple thousandths larger with a small entry taper to start the ferrule. Scrape a small chamfer on the ferrule to remove any burrs and further ease the entry. Lubricate the handle with oil where the ferrule slides on. Press the ferrule on in the lathe or in a hand or hydraulic press. Hammering it on is acceptable but would be my last choice.
  4. Wire wrapping makes an excellent ferrule, but is difficult to do well. Turn a slight depression where the wire is to be wrapped to prevent it from sliding. Use a fine wire — perhaps 18 gauge — so that it is easy to wind on smoothly. Start the wire in a small hole then put a few wraps over it to secure it. Tuck the wire under itself at the other end and bend the free end over the last wrap, trimming and hammering lightly to blend it in. Keep the wire tight the whole time. If you use copper wire you can put a drop of solder on the ends with an iron to secure the whole thing. If the wire is fine enough, you can whip it as described below (best). This actually makes a very attractive ferrule if neatly done.
  5. String is a very suitable wrap but not really durable in rough use. It is, however , easy to reapply. The secret to a string ferrule is whipping the string so that there is no visible joint or knot. Lay a loop of string in line with the area to be covered then wrap the string toward the looped end. When you have applied enough string, pass the free end through the loop then pull the loop and free end under the wrapped string. This tightens and secures the string permanently. Trim the ends close to the last loops with a knife. You can further secure the wrap with glue, varnish or epoxy if you want. Both the string and wire wraps are an excellent way to secure a handle that isn’t round.
String ferrule on an oval handle. Note ends drawn and secured under  the whipping.

Turning my own handles gives me lasting pleasure. It shows my craftsmanship, a visual resume when demonstrating for another guild. They feel great to use and they all develop their own patina, telling the story of their use. I think I got that as a kid from gazing endlessly at my father’s and grandfather’s tools.

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Pommel Cuts: How To

Originally written by Ed for Crafsty as “Pommel Cuts: The Shapes of Things to Come”.

A pommel cut on a spindle is the transition between a straight-sided pommel (usually square) to the round or turned portion of the piece.

The stock is typically square but other geometric shapes may occur depending on the design of the work it will be attached to. For instance, an eight-sided table may have octagonal-shaped pommels at the tops of the legs. Besides providing a strong, flat thrust face, the straight portion of the spindle or leg facilitates a much more easily constructed joint, so the pommel is a necessary part of the spindle.

As always, woodworking design influences shape so there are as many basic shapes of pommel cuts as the imagination will allow.

Let’s discuss the cutting techniques as well as the tools used to make some of those shapes.

Stair post showing pommel cuts

The square pommels on this stair newel post are required to anchor the post itself and the railing to the post. The pommel cuts are simple quarter beads.

Proper cutting technique — no different than any other cut used in woodturning — produces a clean, crisp edge that may seem difficult, but is not. The proper cutting technique is using the bevel as a guide or “rubbing the bevel.” In this way, you can produce square or angled cuts, quarter or half beads, lamb’s tongues, tapers, long curves or any shape you may desire. You will be surprised just how easy it is.Start and end marks on one side only.

Mark the piece with a starting point and end point on the face of one of the sides. When the blank is rotating, it will appear as if all sides are marked. Make a cut with a gouge or skew at the “finish” end of the cut that reaches down to the full diameter of the wood.

If a sizing cut is required with a parting tool, remove enough waste so it can be made on a full round portion rather than tearing the wood on the square portion. The start and finish points are now defined.Side of the skew is aligned square to the center line, keeping the bevel on the wood being cut

Note the side of the skew is aligned square to the center line, keeping the bevel on the wood being cut. This will require three or four passes to reach the final depth.

Place yourself so that you can see the ghost of the “diameter” of the square as it is rotating near the tool rest. In this way, you can treat the square portion as if it were round. Make a rough cut or at least a marking cut so that it is easier to see where to start the finish cut. Perform the particular cut (half bead, taper cut, etc.) so that the cut ends at the finish diameter.

Obviously at the start of the cut, you will be cutting mostly air, so not a lot of wood to register the bevel. More care is required at this point, but it gets better almost instantly. If you have been rubbing the bevel on the work, the cut will be clean enough that it won’t require sanding. This is an extremely difficult place to sand so it’s worth practicing this technique.Diameter of the spindle turned prior to the pommel cut

This photo shows the diameter of the spindle turned prior to the pommel cut and the bevel of the skew against the wood. This cut can be made with a gouge or either the heel or toe of the skew, which ever you are the most comfortable with.The completed cut

The completed cut. Note the starting point, end point and how cleanly the cut has been made. No sanding is required.This half bead is very similar to the quarter bead.

This half bead is very similar to the quarter bead.A  lamb's tongue can only be cut with a gouge

A lamb’s tongue can only be cut with a gouge. The radii of the cove and bead significantly affect the resulting shape on the flat of the pommel so care must be used in making these cuts. It is possible to cut a pattern and mark that on one flat so you have a shape to work to. This cut can be made even more elaborate with a smooth transfer between a cove and bead (rather than straight) before reaching the finished diameter. Again, no sanding is required.This is not a "standard" pommel cut

This is not a “standard” pommel cut, but perhaps something that will fit the bill in come cases. Note that the corners of the cut are different lengths. This is due to a poorly marked center, warped stock or stock that is not square (the latter in this case). The longer the pommel cut, the more critical this is.

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