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VtD: end of the first week

Posted by joeabbott on December 13, 2015

So far on my Vacation to Date (VtD), I’d taken care of a few obligations during the day, and watched movies or played games at night. It was a nice gig but I still wanted those days where I had NOTHING planned and zero obligations. Where I could do the movie/game thing all day (were I to want to) and have it make zero impact on my life. Just hang out and do nothing. Well, I got some of that.


On Wednesday I was planning on heading over to a nephew’s house to do some woodworking; specifically, to work on his lathe. I’ve never lathed before and, admittedly, it’s a little intimidating, so I was looking for any hints or tips he might have.

Unfortunately, on Wednesday, his power was out from recent storms and so we postponed out meet-up to Thursday.

So, Thursday arrived and so did I, with five “blanks” (2”x2” pieces of walnut about a foot long. I brought some lathe tools I have and a face mask and was ready to go.

To start, you “chuck up” your wood: find the longitudinal center on both ends, hammer the drive center into one end, seat that end into the lathe, and then skootch up the tailstock to engage that drive center. Now when you turn on the lathe, it’ll spin the wood between the lathe and tailstock drive centers. I didn’t take a picture of my nephew’s setup, but here’s what a near-finished piece looks like chucked into my Shopsmith lathe:


Once the wood is in place, you would position a tool rest near the wood, turn on the lathe, and start using your lathe chisels to remove wood! Simple … and yet, it’s one of those things that you need to do a lot to get the hang of what you’re doing.

Ultimately, you can create cylinders (or long tapers), beads (rounded shapes) and coves (dished shapes) in the wood using a lathe; everything is a variation of one of those.

We practiced making shapes in 2-3 of the blanks I got and then worked on setting up his grinder to sharpen the tools. Sharp tools make a lot of difference. On my practice cuts, I was finding coves to be the easier of the two to create … I just don’t have the touch to create a bead that’s symmetric. You need to replicate left and right hand sides of the bead using the same hand, or be able to switch the tools between your right and left hands and cut shapes ambidextrously. It’s easier (for me) to switch my hands, but I still had troubles.

After about 2-3 hours I thought I should be heading home when David suggested I make something so I could see how things went after practicing a bunch. It’s a mature sort of comment that I would have thought to make to someone else, but I was feeling like I’d taken up a lot of their time just coming over to use their tools. It was very much appreciated, so I took him up on it.

While I want to build some knobs and handles for various projects, I didn’t have any patterns just then so I was a bit at a loss for what I should build. I’d talked about creating a “thumper” for a while: just a small wooden bat I could use to tap things into place, beat the gravel out of my tires, or things like that. Arguably it’s not something I’d use much, but it was something. So, I started building that.

Here’s a picture of a close-up of the bat that I created … after roughing it out on David’s lathe, I had the confidence to chuck it up in my Shopsmith finish it off:


You can see a bunch of stuff here. On the left, you can see who the lathe drive center engages with the wood. On the surface of the cylinder, you can see the places the gouge lathe chisel left little scoops. The flat face of the bat/thumper is the result of the blank’s diameter: I didn’t want to cut it down to lose all the flat part because I thought the cylinder would be too small in diameter. Also, there are times when I’m tapping things into place that I can see wanting a flat face … so I convinced myself I like it. And still do.

At the far right end of the picture (you can see it better in the upper photo), you can see where a chunk of the handle broke off. Disappointing but, again, I’ll sand that flat and embrace the defect.

That’s about it. The narrow grooves cut at the top and bottom of the cylinder are intentional and meant to define the bat face a bit, and the chamfered top was another small feature I added. Suzy asked if I’ll round the top like a real bat and I likely won’t; it’s good enough for the intended purpose.

On my lathe, I only spun it and used sandpaper to bring down the chisel marks, leaving a smooth surface. I thought about applying some sort of finish to it, but I don’t think I will; I’m not looking for a finished piece and this should be good as is. I did wrap the handle with some blue grippy tape that I had handy, but think I may wrap over that with athletic tape. I like the cush you get from the grippy tape, but the blue looks more ghetto than even I’d like!


And that’s it! While the finish and smoothing could be done to greater effect, I like the shape and dimensions of this one. The handle may be a bit long, but it’s not too bad. The heft and hardness are also quite nice and it swings easily. Best of all, I made this. And so I like it all the more.

Friday and Saturday

On Friday I finished the bat but didn’t do too much else and Saturday … well, I whiled away the day doing what I wanted to do: sit around and do nothing. I wrote a few holiday cards, played some video games, read a bit, and enjoyed a few meals with Suzanne, but that was it. Don’t judge: it was glorious.

Overall, I’m getting into the swing of vacation. I’m looking forward to putting activities on my agenda, I’m decidedly happy ignoring work email, I feel rested when I get up, and am not binging on anything … not overeating, not staying up too late, not sleeping until all hours; just having a nice, relaxed life.

And that’s what taking a month off from work should be all about.


One Response to “VtD: end of the first week”

  1. Jay said

    Cool bat Joe!! Glad to hear you’re getting some time off!!


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