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In every season …

Posted by joeabbott on January 23, 2016

Well, back in December I tried my hand at turning: using a lathe to create a woodworking project. The results were intended to be pure practice pieces but I ended up with a small mallet or “thumper” that I liked. In this post, I’ll show some of the practice pieces.


To start with I’d brought four walnut blanks to my nephew, David’s, house: blanks are rectangular wooden rods that were about 2” square in cross section and between 18” and 24”. This was wood I had around for a few years and was well-seasoned; meaning it was dry and pretty stable.

The first step was the rough them into cylinders. We’d turn a blank into a cylinder and then practice on each in turn, making the various cuts and shapes. In the picture below, you can see our progression: the second from the top is the first piece we worked on. This is before we tried sharpening the tools and were making tentative cuts.

The second rod from the bottom was our second piece: we still had some sharpening issues but were getting better as well as trying to keep a steady hand at making a long, smooth cylinder.

The bottom piece was the next trial. In that effort, I wanted to see if I could make a narrow, necked-down section. It worked well, but I’ll have more to say about that work.

Finally, the top rod was our final practice piece. In that one, I really wanted a long, smooth cone: to take the rod from the 2” diameter down to 1” diameter over, say 3”. But instead we tried our hand at symmetry: David would make a cut on one side, and I’d try to mirror that on the other. Let’s just say I have to work on that a bit more. <g>


Sharpen your tools

When we started at this David was insistent that you needed razor sharp tools and I was dubious: the wood was spinning fast and even a moderately sharp tool should suffice in making cuts. And then we started. After just a few passes we turned our attention to the sharpening wheel he had, made sure we understood how to use it, and started putting crisper edges on our chisels … and it sure made a difference!


The above pictures are the first trials and, in addition to showing a rookie hand, the dull tools are in evidence: chips in the wood and ratty edges. While we were making coves rather than beads, the sharpened tools proved out to making clean, smooth surfaces.


More practice

We continued making cuts and working on “getting good”, which is many sessions away, but we were starting here. As with any skill, you just need to keep at it to build that muscle memory and learn the feel of a new craft.

In the below picture, we were using a combination of sharpened and unsharpened tools. I brought over a couple chisels and hadn’t bothered to sharpen them … and, as you can see, I started getting the tear-out and frayed edges on the wood where I was using my tools.


Wood breakage

Having something that’s spinning at high speeds break is a big fear … as least it was for me. A couple times I’ve had mishaps on my table say, with the blade grabbing wood and tossing it at speed … usually at me. It’s something to respect and completely avoid. And so, after necking down the wood on one of the blanks to about a half inch … and feeling rather happy with that, … I inadvertently caught the wood with a dull chisel, causing the piece to break.

WP_20160121_08_40_04_Pro_LI 1


You can see the lines on the wood (the above is a close-up of the gouge) that caused one part of the rod to slow while the other part was cruising along … causing the wood to part at the weakest point: the narrow neck I created. It’s not surprising but, happily, the wood just snapped, half dropped to the floor, and the other half fell a short way away. There was no explosion of wood, no wooden shrapnel flying about, and no injuries. We were lucky.


We continued playing around, seeing what the different tools did, looking at YouTube for videos of other people working on parts, and trying to go from some wood and tools to a skill.

I continue to point out how vastly different the quality of wood was under a sharp tool versus a dull one, but that’s mostly because I didn’t think it mattered as much as it did. Again, your can see how my chisels fared (I never tried sharpening them over there) when just trying to create smooth, even surface. While it doesn’t show in the photo below, in addition to being a rough, ragged surface, it had swoops and valleys all over it. Under the finger, you can really feel the difference.


Final pieces

I’ll have to do a lot more before I’m anything but self-conscious about my efforts but I took some good steps and learned a few good things.

In the last couple of pictures, I’m showing close-ups that call out my need to work on symmetry, but also that I can get a fair line and a smooth face. Neither of these had any sanding on them and they look OK.  They also show the tentative hand of a rookie, but that’s what I am … so I guess I’m OK with that.



Well that’s it for today’s post. I’d love to say I’m sharing this as a way of sharing a skill or interest, but the truth is, I just need these practice pieces to be removed from my desk and tossed into the burn barrel for one of Suzy and my after-work grilling sessions this coming spring/summer/fall. Well, maybe there’s a bit of interest in sharing!

Thanks for dropping by!


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