Use a lathe and a few common turning chisels to create custom handles for your doors and drawers.

Customizing small details, such as knobs, provides not only the satisfaction of having made all the project parts yourself, but also gives greater design latitude in choosing the perfect knob profile and wood species. Here, you'll learn to make knobs in three profiles. One knob mounts to its door, drawer, or lid via a tenon; the others attach with a screw. Let's get started.

End grain vs. face grain—what's the difference?


With any knob, you'll need to decide whether its cap will show end grain or face grain. You turn an end-grain knob with its grain running the length of the blank (inline with the lathe spindle). This results in the annual growth rings running across the cap in mostly parallel lines. That means it will soak up more stain and finish, making it darker than a face-grain knob. You can counter this effect by sanding to 400 grit and applying a light sealer coat of dewaxed shellac before staining or coating further.

A face-grain knob, turned with grain running perpendicular to the lathe spindle, doesn't soak up as much finish and darken. But, in the case of this red oak, more stain pigments will settle into the coarse grain, highlighting the arched grain pattern.

Classic mushroom cap with tenon

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This knob, commonly identified with Shaker-style furniture, has a tenon for gluing in place. Create a square blank slightly larger in width than the desired final diameter, and 34 " longer than the desired final length. For this 78 "-diameter knob, we made a 1×1" blank 2" long.

Install the blank in the chuck, set the lathe for 1,800 rpm, and turn a tenon (about 3⁄4" diameter and 3⁄8" long) on one end. Flip the blank end for end and chuck the tenon tightly in the jaws.
Turn the rest of the blank round to the final diameter of the cap.
Mark the key diameters that transition to smaller sizes.
Round the end of the blank to the first layout line to get a smooth cap.
Use a parting tool to turn the tenon to diameter between the stem and tenon layout lines. Match the diameter to a drill bit you have so you can drill a perfect-fitting hole in the drawer or door.
Turn the stem to a diameter about 1⁄16–1⁄8" long. Then cut a cove from the cap line toward the stem. Cut "downhill" (from large diameter to small).
Finalize the cove's shape with light cutting passes to blend with the stem. The cap line should be a crisp edge. Then part it off as shown in opening photo.


Make a screw chuck

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To turn a knob that mounts flush to the drawer or door using a screw, you must first create a screw chuck to hold the knob blank while turning. Start with a 2×2×2" blank of dense hardwood, such as hard maple.

Remount the blank by the tenon, reset the speed to 1,800 rpm, and turn the rest of the blank round. Use a parting tool to create a tenon 3⁄4" in diameter about 3⁄8" long.
Shape a large cove that blends into the tenon using the roughing gouge.
Flatten the end of the blank with a skew chisel.
Drill through the chuck blank a pilot hole sized to match the screw's shank.
Mark both edges of the chuck's no. 1 jaw. This will help you realign the blank in the next step.

Three-fillet screw-on knob

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This simple knob has a full bead and cove as well as three 116 "-wide fillets.

Turn the knob blank round, then mark the locations for each end of the bead. With a parting tool, cut equal-diameter fillets to the outside of each line.
Round the front of the knob with a 1⁄2" spindle gouge.
Mark the center of the bead with a pencil. Then use the 1⁄2" spindle gouge to shape each side of the bead to the fillet.
Turn the stem fillet to its final diameter using a parting tool; in this case, the same as the screw chuck (3⁄4").
Shape the cove between the two back fillets with the spindle gouge, cutting downhill from each side to meet at the low point in a smooth transition. Sand smooth when finished.

Large screw-on mushroom cap

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This relatively large knob measures 134 " in diameter, but the techniques differ depending on whether you're making an end-grain or face-grain knob.

You turn an end-grain knob in the same manner as the three-fillet knob, rounding the cap with a spindle gouge and then cutting a half-cove on the back side. Turn all end-grain knobs as if they were spindles, cutting downhill from large diameter to small.

But a face-grain knob requires a different approach. In this case, cut a 2×2" square blank 34 " thick, with the face grain running across one of the 2" dimensions. Drill a centered pilot hole 12 " deep for the mounting screw, and cut the blank round on the bandsaw. Then, follow the steps in these photos.

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With the blank mounted to the screw chuck, turn it to final diameter with the bowl gouge.
Lay out the location for the cap rim (1⁄4" from the front), and round the cap to this line. Cut from the center upward, scraping with the gouge's wing.
Create a half-cove that transitions smoothly from the back face, sized the same diameter as the screw chuck, to the cap rim. Cut with the gouge's wing in a scraping cut. Sand smooth when finished.