Tested Tips for turners

Love spending hours at the lathe spinning raw wood into beautiful projects? Here are a few reader submitted tricks to help you turn even better.

  • Wrenches make quick, accurate calipers

    Rather than constantly readjust my calipers when making small spindle turnings, I keep a set of open-ended wrenches at my lathe. The jaws of the wrenches fit into most spots and save me from resetting my calipers, particularly when I do repetitive spindle work.
    —Martin Feldman, Amherst, N.Y.

  • Flip your spindles for sanding

    Sanding a spindle in the opposite direction that it was turned gives you a smoother finish. But because my lathe doesn't run in reverse, I had to come up with another solution.

    I made a small plywood disc with a 18 " hole in its center. Next, I cut two saw kerfs at right angles to each other across the face of the disc. I applied adhesive-backed cork or sandpaper to the other side of the disc to give the disc a better "grip" on the end of the spindle. To use the disc, I flip a spindle end-for-end and insert the disc between my lathe's drive center and the spindle. Then, I sand the spindle smooth.
    --John Saggio, New York, N.Y.

  • Carpet pad helps shape bowl bottoms

    Cutting the relief in the bottom of a turned bowl is easy now that I've developed a padded faceplate. I mounted a large 34 " plywood disc to a standard lathe faceplate. Then, using contact cement, I glued a piece of foam carpet pad to the front side of the plywood disc.

    Starting about 2" from the center, I marked concentric circles at 1" intervals using a felt-tip marker, as shown in the inset drawing. The circles allow me to center bowls of different diameters on the foam-covered face of the plywood disc.

    To mount a bowl, I use a dab of hotmelt glue to secure a short length of 1" dowel to the bottom of the bowl. The tailstock center fits against the dowel and holds the bowl firmly against the foam-covered disc. To complete the recess, I carefully remove the stock under the dowel, remove the piece from the lathe, and trim off the remainder with a sharp chisel.
    --Robert Shea, Santa Maria, Calif.

  • Bandsaw small turning squares safely

    Chamfering the edges of a turning square to get an octagon for ease in turning can prove dangerous on any power saw. This bandsaw jig supports the stock and keeps your fingers away from the blade. The dimensions for the carrier, as shown top right, are sized for a piece of 34 "-square stock, but you can modify the dimensions to suit almost any size of turning square.

    To build the carrier, cut the base and glue and screw the right-angle V-blocks to it where shown. Place the carrier jig on the bandsaw table, with the turning square sitting in the V-blocks. Position the fence and carrier, so the horizontal distance from the kerf to the apex of the V-blocks equals half the diameter of the turning-square octagon. Hold the stock in place with a small piece of scrapwood and push the turning square and carrier through the blade as shown. Cut along the length of the carrier base only far enough to trim the stock. Then, rotate the turning square and repeat the bandsawing until you've chamfered all four corners.
    --Michael Locke, Huntington Beach, Calif.

  • Get a good grip on split turnings

    When split-turning two pieces of wood for applied decorations, such as the half-pillars that might go on the front of a cabinet or clock case, I mount stock on the lathe between two discs of laminated 34 " plywood, as show. The discs have square cutouts sized to fit the turning blank. This eliminates having to glue or tape the pieces together, and also prevents splitting.
    --Mel Einer, Pewaukee, Wis.

  • Mounting blocks hold chair spindles in lathe

    When I refinished some spindle-backed chairs, I had a tough time sanding the intricate spindles. I tried mounting them in a lathe, but the tenons were too small for the drive center to grip. To solve the problem, I cut two 2x2x2" scrapwood blocks and drilled a centered hole in one end of each to match the tenon. I fit the blocks onto the spindle ends, and then put the assembly into the lathe. I sanded the spindles smooth in no time.
    --Michael Hall, Bedford, Ind.

  • Hose clamp marks lathe tool-rest position

    When you rotate your lathe's tool rest to cut angles and tapers, it's easy to lose track of the original elevation. And finding that exact spot again can try your patience. Slip a hose clamp from the hardware store onto the shaft of the tool rest in the position you want to return to and tighten it down as show. Then, go ahead and move the tool rest to cut your tapers and angles. When you're ready to return to the original spot, the hose clamp will keep the tool rest at the proper level.
    --William D. Phillips, Punxsutawney, Pa.

  • Tool tray keeps lathe tools close at hand

    Lathe tools never seemed to be where I needed them-near my lathe. But now I keep track of them in a tray I fashioned from plastic pipe, foam tape, and a few scraps of wood. For my five-tool holder, I cut three lengths of PVC plastic pipe-first to the length of my tools, then in half lengthwise-on the bandsaw. I attached them as shown to a plywood base. To protect the sharp edges of the tools, I sandwiched a length of foam tape between the PVC and the tool stop. A pair of cleats attached to the bottom of the tray allows the tray to straddle my lathe's bed without sliding off.
    --Hugo A. Poell, Salina, Kan.

  • Tall turner takes his work to a new level

    Because I'm taller than the average guy, some stationary tools are uncomfortable for me to work at. I spent a lot of time stooping at the lathe until I found a way to make it less of a pain.

    I unbolted the lathe from its floor stand and built an open-front box to fit between the lathe and the stand as shown. Holes drilled through the box match the mounting holes in the tool and stand. I simply used longer bolts to fasten together the three parts. Besides adding about 4" to the tool's height, I gained a handy storage area for my lathe tools.

    --John Hetherington, Des Moines, Iowa

  • Dad comes to the rescue with pen-drilling jig

    When a buddy and I were commissioned to make 150 wooden pens, we knew we needed an efficient way to bore the blanks. The handscrew-on-the-drill-press method just wasn't going to cut it. Thankfully, my dad came up with the jig shown.

    He laminated pieces of plywood to make the 112 "-thick stopblocks, attached oak faces to them to prevent splintering, then glued and screwed them perpendicular to the plywood base and each other. He mounted a toggle clamp where shown, and I added a hardboard pad to reduce chip-out on the blanks.

    Using the jig couldn't be simpler: I mark the center of a pen blank and clamp it in the jig. Then, I position the jig so that the drill bit hits the center mark and clamp it in place. I drill the hole, flip the toggle, pop in a new blank, and clamp. As long as my blank size doesn't change, I never need to mark another center hole.
    --Tim Schubach, Miamisburg, Ohio

  • White backdrop helps turnings stand out

    Some home shops are not the clean, well-lit places they could be. And on projects with intricate shapes, like the profile of a turning, a clear view of the workpiece may ultimately make the difference between success or failure.

    If the area behind your lathe is dark and dingy, you can improve the view of your turnings. Place a piece of white paper or flexible art board behind the workpiece. Hold the bottom of the paper to the lathe with a pair of magnets as shown and prop the top against the wall. The contrast between the white paper and the wood will give you a crisp silhouette for clearly judging the progress of your work.

    --Michael Locke, Huntington Beach, Calif.

  • Padded tray saves lathe tools

    To keep my lathe chisels safe from edge-dulling bumps against the ways and other metal parts of my lathe, I built this padded tray. I cut the cleat on the bottom to fit into the lathe bed channel, then attached magnets to help hold the tray in place. I lined the tray with thin, nonskid foam, commonly used as shelf-liner material in recreational vehicles. Double-faced tape holds the foam to the tray. The tray also helps keep my lathe tools from being buried under an avalanche of wood chips that fall beneath the turning.
    --Robert H. Fuhrman, Sterling Heights, Mich.

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