Making it yourself 

 woodturning experiences 

Still under construction

When my Fiancée ran off with my best friend (possibly the best thing to happen to me, good riddance to bad rubbish) I was left with a lot of time on my hands and as I was no longer paying for her to go through university I had some money as well. So I decided to take up a hobby I had always wanted to get back to, turning wood on a lathe. As 15th century people used a lot of turned wooden items this also fitted in with my historical interest. 

Where do you start ? well it is not as difficult as you imagine as there are clubs and centres all over the UK where you can learn this skill. and that is what I did, I went along to a club and tried my hand. The first thing I made was a new rammer head for our cannon, quickly followed by a new powder spoon so in two visits to the club I had two useful items, on the third night I made a plate out of beech..

The basic turning of wood is not difficult and anyone can learn to produce useful items. Plates are easy to produce and usable by almost every re-enactor. So don't be put off by thinking its a skill that takes forever to master, or "it's too difficult for me" as you can easily do it yourself. I have included links to the Wood turners workshop where Brian Clifford puts things far better than I can.

First steps Making plates Making bowls Making boxes
Baseball bat a 15th c club !! Making goblets Knife handles My own lathe
Introduction to wood turning A gallery of my work Safety Considerations

First steps

Okay so there you are a stranger in a strange land with a bewildering array of toys laid out before you. Well don't panic because the first tool you will get to use will be a roughing out gouge. This is a gouge that is used to turn square sections or uneven bits of wood into smooth cylindrical forms ready for the shaping process to begin.   

Blade will be around ¾ Inch across with a seven inch long blade and a 12 Inch handle

 So there you are with this huge (or so you think now) chisel and they introduce you to your lathe. you will have an evil four prong device at one end and a sharp spike at the other and in the middle of these and being held firmly by them is the piece of wood they want you to attack with the chisel. 

No really it's not that bad. They will show you the lathe and how to mount your wood between the drive spindle (evil four prong device) and the live centre (sharp spike) they will show you how to position the rest and how to set the speed of the lathe and check that everything is tightened and safe. 

Now the instructor takes the roughing out gouge and shows you how to hold it and how to use it to start cutting the wooden block into a cylinder. Then it's your turn. And with the instructor watching on and giving pointers and advice you start to cut the wood. After a few minutes you start to relax and wonder why you were so nervous as the wood chips fly off in all directions. You will be shown how to use the gouge to cut both ways and before you know it you have a smooth (ish) wooden cylinder in front of you.

 

Okay so now what are we going to make from this piece of wood ? Well in my case it was to be a new rammer for the cannon so it was time to start with a new tool the bowl gouge or a spindle gouge. These are used to shape the wood and form the basis for most turning projects. For wood turned along the grain between the centres the spindle gouge is the correct tool to use.

Bowl gouge Blade will be around ½ Inch across with a twelve inch long blade and a 14 Inch handle
Spindle gouge Blade will be around ½ Inch across with a six inch long blade and a 12 Inch handle

So with new tool in hand its over to the bench and a pad of paper and pencil to roughly draw ( I am no artist) what I wish to make. Also another tool is now introduced, a calliper to ensure that the finished piece is the size I require. Now back to the lathe and some instruction on cutting speeds and then on the use of the spindle gouge. I was shown how to present the tool to the work, lift the handle to start the cut and to turn the gouge in the direction I wished to cut. And then I was doing it with my instructor watching on and giving pointers and advice. It is an easy tool to use and I soon learned how to achieve the cut I required. I shaped the head of the rammer, reduced the handle end to the required thickness and then cut down a shallow slope from the head to the handle. and that was it I had the shape. Now it is time to finish the piece. As you get better your tool finish on the wood will improve. But until then its sanding. I was shown how to sand and prepare the wood, how to polish it with its own shavings and then how to seal it with melting wax. This involves running the lathe and rubbing wax onto the work, the wax and the work get hot so the wax melts. Then you hold a ball of cloth against the spinning work and it re-melts the wax and polishes the work.

So there you have it the first steps in turning and yes it was that easy and it will be for you. So don't sit there thinking I wish I could afford that set of wooden plates for next season, go and make them !!

Most training courses start at two days and progress to five days. a two day course should be plenty to get you started.

Making plates

So onto the making of plates. Wooden plates are an item used everywhere and are a good starting place for someone learning to turn wood. Beech and Ash are good starting woods for this purpose as is Sycamore, as they are all easy to work. I like Oak plates but the wood is much harder and not really for someone just starting.

There are some new toys required for this project, the first being a face plate. This is a flat plate with screw holes in to attach the wood you wish to work and a threaded shaft to attach it to the lathe. The face of the plate you are going to make goes against the face plate so that you can remove the screw holes. Second new toy is a scroll chuck with a set of gripper jaws and this will hold the plate after you have prepared it on the lathe using the face plate. There are new tools too but I will introduce those as we progress.

So first we find the side of the piece of wood we want to be the eating surface, looking at the rough should help give you an idea of what the grain will look like when the piece is finished. Then we find the centre of the piece of wood we are going to use and mark it with a pencil. Next we place the faceplate on the work, line up the centre and screw it to the wood (make sure the screws don't go in too far or you will not be able to lose the holes, or even worse you will hit them with your chisel). Now we mount the work onto the lathe and check it is tight and that it will rotate freely without hitting any part of the lathe. Position the rest so that  it is parallel with what will be the edge of the plate and the height just under the centre line of the work. Bring the tail stock forward with a live centre in place and wind the centre into contact with the work to help support it. Now check that everything is tightened up and we are ready to begin.

If you are starting with a square piece of wood then its time for a roughing gouge but If you have used a band saw , jig saw to cut a disc from the wood called a blank or you have purchased a prepared blank you would use a bowl gouge to start. I think it is worth cutting the blank first, as it saves a lot of time and makes life a lot easier ( for large pieces I use a chainsaw to roughly shape the blank). 

So with the gouge trim the sides of the work till it cuts cleanly and you have no ghost on the work ( when the wood is spinning, if you look at the top edge you will see a ghost outline it the work is not turning true). Then having stopped the lathe. re-position the rest to be parallel with the face of the work, and return the tail stock to the end of the lathe out of the way. Now we will do two things, we will shape the underside of the plate and form the spigot for the scroll chuck to grip. First thing to do is to use a bowl gouge on the face of the work to level it off and prepare it for shaping. Once the surface is flat and there is no "chattering" from the gouge you are ready to begin shaping the back of the plate. First step is to mark where the spigot is going to be so you can cut it to the right size. So measure the scroll chuck jaws and then carefully mark the area that is to be left (mine requires a minimum of 46mm diameter). Now cut just oversize of the pencil mark into the work using a parting chisel and cut about 10mm deep. This separates out your spigot from the wood you wish to shape.

Parting chisel Blade will be around ⅛ Inch thick with a 4 to 5 inch long blade and an 8 Inch handle

Now that we have marked out our spigot cut away the material either side of the spigot so that the bottom of the plate is now level with the cut from the paring chisel. Now we can see the area available to us to make into a plate. Using a bowl gouge and starting from near the edge of the work and working outwards start to cut the underside of our plate to the required shape. When you are close to the required shape you may find you can see lines in the plate left by the gouge. This is mostly caused by not carrying the cut evenly across the surface of the work. A good way for a beginner to remove these lines is using another tool the scraper.

Round scraper Blade will be around ¾ Inch wide with a 6 inch long blade and a 12 Inch handle

Scrapers require a slower speed than gouges and chisels so reduce the speed of the lathe. Using this tool you will be able to finish the shape of the plate and if you can carry the cut of the tool from the centre out to the edge you should leave no lines. When you are happy with the shape of your plate its sanding and polishing time, but do not sand or polish the spigot. N.B. Scrapers tend to leave a lot of broken grain on all but the hardest woods so therefore more sanding will be required.

Now remove the faceplate from the lathe and then remove the faceplate from the work. Now fit the scroll chuck to the lathe and place the spigot into it and tighten the chuck. Now bring the tail stock and live centre back into play as you did earlier just to support the work when you first start up. If the plate does not spin true (unlikely) stop the lathe and release the spigot by loosening the chuck, turn the work in the jaws and retighten the chuck. If it still does not spin true then dress the edge with a bowl gouge until there is no ghost. Now use your bowl gouge to face of the work ready for the shaping. 

The trick now is to shape the inside either to follow the contours of the plate, or to do something completely different and end up with a plate you can eat off. So remove the tail stock and remove it to its out of the way home on the end of the lathe, and place your rest parallel to the face you wish to cut as before. Now using the bowl gouge shape the plate as required, then sand and polish with wax.

Now comes the fun part !!

On the back of your plate you now have a spigot you don't need. The options for getting rid of it are, sand it off, cut it off with a band saw, or the preferred way is to cut it off with a parting chisel. To do this loosen the chuck and pull the work out by around 4mm and retighten the chuck. Now you can see the spigot place the rest at 90 degrees to the face of the plate and using the parting tool cut into the spigot as close the the plate as you can going in about 5mm. then cut further down towards the chuck ½mm to open out the slot. Now once again as close to the plate as you can cut further into the spigot. Keep repeating this process till you have around 20mm of spigot left. Now using the chisel with one hand and supporting the plate with the other ( when the spigot is cut it will be floating free in space, till gravity take effect ! ) cut into the spigot and cut the plate off.

Your plate now needs just a little sanding of the area where the spigot was, a lick of wax and your done.

Now admire your handiwork and enjoy it.

 

The other way to remove the spigot is to use a set of button or Cole jaws in your chuck to grip the edge of your plate. then you can use your bowl gouge to remove the spigot and finish as normal.

N.B. The lathe should be set to its slowest speed before you start work and when you finish a piece it's a good idea to turn the speed down before you turn the lathe off.                                                                                                            Back to top

Making bowls

So onto the making of bowls. Wooden bowls are an item used everywhere and are a good second project for someone learning to turn wood. Beech and Ash are good starting woods for this purpose as is Sycamore, as they are all easy to work. Oak, walnut and cherry make great bowls but the woods are much harder to work well and not really for someone just starting.

 

This starts the same way as the plates, with a face plate. So look at the piece of wood and decide which way will be up and screw the face plate to it. It is a good idea at this stage to do a rough sketch of the shape you want to achieve. So with the bowl gouge trim the sides of the work till it cuts cleanly and you have no ghost on the work ( when the wood is spinning, if you look at the top edge you will see a ghost outline it the work is not turning true). Then having stopped the lathe. re-position the rest to be parallel with the face of the work. Now we will do two things, we will shape the underside of the bowl and form the spigot for the scroll chuck to grip. First thing to do is to use a bowl gouge on the face of the work to level it off and prepare it for shaping. Once the surface is flat and there is no "chattering" from the gouge you are ready to begin shaping the back of the bowl. First step is to mark where the spigot is going to be so you can cut it to the right size. So measure the scroll chuck jaws and then carefully mark the area that is to be left (mine requires a minimum of 46mm diameter). Now cut just oversize of the pencil mark into the work using a parting chisel and cut about 10mm deep. This separates out your spigot from the wood you wish to shape. 10mm should do for a small bowl but for larger pieces you may need a longer spigot and even a larger set of jaws on your scroll chuck, if in doubt seek advice.

 

Now that we have marked out our spigot cut away the material either side of the spigot so that the bottom of the bowl is now level with the cut from the paring chisel. Now we can see the area available to us to make into a bowl. Using a bowl gouge and starting from near the edge of the work and working outwards start to cut the underside of our bowl to the required shape. When you are close to the required shape you may find you can see lines in the bowl left by the gouge. This is mostly caused by not carrying the cut evenly across the surface of the work. If these lines are present and you can not remove them with the bowl gouge then use the scraper. When you are happy with the shape of your bowl its sanding and polishing time, but do not sand or polish the spigot.

 

Now just as with the plate we will remove the face plate and clamp the work into the scroll chuck ready to hollow out our bowl. As before use the live centre mounted into the tail stock to steady the work when we first start up. Once you are happy that the work is spinning true and you are ready to start hollowing remove the tail stock. Place the tool rest parallel to the work and its time for a new tool the bedan.

Bedan chisel Blade will be around 10mm wide with a 6 inch long blade and a 12 Inch handle

 The Bedan chisel is ideal for plunging into the bowl to quickly remove the inner material before shaping the inside with a bowl gouge to use this tool place it on the rest just below and just to one side of centre and then push the tool into the work, cut into about 5mm then take another cut by moving the chisel outwards half the chisel width so now when you push it in only half the blade will be cutting.

Having removed most of the wood from the inside its time to use the bowl gouge to shape the inside of the bowl. Its nice to try and follow the outside contours of the bowl on the inside. But do not try to make the bowl to thin at this stage. That requires a lot of practise and should be left for later projects. This method is great for starting out but after you have made a few bowls you will not need to use the bedan and will make all the internal cuts with the bowl gouge.

Once the shape is nearly complete and if you can not get the desired finish with the gouge use a round scraper to finish the shape and then its back to the finishing and polishing.

This bowl would be parted off the spigot just like the plate. And that's it you now have your bowl ready to use. 

I finish my medieval work by polishing the wood with its own shavings and then spinning the lathe really quickly I press pure bees wax onto the wood till there is a good coating. Then I use a piece of linen to press against the turning wood to melt the wax and polish the wood. I find this works quite well and it smells great. 

So that's two easy projects you can do just as I did and if you can master bowls then most wood turning will be no problem as the principles you will learn will be used on everything from lace bobbins to goblets.

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