||off switch. I’m exaggerating here, of
course, but only a little.
I envy craftsmen who can turn a complicated
spindle with nothing but a
skew and leave behind surfaces that
need only the lightest sanding.
David Wright, a Windsor chairmaker
from Berea, Ky., is such a
turner, and I have on my desk a baluster
leg he turned one day when I
visited his shop maybe 10 years ago. I
watched him turn the leg using nothing
but a roughing gouge, the tip
of which he had reground so that it
could also be used as a skew. He never
touched that leg with anything else,
and the leg’s surface is almost smooth
enough to finish.
My turning kit is very simple. For
these posts, I used only three tools: a
11/8" roughing gouge, a 3/8" fingernail
gouge and a 11/8" skew (Fig. 4).
When I sharpen my lathe tools,
I’m very careful to grind them so
there’s only one bevel, not a series of
little bevels. This means that my final
passes over the wheel must dress the
entire width of the bevel. The reason
for this single bevel will become clear
in a moment.
Some turners – primarily
turners – scrape out their shapes, and
although it’s possible to scrape out
spindle shapes, it’s slow work that
often leaves behind a coarse surface with lots
||of endgrain tearout requiring
a lot of sanding.
Other turners cut. I’m one of those
The most effective cutting is done
with the bevel laid down on the work.
If you haven’t tried this, experiment
with the technique. With the tool
firmly situated on your rest, move it
toward the spinning work with the
handle well down so that the cutting
edge of the tool can’t come anywhere
near the work. Then when the heel of
the bevel has engaged the work, slowly
raise the handle until the tool begins
to cut without digging in. (This cutting
technique is the reason for the
single bevel grind; with many tiny
bevels on the ends of your tools, it’s
difficult to rest any one of them on the
spinning work.) That’s the key point.
If you turn with the bevel of your tool
laying on the work, it is impossible
for the work to grab the tool and with
it whack the tool rest and dig a big
gouge out of your work. Fig. 5 illustrates
There is an exception
to this, of
course. If you bring the tool into the
work so that a part of the tool that is
not supported by the rest comes in
contact with the work, the work will
grab the tool, whack the rest, and dig
a big gouge out of your work. For
example, if I allow the tip of either
of my gouge’s sidewalls to come into
contact with the work (holding the
gouge so that the flute is facing the ceiling as I’m doing in Fig.
work will slam that sidewall to
and dig a chunk of material from the
work. I can use the gouge’s sidewalls
to cut, but only when I’ve rotated the
gouge so that the sidewall I intend to
use is supported by the tool rest.
When I’m turning long, thin blanks –
like chair posts – I always convert the
square blanks into octagons with a
bandsaw jig I designed for this purpose.
I do this because long, thin
spindles tend to whip in the lathe,
complicating the process of rough turning
those chair posts. These bed
posts, however, are so beefy that no
whipping will occur. I therefore dispensed
with the octagon maker.
Because these turning blanks are
quite large, set your lathe on its slowest
speed. Carefully mount the blank
in your lathe, making sure that the
spurs on the drive center are engaged
with the endgrain of the blank. Turn
the blank by hand to ensure that both
centers are well engaged. Then, before
you’ve brought the tool rest into place,
turn on the lathe while standing off
to one side out of the danger zone. In
most cases, such caution is unnecessary,
but if you happen to mount a
blank with a hidden defect – something
like wind shakes, for instance
– the blank could come apart. I’ve
never had it happen, but I respect the
potential for danger and approach large turning blanks very carefully.