Shop Made Collet Helps You Get a Grip

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If you’re looking for a fast, easy way to secure workpieces in your lathe when turning bottle stoppers or other dowel-based projects, look no further than this simple shop-made solution.

I read with interest in the March issue the article on turned bottle stoppers, Project No. 7, by A.J. Hamler. Turning bottle stoppers can be both fun and gratifying, whether done for pleasure or profit. However, it can also be frustrating and sometimes even dangerous. 

My first experience with turning stoppers was to load a blank between centers, turn the profile, and then attempt to drill a hole squarely in one end for a dowel that would hold a cork. Unless the end result is to intentionally create a stopper that tilts or sits off-center on the bottle, this is not a preferred method.

So I bought a standard metal chuck for my lathe, drilled the dowel holes in the blanks, glued 3/8" dowels in the blanks and then used the chuck and the tailstock to hold the blank while turning. This worked fine as far as holding the blank steady goes, but once the turning was finished I discovered the chuck jaws had bitten into the dowel, deforming it beyond recognition and making it impossible to glue a cork to the maimed surface. In Project No. 7, A.J. got around this problem by using a longer dowel and cutting off the damaged portion.

However, during the period of trial and error on subsequent stoppers, I came up with a better way to hold the dowels attached to my turning blanks. My solution was to turn a wooden a chuck sized to hold stopper dowels. This would be a four-jaw chuck – or, more correctly, a collet – that could be used with or without the lathe’s tailstock. I didn’t make any detailed drawings of my concept; I just decided what it should look like, how it should perform, and got down to business using what scrap material I had on hand that would work well.

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