Turning Tool Combos

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This article is from Issue 98 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Product pairs to expand your arsenal

So you bought a lathe and have discovered the joy of making pens. That’s great, but what more is there to do with your new machine? The world of turning awaits: Peppermills, vases, lidded boxes, bowls, and more are just a few revolutions away. But how to get there? With the vast array of chucks, measuring tools, and kits available, it’s hard to know which are necessities and which are merely nice to have. To help with those decisions, we’ve paired up some tools here along with the projects they make possible. With a few key purchases, you’ll soon be getting a lot more out of your lathe. 

Jacobs chuck and Forstner bits with extension

A drill chuck—also known as a Jacobs chuck—mounts in the lathe’s tailstock and holds drill bits. This allows you to bore perfectly centered holes in the ends of workpieces without removing them from the lathe. You can also mount a drill chuck in the headstock to hold small turnings such as drawer pulls and finials. In addition, it will hold a threaded mandrel for turning pens and bottle stoppers. With a capacity up to 1/2", this WoodRiver drill chuck will easily hold standard twist bits as well as Forstner bits for boring large flat-bottomed holes.

For deeper holes in turnings such as pepper mills and vases, adding a Forstner bit extension does the trick. Make sure the hole in the extension is sized to fit the shank of your Forstner bits. The 4" extension shown works well on smaller lathes; longer versions are available for use on larger lathes and deeper turnings.



Drilling on the lathe. For a safe and secure fit, make sure the tapered shank on your drill chuck matches the tapered holes in your lathe’s spindles. Most lathes use a #2 Morse taper. Run the lathe on low speed when drilling, retracting the bit often to clear chips and prevent overheating the bit.



Nothing to sneeze at. With a drill chuck and the appropriate bits and extensions, you’ll be set up to make pepper mills, salt shakers, tall vases, and other bored-out items. 

Long tool rest and wire burning kit

The tool rest that comes with most mini lathes is only about 4" long. Swapping that for a longer version makes work on longer projects much easier. Not only will you spend less time repositioning the tool rest, you’ll be able to make uninterrupted cuts on long curves, as shown. Check the post size of your current tool rest to be sure your new one fits your lathe’s banjo (most mini lathes use a 5/8" post). The 12" Teknatool rest I’m using here is part of the Nova Modular System, which lets you mix and match the tool rest with the appropriate diameter of post. 

A wire burning kit provides a quick, easy way to add dark accent lines to enhance plain-figured wood and/or simple shapes. While you can make your own burning wire, this kit from Easy Wood Tools is versatile because it includes three lengths each of three wire gauges along with two, easy-to-attach maple handles. Having handles is safer than holding a wire by hand, meaning the workpiece is the only thing getting a friction burn.



Smooth sweep. With a longer tool rest, long flowing cuts such as the one that forms the neck of this vase become much easier to control. 




Hotwiring. To make a dark accent line, first use the tip of a parting tool or skew chisel to make a small groove. Pull the taut wire against the groove with the lathe running. Friction will produce a scorch mark. For safety, remove the tool rest before burning, and never wrap the wire around the workpiece.









This bud’s for you. This cherry bud vase benefits from the eye-catching details created by wire burning, while using a longer tool rest made its smooth lines easier to turn.

Screw chuck and calipers

When it comes to holding work on your lathe, a screw chuck is ideal when the blank isn’t big enough to fit the screw holes on a faceplate, or when those screw holes would penetrate an important feature of the finished piece. The screw chuck from Precision Machine shown here requires a 5/16"-diameter hole drilled into the workpiece for a secure hold. Screw chucks thread onto the lathe’s spindle, so be sure to purchase one whose internal threads match those on your lathe’s spindle. Most mini lathes are threaded 1"-8tpi. 

Adding a set or two of calipers to your collection makes measuring diameters easier. This 8" set from Groz expands wide enough to measure most turnings, and their slim profile means they can measure even a shallow rabbet like the one cut on the box top shown here. Or use them to measure diameters when making a duplicate of a finished piece such as a chair spindle. 




A different way to mount. Using a screw chuck is as simple as drilling a hole in the back of your workpiece. Be sure not to drill deeper than the screw length. Then just remember to keep the shape high in the middle to avoid cutting into the hole.






A little off the top. For a perfectly fitted box lid, set the calipers to the diameter of the drilled opening, then use a parting tool to cut a shallow rabbet on the underside of the lid, checking the diameter often. Stop when the calipers just barely slip over the rabbet.



The perfect fit. I drilled a 21⁄4" hole in this laminated maple box blank before bandsawing the box to shape. I plugged the 5⁄16" screw-mounting hole on the underside of the lid after I finished turning. 

Turn the page

For inspiration, new ideas, and techniques, look online or turn to one of the many books available on the subject. What’s nice about books is that you can take them into the shop with you and have them open beside the lathe. Technique books, such as the one here by Richard Raffan will help you expand your skills. Project books such as Ellis Hein’s may help push you out of your comfort zone into more challenging endeavors. 




Read all about it. The great thing about turning is that “round” is just the beginning. Peruse turning books for projects, techniques, or designs that move you, then incorporate your own style based on what you have read. 

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