Fun with Fridge Magnets

Have a micro-blast turning precious scrap into useful hangers-on 

It’s the rare woodworking endeavor that’s low-cost, no-risk, and that offers the reward of honing your skills while producing nice-looking, useful items. Making refrigerator magnets checks all those boxes. It doesn’t involve any special commercial equipment—just regular turning tools, a 4-jaw chuck, and a lathe-mounted drill chuck. As for materials, this is the perfect opportunity to use those scraps of precious wood that you can’t bring yourself to throw away. There’s no real risk involved because even if you ruin a piece, it’s just a tiny bit of wood. This dispensability gives you the freedom to practice cutting coves, beads, fair curves, and other basic shapes. All in all, it’s great fun that yields li’l surprises you can stick on friends’ fridges when they’re not looking.

The system I’ve developed here focuses on creativity and efficiency using commonly available 3/4" stock and 3/8"-diameter rare-earth magnets. The finished pieces are small enough that they don’t obscure photos, yet strong enough to hold postcards and multiple pieces of paper. The key to quick production is a simple shop-made screw chuck and double-faced tape, which together securely hold a small blank for shaping, sanding, and finishing a piece, typically in 20 minutes or so. So if you’re looking for some productive fun and perhaps a safe way to teach a youngster at the lathe, take a turn for the refrigerator!

Order of Work

  • Make screw chuck
  • Prepare blanks
  • Shape, sand, & finish

Make the screw chuck

Mount a 4-5"-long maple (or other dense hardwood) blank in a 4-jaw chuck and turn a cylinder with a tenon as shown. I work at about 1800 rpm when turning the chuck and magnet blank, using a roughing gouge and parting tool. Reverse the blank in the chuck, and part it off to 3" long (including the previously turned tenon). Then true the end, and turn another tenon. Bore the pilot hole, reverse the blank, and drill the counterbore in the other end. Remove the piece and drive in a #8 × 2-1/2" woodworking screw. You now have a wooden screw chuck with a tip that projects about 3/4", which is perfect for the job.

Turn a cylinder with a tenon. Turn most of a 4-5"-long blank to a 2"-dia. cylinder, then shape a 17⁄8"-dia. × 3⁄8"-long tenon 
on the end. When the blank is reversed for the next step, the tenon shoulders will register against the chuck’s jaws to ensure that the piece runs true. 
True the end. After reversing the blank in your 4-jaw chuck, part off the square end, leaving the piece 3" long. Then use a fingernail spindle gouge to true the end of the blank for good contact with the workpieces later. Afterward, turn another 17⁄8"-dia. × 3⁄8"-long tenon on the end. (The tenon shoulders will make the blank run true when drilling the counterbore.)
Drill the screw pilot hole. Use a lathe-mounted drill chuck to bore a 5⁄32" hole 2" deep into the blank to serve as a pilot hole for a #8 screw. 
Drill the counterbore. Reverse the blank for the third and final time and drill a 3⁄8" hole 11⁄4" deep into the blank to create a counterbore for a #8 × 21⁄2" woodworking screw. 

Prepare your blanks

To make your blanks, crosscut 3/4 × 3/4" strips into 2" lengths, using a stop block to ensure consistency. (See sidebar below, right). Adhere double-faced tape to one end of each block, trimming off the excess and leaving the backer on for the moment. Next, use your table saw to make a fence for your drill press table, tilting the blade to 45°, and crosscutting a 1/2"-deep V-notch at the center. Using a 3/8" brad-point bit, drill a mortise in the end of each blank as shown. Follow up by drilling a 3/8"-deep pilot hole for a #8 screw in each blank.

Quick tape trimming. For efficiency, align multiple blanks along one edge of a strip of double-faced tape, and then slice off the excess. Afterward, slice between the blanks to separate them. Then press the tape firmly down against each blank with your finger.

Safe Short Cuts

Working with small pieces requires an extra measure of safety for your fingers. For crosscutting these fridge magnet body blanks to a consistent length, a great approach is to set up a stop block on a table saw sled. Use a short stick as a hold-down when making the cut. For more on sawing small parts, visit, and click on “onlineEXTRAS.”

Drill the magnet mortise. Register a blank in the fence’s V-notch and adjust the fence to center the blank under a 3⁄8"-dia. brad-point. Drill to a depth that’s just a hair less than the magnet’s thickness. As soon as the bit breaks through the tape, stop and clear its tip before continuing.
Drill the pilot. Again registering a blank in the fence’s V-notch, drill a 1⁄8"-dia. × 3⁄8"-deep hole into the bottom of the mortise.

Spin some fun

Remove the tape backer from one blank, thread it onto your screw chuck, and bring a live tailstock center into play. Begin by turning the chuck to a cone shape, which provides tool access to the magnet body blank. The cone shape also allows for chuck adjustment, as noted in the box below. Turn the magnet body blank to a cylinder using a bowl gouge, then play with profiling. (See right and p. 22 for inspiration.) I mostly use a fingernail spindle gouge for general shaping and a skew and/or parting tool for detailing. Leave a thin connection at the top until you’re done with the follow-up sanding. Then part off the excess and finesse the top. Apply a friction polish (see p. 62), dismount the piece, and then drag the bottom across fine sandpaper to remove any tape residue. Finally, use CA glue or epoxy to install a magnet in the mortise.

Screw-and-tape mounting. After removing the tape backer, thread the blank onto the screw chuck just until it seats. Don’t overtighten it, which risks stripping the end-grain pilot hole. Then reinforce the set-up with a live tailstock center.
Profile play. Have fun playing with the shape of the profile while the tailstock support is in place. Leave just enough of a connection at the top end to provide sufficient resistance for the sanding pressure that follows. 

Finesse the top. After sanding, trim away the waste, retract the tailstock, and then finish shaping the top. A small gouge usually works well for this. A sharp tool and a light touch ensure clean work. Then sand the spot if necessary, and apply finish to the piece.


To ensure sufficient tape area after first-time use of the chuck, avoid reducing its end to more than about 11⁄16" in diameter. If the tape surface gets too small to hold pieces, simply retract the screw tip and shorten the conical chuck to widen the surface. Then reset the screw tip to project again.

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