Day 1, Basic Woodturning

So for anyone who has turned before, I’m sure this is all old hat, but it sure was a fun first day woodturning. Our instructor was Corey Anderson, president of the Central CT Woodturners Guild. We started with basic tool safety and then jumped right in to turning with the roughing gouge. We used a piece of poplar for our first exercises, and started with basic center finding, lathe operation, and initial roughing/rounding of the square stock. I was on a Jet mini-lathe on top of the bench and it was at a perfect height for me.
After rounding the stock, we moved on to another use for the roughing gouge to clean up the cut and smooth it out. He also showed us the skew for even more smoothing. Despite cautions that it was a difficult tool to use, I enjoyed using the skew throughout the night, at least for this type of smoothing cut.

Our first spindle element was learning how to make a bead using a 3/8″ spindle gouge. Wow, not the easiest motion to get down and frankly I had the hardest time with getting this correct. Comparatively the cove using the same gouge was a lot easier to get looking right. Our final element with spindle turnings was the fillet with the diamond parting tool.
After our practice with the poplar piece we moved on to our first project, a maple carving mallet. None of these billets seemed to be square so it was good practice to get the piece roughed in and balanced before moving on to the actual layout. The layout of the mallet consisted of six basic transition areas–1) the headstock waste piece, 2) the mallet head, 3) the base of the mallet area, 4) top of the handle, 5) bottom of the handle, and 6) tailstock waste area. Between 3 & 4 I planned a decorative element to set off the handle, and another between the end of the handle and the end of the mallet.

We used the parting tool to define these elements–for the handle, I used an existing mallet and a set of calipers with the parting tool. I first defined roughly the middle of the handle, then the ends. Switching to the roughing gouge, I roughed in the handle, making sure to avoid taking any little bites out of the end of the handle area. Once satisfied with the basic handle shape, and shutting of the lathe a few times to test with my own hand, I then smoothed out the handle area with the skew gouge.

The next element to get correct was the striking area of the mallet. Since this is meant to be a mallet for hitting chisels, it helps to have a bit of taper from the top to the base of the striking area. As with other elements, I started with the roughing gouge and got the basic taper correct. Here it helped to keep the piece spinning and look at it from a few different angles, and also stop the lathe and get a sense of the proportion compared to the planned length. I finished it off with the skew.

Now comes the fun part, getting the decorative elements defined. For the area between the striking part of the mallet and the handle, I planned a cove and bead, with a bead at the base of the handle. My beads turned out a little less ‘bead’ like and more either offset beads or more triangular beads. I sense practice, lots of practice in my future.

Our instructor showed us a few more decorative elements which are basically small grooves, which are then friction burned to show up as black lines on the piece. He showed us two basic ways to create these little grooves, either using the skew on edge or using the spindle gouge. I elected to use the skew, followed by an old guitar string (hey, a reason to keep my old strings) between two little holders to provide the friction burn. He suggested we should use an odd number and not more than 11, as apparently the human brain will see a lot of these lines and decide it needs to count them. Of course this kind of makes the purpose of the grooves as accent elements mute.

A bit of sanding on the handle and decorative elements and this piece was ready to be cut away from the waste piece at the headstock. First we put a little concavity at the head so that the mallet would sit flat on a bench. Then using the spindle gouge, we carefully cut down the headstock waste and the mallet comes off the lather. A little backsaw work on the tailstock area, and some sanding of the nubbins at head and tail end, and this first turning is finished. Weee!

Now since it will likely be used to bang things in controlled anger, there isn’t much purpose in putting an actual finish on the mallet. I suppose if it was going to decorate a Cracker Barrel someplace, you might.

I’m pretty happy with how this turned out. It has a nice feel to it and seems quite well balanced. My beads will need some practice, but frankly I think I’ve caught the wood turning bug. One of the big pluses in my mind is the availability of raw material–we are literally surrounded by forest here in Connecticut, and green wood turning seems like an inexpensive way to make some beautiful and functional pieces. Now if I can get into a Peter Follansbee class (and buy his forthcoming book) I could also do some green furniture woodworking.

Tomorrow is sharpening and bowl turning, so that should also be fun. I can see a few Christmas presents coming out of this class or the practice after it.

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1 Comment

  1. Al (Thomas)

     /  December 11, 2011

    Hey Joe – see I told you it is like going over to the dark side. 🙂 I have to agree with you it really is fun. Your work on the mallet turned our quite nicely for a first project! Green wood turning is a whole other class. When it’s green – turn it over sized, put it away to dry slowly for a few months and then once it’s dry come back and finish it up. I got the bug too and purchased a Jet mini about 18 months ago. I look forward to seeing yrou bowl tomorrow!
    Tell Corey hello from Al in in last class.
    Have fun.


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