Froe Bonker

Family health problems have kept me away from woodworking and keeping up with my blog, but things seem to be quieting down so I snuck into the woodshop after work last night to fire up the lathe and make a froe ‘bonker’ (aka a turned mallet).  I have been doing practice turnings on and off since before Christmas so that my skills don’t get too rusty, but other than some Christmas gifts (which I forgot to photograph), I haven’t made anything useful for a while.

Since I am getting excited to read the forthcoming “Make a Joint Stool from a Tree” book from Alexander and Follansbee, I decided I need to make a mallet for whacking the end of froe (still to be acquired) for riving the cornucopia of red oak I have available to me.  I’ve done some riving with a small hatchet, but a froe makes more sense for the task.

So I walked out to my stash of oak, grabbed a couple promising branch cut-offs, did a little hatchet work to try to get the pieces a somewhat balanced, and then mounted one on the shopsmith and started turning.  Hip-hop turning as it turns out.  As in the end of the shopsmith started hopping in time to the revolving wood.  Well, I’ve had that happen before, and the easiest solution is to rough turn the piece as quick as possible.

Sorry, no before pictures, but the above two shots show the piece after it stopped doing the lathe hip-hop.  I continued with the rough turning, throwing moist red oak towards my back bench and the far wall.  It really was a blast getting back into the shop.  Here I’ve defined the basic handle end of the bonker, but as you can see I still have some bark on the working end.

I then focus on the working end to get that down to general thickness before doing any refining.  I used a diamond parting tool to define the thickness then switched back to the roughing gouge to take most of the material off.  At the head of the mallet, I used a larger detail gouge to begin the shaping of the head end (left most part in the photos).

Still a bit of bark near the handle but that came off quick enough. I used the same largish detail gouge for most of the handle turning, and often switched off the lathe to check how it felt in my hand.  Nope still a little too much.

I’ve mostly refined the handle to how I want it and just need to smooth out the transitions, so I focus back on the working end.  For shaping this part I try to taper the head so that with an imaginary line I can make a truncated cone from the top of the mallet head to the base of the handle.  I added a little decorative transition between the handle and head, but didn’t go too crazy–I’m hoping this will be the primered pickup truck of my shop.  Does the heavy lifting (or splitting), doesn’t look that great, but is dependable as a mule.

And basically done, I just needed to turn a concave top so the mallet stands on its head and part it off the lathe.  I’ll see down the road if I regret not turning away all the sapwood or not.  It might make a good ‘flat’ if it gets banged up enough.

And voila, a froe bonker from a red oak branch.  And the detritus produced.  I swept this up because moist red oak tends to get a little stinky and attracts mold and fungus.  I’ve almost filled a good sized trash barrel already with these shavings, so according to my lathe instructor only have about 3 more barrels to go before I feel comfortable with most turning.  Which sounds about right, as my beads have gotten better on my practice pieces, but still need some work.

Once I devour the Alexander-Follansbee book, I suspect I’ll be making a number of joint stools, some of which will likely become saw benches.

Now a few words about the shopsmith as a lathe.  Tedious would be the best way to describe it.  Most adjustments come from a set screw and an allen wrench , which makes for a pain in the posterior when you are turning.  The tool rest is on the short side and I often have to flip it from side to side in order to get to the ends of a work piece.  I can see this particular tool getting pushed to the side pretty soon as it makes turning less fun than it should be.  On the plus side it does have a decent throw and allows for long spindle turning and certainly has enough power to get the job done.  It is a bit on the runway model side of the weight scale and so does not handle out of balance pieces very easily.

I think my first true power tool purchase will probably be a decent lathe.  Followed by a bandsaw.  After that I don’t see much need save for a power planer, but even that I might hold off on until after I build a true work bench.  Or maybe I’ll just get a bandsaw and build a treadle or spring-pole lathe.  For the latter I am considering going down to North Carolina and taking a class with St. Roy.  It kind of depends how the health issues are going at the time.

Well, hopefully it won’t be too much more time before my next posting.  Someday I’ll get back to my previous projects that were put on the back burner (the tool chest, the acoustic guitar), though I might be detailing another Telecaster build before that happens as the online contest is coming up again starting in either March or April.