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Homemade long tool rest

A homemade long tool rest can be a useful accessory. It’s a great help if the tool rest is longer than the spindle you are turning by at least 25 mm at each end. This extra length gives tool access to the ends of the spindle, and it’s much easier to turn sweeping curves accurately if you don’t have to keep moving a short tool rest. Lathes don’t usually come with a very long tool rest as standard. One can often be bought as an accessory, at substantial cost. Over a certain length, a long rest needs two stems to keep it rigid and stop chatter.

It’s quite easy to put together a homemade long tool rest and a second holder to support it using hardwood. A wooden tool rest is pleasant to use, and was standard in past times. You will need to remove the sharp side edges on skew chisels to protect the wood. But that’s necessary for steel rests too. If the rest gets a lot of use, you may have to plane or sand the top smooth from time to time. If thought necessary, a metal strip or bar could be fixed on top with epoxy.

The stems

Make the two stems of round steel bar. One needs to fit your existing tool rest holder. The other can be any size because you will drill the holder to fit. The length should bring the top of the rest to the proper height when in the wooden holder.

I made mine by drilling a hole in one end of each bar. I used a tapping drill that matched a bit of threaded rod. The rod was tight in the hole so it would stay secure. Inserting the rod about 25 mm deep and projecting about the same distance seemed about right.

More simply, you could just glue the stems into holes about a quarter of the way along from each end of the wooden rest. The main thing is to make sure the stems are parallel to each other and securely held in the wood.

The rest

My homemade long tool rest began life as an oak table leg, about 600 mm long, 40 mm thick and 50 mm deep. I find it quite strong enough. I planed the front to make a slope.

The holder (banjo)

Use hardwood, say 60 mm thick, and drill a blind hole, say 45 mm deep, at one end for the second stem. Wood will probably not be strong enough to take a locking screw that will bear on the stem and hold it firmly, so that limits height adjustment. You could make a saw cut in the holder and put in a clamping bolt to squeeze it and make it pinch the stem. A second bolt would be needed on the opposite side of the stem This would reinforce the holder and stop it splitting when tightening the clamp. Or you could just put a spacer in the hole under the stem to raise it a little.

Saw a slot in the holder that will fit over a clamping screw to hold it on the lathe bed.

A steel version of this holder could have a locking screw to allow easier height adjustment.

The clamp

Now make a clamping block that will fit your lathe bed. Its design will vary because all lathes are different. Mine is made of thick MDF and fits between the ways. It has a projecting lip underneath. A bolt passes through the block and is long enough to reach up through the wooden holder. A washer and nut clamps the holder in place on the bed.

homemade long tool rest
Homemade long tool rest

Plan of homemade long tool rest

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Harden steel using these simple methods

It’s sometimes useful to know how to harden steel. Although it’s possible to do woodturning with very few tools, I can never resist trying something new. Sometimes I buy tools, but often I make them myself. Back in the days before commercial tools were available, turners knew how to harden steel and temper it. They made their own tools out of high carbon steel, or got them from the local blacksmith. The best way to harden steel and temper it is to do it properly by modern methods. This requires the right steel for the job, with careful control of temperatures and timing and the rates of heating and cooling. But acceptable results can usually be obtained using the cruder methods described here.

Tool steel

Turning tools are now rarely manufactured from carbon steel, but it is still used for many other purposes. Even for turning tools, it still works as well as it did when the old-time turners made their living with it. You can buy high carbon steel in various grades from steel stockholders, some suitable for hardening in water and others in oil.

Scrap carbon steel is easy to find. If you want to harden steel for tool making, springs, files, saw blades, masonry nails, crow bars, cold chisels, woodworking chisels, old screwdrivers, plane irons and many other things are steel that is suitable for reworking. I have used the tines of an old garden fork and the rings from old ball races. Keep in mind that if you put the tool under significant stress, steel that has or may develop cracks is unsuitable. For example, the valleys between the teeth of a file are weak points where cracks can start.

If you are using scrap, old steel is often the best choice because some modern steel alloys may not respond well to these basic heat treatment procedures. One way to tell what you’ve got is to touch the steel on a grinder. Lots of bright bursting sparks like a child’s ‘sparkler’ firework mean it is probably high carbon steel. Try a bit of mild steel such as an ordinary nail for comparison. It will also make a lot of sparks, but there will be fewer bursters. The use of the metal before it became scrap is a clue – if it was subject to a lot of stress, the metal is probably high carbon steel. But there is a continuum of carbon content – to be sure, test-harden a piece before making the tool.

Low carbon mild steel

Ordinary low-carbon mild steel is not suitable for most cutting tools. You cannot harden steel of that kind, and it will not keep a sharp edge. To harden steel, the metal must have a high enough carbon content. The metal is harder than wood, and a cutting edge on mild steel may last long enough for a one-off job. But if the edge is thin it will just give way under pressure. You can case-harden mild steel. This gives it a very thin layer of higher carbon content on its surface. Then you can use it for some light-duty cutting tools provided you don’t grind away the hardened skin when sharpening. To case-harden, coat the metal with a special compound before heating. You can use mild steel as a holder for inserted or brazed-on cutters.

Equipment needed

To harden steel, you must first make it hot. You can use a magnet to check that it is hot enough for hardening – when the magnet stops attracting it, the steel is ready. More simply, just get it red hot, which is also the temperature needed for hot forging. The bigger the piece, the more heat you will need. If the item is small, you can harden steel using a burner on a gas cooker. You can use a charcoal fire with a blower to supply air.  You can do a lot with a reasonably powerful blowtorch. Larger pieces of steel may dissipate the heat as fast as it is applied, never getting hot enough. If using a blowtorch, you can stack a few dry bricks to make an enclosure to retain the heat.

A simple forge burning solid fuel or propane is not hard to improviseThere is video on YouTube about making a simple but very effective propane forgeI made a forge that burned anthracite and worked 7/8 inch bar without too much trouble. More recently I made a propane forge using just two insulating fire bricks and a blowtorch, and was able to bend steel strip of about 2 inches width and 3/8 inches thick.

Hot forging

If you make two pieces of steel white hot, you can weld them together by hammering. Hotter still, the metal will burn and spoil. But these temperatures are harder to reach with the sort of equipment described.

If you want to do any hot forging, you will need something to use as an anvil, a hammer, vise and heavy pliers. You may also need a hacksaw, angle grinder, file, bench grinder and a drill press. To work thick steel, you will need heavier tools and a forge.  If it’s hot enough, it’s surprisingly easy to bend steel using a vise or wrenches, or to hammer it into shape on an anvil. You can forge ordinary mild steel in the same way.

Annealing

Some scrap carbon steel is too hard for sawing or filing into shape. You will have to anneal it to make it softer and workable. To do this, the first step is to make the metal red hot. While it is hot, you can forge it. Don’t try to work the metal when it has lost its red heat or it may crack. You have to strike while the iron is hot. After any forging, get the steel red hot again and then anneal it by cooling it slowly. The slower it cools, the better – traditionally the metal was left to cool buried in hot ashes. If using a propane forge, you can just leave the metal to cool in the forge so the residual heat will slow the cooling. You want the whole piece uniformly softened, so try to heat and cool it evenly.

When cooled, the annealed steel should be soft enough to file. Check that all parts are soft, then carry out whatever further operations you need. Shape the tool, including rough grinding the edge.

Harden the steel

To harden steel, heat the part to be hardened bright red hot again, if possible ‘soak’ it in the heat for a bit, then quench it. It’s the rapid change from red hot to cold that will harden steel. You can use various quenching liquids, but a bucket of water will usually do the trick. Plunge the red hot metal straight in, and swirl it about to cool it as rapidly as possible. If the steel warps or cracks when quenched, try using oil instead of water, or use different steel. If using oil, fire precautions are necessary. Use a metal container, not a plastic bucket. The hot steel will heat and ignite the oil, so have a metal cover handy to extinguish the flames.

You don’t always have to harden all parts of a tool to the same degree. If it must withstand stress in use, you can leave the bulk of it soft, for toughness and strength, with just the cutting tip hardened.

After quenching, the steel should be glass-hard and a file will just slide off it without cutting. Don’t try too hard with the file, the hard metal will soon make it blunt.

Tempering

The freshly hardened tool will be brittle. If you were to use it in this state, the edge could chip or it could shatter. For most purposes, you must heat it one more time to temper it before use. Tempering takes away the brittleness. It makes the metal tougher, but softer. The higher the temperature reached during tempering, the softer and less brittle the steel will become. Each tool has its own optimum compromise between hardness and toughness.

Before tempering, clean up the metal using abrasives. You want the steel bright and shiny for this stage. Warm the tool very carefully above, not in, a clean flame. Watch the bright metal surface carefully as it heats up. Let the heat start away from the edge and creep towards it, aiming for a uniform temperature over the surface. The edge and any other thin parts will heat up too fast if exposed to the heat directly.

Watch the colour change

As it gets hotter, you will see the bright steel change colour. It will go from silvery to a pale yellow, through brown to blue and then to grey. You have to catch the moment when the colour you want reaches the edge. Normally a pale yellow-brown colour at the edge of a cutting tool is about right for cutting wood, but different tools may need other colours. A blue colour will leave the steel tough and strong, but not hard enough to keep a cutting edge. (Springs are tempered to blue, and some steel components such as screws are blued for decorative purposes.)

Don’t let it get too hot

If you let the metal get too hot you will have to repeat the hardening stage. You can repeat the annealing, hardening and tempering without harm to the metal. But too long at high temperature can tend to burn out the carbon from the surface layers. When the colour is right, quench the tool again. It is then ready for final clean up and sharpening before being put to use.

Sometimes you need more accurate tempering, for example if you need a larger piece evenly tempered. You can do this by heating the item in an oven at a set temperature, or in oil. You will need a thermometer for these methods. They allow for soaking at the proper temperature, which may give better results.

 

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Bowl reversing jaws are easy to make using carrier plates

bowl reversing chuck

Bowl reversing jaws are useful to hold some kinds of bowls by their rims while you finish turning their foot. You can buy sets ready for use, but I made my own. I cut  four plywood squares and then removed a corner from each one with the band saw. I fixed them to steel carrier plates like these that match my chuck. I turned the quadrants true, marked positioning lines, and fixed movable pegs to the quadrants. The pegs form a circle that grips the rim of the bowl. I did the final turning of some of the bowls I sell here using this homemade kit.

First attempt at bowl reversing jaws

The first pegs I tried were pre-drilled rubber bungs from a home-brewing supplier. They have a taper, which gives them a dovetail grip. I drilled holes in concentric circles on the quadrants and fitted 8 mm tee nuts (the kind with prongs to hammer or press into the wood). 8 mm bolts held the bungs firmly in place. There was a neat ring of 8 bungs on the bowl reversing jaws ready to grip almost any size of bowl.

I expected the soft rubber to have a non-marking grip and accommodate small positioning errors. But the rubber bungs turned out to be a bad idea because they had too much ‘give’. I found that any but the lightest cuts could move the bowl in the chuck. My next move was to turn a set of wooden pegs to replace the bungs. Another option would be to make solid wooden jaws, fixed to the quadrants and turned to give a more even grip on the bowl. These would have to be renewed from time to time.

Making the wooden pegs

This was an easy job. I cut short sections of a moderately soft timber (from an old curtain pole) and drilled an 8 mm hole right through the middle of each one. I mounted them in the lathe between a conical ‘dead’ centre in the headstock and a live centre in the tailstock. The dead centre had enough friction to drive the piece. Doing it this way ensured that the holes were central in the finished pegs.

I turned the pegs to the same size as the rubber bungs. They are 30 mm long, 30 mm wide at the top and 26 mm wide at the bottom. I could have used shorter pegs, but I had Allen bolts the right length for that size. I used a parting tool and calipers to set the greatest and least diameters. A sharp spindle roughing gouge cut the slight taper. I used a skew chisel to square the ends so they would sit firmly on the quadrants. After using them, I found that changing the position of the pegs is more convenient if they are a tight fit on the bolts, so I added a little glue to the thread. This allows the pegs to be tightened in place on the quadrant without using a key.

It’s important to position the tee nuts accurately so the pegs grip evenly.

Testing the new pegs

I used them to remove a temporary chucking tenon from the base of a Robinia bowl. They held better than the rubber bungs. But hard wooden bowl reversing jaws of this type cannot be tightened too firmly or they will damage the bowl’s rim. They never give the most reliable grip and heavy cuts cannot be taken.  Also you need to decide a safe maximum speed on the lathe. Tailstock support will give more security. Even so, wooden pegs could mark or damage a fragile rim, so care is needed. I have heard of people using a rubber sleeve over a wooden core. Rubber tubing or even plastic hose pipe might work for this.

Bowl reversing jaws
Wooden pegs to grip bowl

 

Since writing this post I have bought a commercially produced jaw set from Axminster Power Tools. It has aluminium carrier plates and white rubber pegs, smaller than the ones I made. I have to admit that they work better than my homemade version, with a more secure grip and no damage to the bowl.

If you make a set, aim for stiffness in the quadrants, secure fixing of the quadrants to the carrier plates, accuracy in the hole positions and use smaller pegs than I did. The white rubber works well. Run the lathed at a speed you are comfortable with.

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Homemade hook wrench

homemade hook wrench

A hook wrench (C spanner) is very useful to remove a chuck or faceplate from the lathe. They have to be secure, particularly if you run the lathe in reverse, and can get too tight to remove easily.

Lathe manufacturers don’t always cater for this very well. They may provide a tommy bar, but these are often unsatisfactory. Unless the bar is stout it will bend, and if the hole for it is shallow the metal around it will distort. Soon, the bar becomes too loose.

A hook wrench causes much less distortion because it exerts a direct pull on the hole. They may not be easy to find in the right size, but adjustable ones are available.

It’s easy to make a hook wrench from steel rod. The first step is to make a short peg at one end that will hook into the tommy bar hole. I hot forged mine by making the end of the rod red hot with a blow torch, then hammering it into an L shape. I used the square edge of the vise jaws to make the bend a tight right angle. Using a file, I shaped the short arm to fit the tommy bar hole and trimmed it to about 1/4″ long. The arm needs to be at a right angle to prevent it slipping. Another method would be to drill a cross hole in the rod and rivet in a short bit of smaller rod. Or you could weld a bit onto the end of the rod.

homemade hook wrench
Hook wrench to fit screw chuck

Then the rod has to be bent to wrap round the chuck. It should go round at least a quarter of the circumference. The rest of the rod forms the handle. Bending is best done with the metal red hot. You need a large torch or a small homemade forge. But the rod could be bent cold if you have a heavy vice and it isn’t too thick. Make the bend to match the curve of the item if possible. It is better to have the curve too tight than too loose. High carbon steel can be hardened and tempered. But I used a bit of scrap mild steel rod about 3/8″ thick, unhardened. It seems to be quite strong enough for light duty.

This hook wrench easily loosens my screw chuck – just a tap on the handle does the job.

That’s how I made mine, but if you want to see a real blacksmith making a C spanner, take a look at this video.

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Homemade fluteless gouge for bowl bottoms

I mostly use ordinary gouges when making bowls. But I thought a ‘fluteless gouge’ might be interesting to try. I’ve watched Reed Gray’s video on YouTube, in which he recommends them for finishing cuts, in particular across the bottom. It would be possible to use carbon steel, but I decided to make a fluteless gouge as a tipped tool.

I started with a length of round mild steel bar about 16 mm (5/8″) thick. On one end I filed a step, reducing the thickness to less than half the original diameter. It was heavy going, but I used a belt sander for some of the work. I then cut a 16 mm x 30 mm piece of high speed steel from an old machine hacksaw blade. I used an angle grinder with a thin cut-off wheel. Any thin, flat bit of HSS would do. I cleaned off the surface coating from the blade and made the step to fit the cutter. Its top surface was then on the centre line of the bar.

Brazing the tip

Using a propane torch with flux and brazing metal from an Ebay supplier I fixed the tip to the bar. As an alternative to brazing, it should be possible to use epoxy glue to fix the cutting tip, specially if the tip is reasonably large and its surface roughened to hold the epoxy. Most propane torches can’t reach brazing temperature in free air, but I was using a Bullfinch torch that can achieve a higher temperature. It took a little time to melt the brazing metal. Then I just had to clean it up, removing surplus flux and brazing metal, shape and sharpen the cutting edge on the grinder and fit a handle. The edge has a gentle convex curve. 

homemade fluteless gouge
Homemade fluteless gouge

The grinding angle is quite obtuse, like a scraper, and the tool looks like a scraper, but is not used like one. Instead, its bevel rubs with the tool inclined slightly upwards. Some turners use ordinary scrapers like that, but only if the tool is turned on its side, never flat on the rest. Using either a scraper or a fluteless gouge pointing upward but with its edge horizontal is very likely to cause a severe dig-in. The fluteless gouge must be used on its side so the lower part of the edge is nearly vertical and slices through the wood. It can work in either direction. It can only take a light cut, but as the videos show, it leaves a good surface even on difficult timber. Although the grinding angle is obtuse, the wood coming onto the slicing edge sees it as very sharp.

Its cutting action is like that of a traditionally ground bowl gouge, with the wing close to the wood surface. In each case the edge is nearly vertical. But the shape of the fluteless gouge puts the shaft nearly perpendicular to the wood surface. This reduces any tendency to vibration, and it can work right up to a corner. It works well. It does not replace the gouge, it’s just a finishing tool that I sometimes use on the bowls I sell here.

After I’d used it a few times though, the cutting tip suddenly fell off. The brazing had been completely unsuccessful. Only the melted flux stuck the tip on. Because the steel bar had not been hot enough, the brazing metal did not run under the tip. The bar was too big for the torch to heat properly in free air.

Second try

To make a better job of it, I stacked a couple of insulating fire bricks, also obtainable from Ebay. They made a little hearth. This time, the cutter and the end of the bar were resting on the firebrick surface instead of being in free air. The refractory served to reduce heat loss. This was enough for the torch to quickly get them hot enough.

The brazing metal spread over both mating surfaces, ‘tinning’ them. I then put the cutter on the step and heated again until bright red hot. The brazing metal melted and the tip settled into place. I cleaned it up again and resharpened, and this time I’m confident the tip will stay put. The HSS is still too hard to file and seems unaffected by the heat. But there are different grades of steel, and to reduce the possibility of the tip softening by the heat treatment it might be best to use low temperature silver solder instead of brazing rods.

I made a handle by drilling a push fit hole for the shaft in a bit of scrap and turning to shape.

homemade fluteless gouge
Homemade fluteless gouge
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Disc sander for the lathe is useful and easy to make

This post is about a homemade disc sander to use on my lathe. It fits in the dovetail chuck jaws, so can be set up and removed very quickly and easily.

The disc

I attached a faceplate ring to a bit of 12 mm birch plywood, though I could just have made a chucking recess in it. I turned it to a disc of 180 mm diameter, as I have a lot of sanding discs that size. This is adequate for small work, but on disc sanders, less than half of the diameter is usable in practice. A larger size would be better, other things being equal, but would make dust extraction harder. I made sure the face of the disc was flat and running true. Then I turned a bevel on the back to thin the edge so I would be able to sand into recesses.

I covered the face with 50 mm self-adhesive Velcro hook tape from a local haberdasher’s shop. I pressed it face down under weights for a few minutes to get a good bond. After trimming the surplus, I applied the loop-backed sanding disc. With self-adhesive tape it’s a good idea to keep the disc face down when not in use to prevent the tape curling. A single sheet glued in place would be better. Velcro-backed sanding discs cling quite well to a coarse grit disc. This is an alternative to the velcro hook layer. You would have to make sure particles of the coarse grit don’t get on the face of the disc and scratch the work.

The disc sander table

Then I turned an ash dowel to a snug fit in the tool rest holder (banjo). I made a 25 mm x 25 mm tenon on one end to fit it to the table. My lathe tool rest has a 40 mm stem, so the dowel is very rigid. Finally, I drilled a 25 mm hole in a scrap of 25 mm thick MDF and fitted it to the dowel. This makes a robust sanding table, though without angle adjustment. Fine for the jobs I shall use it for. Thinner board could be laminated if necessary to build up the thickness. The dowel post is positioned off-centre in the table. This puts it close to the sanding disc, where it will give better support, particularly if the post is small in diameter.

A disc sander needs effective dust extraction. My extractor hose is there at the lathe and works quite well in its normal position. But it would be better with the intake under the sanding table closer to the downward dust stream. It should be possible to make a shroud around the lower half of the disc if necessary.

I used a 320 grit disc running at about 1200 rpm to sand the edges and faces of a batch of about 40 small items of flatwork. The disc sander worked very well and will be a useful addition to the workshop.

homemade disc sander
Homemade disc sander
homemade disc sander
Under the table
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A homemade screw chuck is useful for small items

A faceplate is perhaps the most secure method of holding cross-grain items in the lathe. Many turners use a screw chuck, which is a single-screw faceplate, for small items because it is so quick and easy. I use them for many of my smaller bowls.

homemade screw chuck
Wooden and steel homemade screw chucks

A screw is often supplied with ordinary chucks so they can be used as screw chucks. But the screw is usually large. The wood needs a large pilot hole and there is a risk of splitting if the wood is small. It can be difficult to screw the blank on and the finished item off the chuck. It’s useful to have a smaller screw chuck, or several in different sizes. If you have an ordinary four-jaw chuck, you can easily make a wooden screw chuck to use with it. 

Turn the chuck body

Put a bit of strong hardwood between centres and turn one end to fit the chuck jaws. I use a Vicmarc chuck with ‘shark’ jaws and leave the wood as a plain cylinder. I think long jaws with a parallel grip are best for the job as they give good support to the wood. If you use dovetail jaws, turn a spigot to suit. Make the spigot the best size and shape for the chuck, for a durable, firm grip.

Put the body of the screw chuck in the lathe chuck. Turn the projecting part to the finished diameter. Face off the end, leaving it slightly concave. Mark the centre with the point of a skew chisel and drill an axial pilot hole right through. Make the hole the right ‘tapping’ size for a reasonably stout wood screw. You could do this in the lathe or with a drill press. Countersink the hole to accommodate the lifted grain that you get when inserting a screw into wood. This makes sure the workpiece can bottom out properly when screwed on.

Fit the screw

Choose a screw with a threaded portion longer than the screw chuck body and insert it from the back. Screw it right through until the point protrudes the right distance, say about 20 mm, from the front. The embedded part of the screw should be longer than the protruding part. Otherwise it may turn when screwing items on and off. Apply a drop of superglue to lock the screw in the chuck if necessary. It helps to wax the protruding thread to make it easier to unscrew the workpiece. Cut off the head of the screw that is left sticking out of the back, and the job is done. For some jobs you might use a bolt instead of a wood screw.

Using the homemade screw chuck

When using any screw chuck, it is important that the screw pulls the workpiece firmly against the outer edge of the chuck face. If this is not achieved, there will be movement and the screw may break.  The chuck face, not the screw itself, supports and drives the work. Don’t put big items on a small wooden chuck that is not strong enough to support them safely. Remember that screws don’t hold as well in end grain as in side grain.

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Tool rests – their making and maintenance

one of my homemade tool rests
one of my homemade tool rests
One of my homemade tool rests

Making tool rests

I’ve been working on tool rests today. The first job was to make a short tool rest. Rests of different lengths are always useful and a short one is handy when you have something held in a chuck with tailstock support and don’t have room for a long one. My lathe takes 40 mm stems but comes with an adaptor sleeve to take 30 mm stems too. I used a reciprocating saw to cut a length of 30 mm mild steel bar for the stem, sawing it at an angle. Then I cut a short bit of thick mild steel strip and arc welded it to the angled end of the stem. I’m a terrible welder and the result isn’t pretty. But I hit the rest with a hammer to test it and it seems solid enough. The photo is of a longer asymmetric rest with a 40 mm stem.

Tool rests in past times were often made of wood. Here is one I made.

Reducing friction

Next was improving the top surface of all the rests. My tool rests are generally in quite good condition, without dents or cuts or rust. I often rub them with a bit of wax to help the tools slide. Today though I spent some time polishing the tool contact line. I started with a fine file, then abrasive paper. Finally I used a buffing wheel with steel-cutting compound, aiming for a mirror finish. I treated the lower surface of some of the tools too. The result was very good. The tools now slide better than they did with wax. It was very noticeable with the spindle roughing gouge – the back of the gouge was already bright metal, but there was a great difference after it had been polished.  

I strongly recommend paying attention to this. If the tool doesn’t slide freely it makes smooth cutting much harder. A lot of chisels are sold with raw, sharp edges and are almost unusable until they have been fettled, as well as damaging the tool rests.

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Square chisel is nice for planing cuts

Homemade square chisel

Today I did a simple bit of spindle turning on my Titan 315. I made half a dozen large mallet heads for sale as wall decorations. I did most of the work with a square chisel. Almost any timber would do, but my customer supplied some straight-grained reclaimed pine. Not much use for a functional mallet, but OK for this purpose. Soda treatment will give them an aged appearance. The pine contained a lot of resin, which made sanding harder but made the workshop smell good.

A square chisel is great for planing

Homemade square chisel
Homemade square chisel

I like using a square chisel and have several. I made the one shown here from an old vehicle leaf spring. They are all carbon steel – as far as I know manufacturers don’t make them any longer. You could easily convert a modern skew chisel or scraper. They have a bevel each side like a skew chisel. The carbon steel gets blunt quickly, but flipping them over gives you a fresh edge. A wide square chisel is great for planing cuts. I think they are nicer to use for this than a skew.  If they are wide, the points are easy to keep clear of the wood. So the risk of catches is minimal. They were a standard part of the turner’s kit at one time. But really there is probably nothing they can do that a skew can’t. Perhaps you aren’t confident with a skew – if not, look at my post on learning to use a skew.

Drill cross-holes before turning

The mallet heads are  thick in the middle with a gentle curved taper to each end, 80 mm maximum diameter and 475 mm long. I drilled the angled cross hole for the handle before turning them. This is easier than trying to get the hole properly placed in the finished item, and the turning removes any break-out where the drill comes out. The lathe handled them easily, turning at about 1500 rpm and making large amounts of curly shavings. The sturdy tool rest and firm grip on the blank seems to eliminate vibration and made the cutting effortless.

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Ball turning jig needs modifying to fit my new lathe

I have a homemade heavy duty ball turning jig that I built years ago to fit my Graduate lathe. I wrote about it here. I’ve been converting it for use on my new Titan 315. It needed a new clamping plate and guide block to hold it in place on the bed, and the tool holder had to be raised by about 75 mm or so.

The jig is made from assorted bits of steel scrap and old machine parts. I’ve always made a point of saving odds and ends of metal that may come in handy for jobs like this. Once in a while it pays off. I picked out some likely bits and made a new clamping plate. It came from a piece of steel about 8 mm thick and 40 mm wide. I cut and filed it to fit the rebate beneath the Titan bed strips and drilled it for the retaining screw. A washer and nut beneath the plate holds the ball turning jig in place.

Ball turning jig location

To locate the jig accurately I cut a piece of birch plywood to fit snugly between the bed strips. I drilled it exactly in the middle and threaded it on the retaining screw. This positions the retaining screw, which is also the axis of rotation, directly below the lathe spindle axis, and the jig can slide to any position along the bed.

I’ve intended for some time to make a height adjuster for the tool clamp. No more shims! I decided to borrow the tool clamp from my ancient Atlas engineering lathe. This is another homemade item. It slides over a steel post and clamps to it with a pinch bolt. A jacking screw raises it to the height required. The lathe tool is held in a slot at the side.

All I had to do was make a steel post the same size to fit on the jig. With that, I could transfer the clamp back and forth as needed. I turned one end of a bit of steel bar to size in the Atlas. But my even more ancient large three-jaw chuck is in very poor condition. Because of this, I could not reverse it to make the other end match accurately. I should have put the bar between centres to turn the whole thing at the same setting.

Turning the post freehand

The chuck did the job, with help, despite its lack of accuracy. I turned about two thirds of the bar’s length to size. Then I reversed it in the chuck and turned the rest a little oversize (and noticeably eccentric). I transferred it to my four jaw chuck on the Graduate and did the rest of the turning by hand. I used a scraper, finishing with a smooth file. Back in the Atlas, I drilled a 12 mm hole through the length of the post.

To support the post I put a scrap of 40 mm steel bar in the Atlas, faced off the ends and drilled a 12 mm hole through that too, going half way from each end as I don’t have a drill long enough to go right through in one go. This made a raising block for the post to stand on. I didn’t use one single long post because I did not have a suitable bit of scrap. But if I’d had a longer bit of bar and a long drill I could have made it in one piece.

The raising block and clamping post are linked together and held in place by a length of 12 mm threaded rod. I had to file a 12 mm nut and a section of the threaded rod so they fit the small T slot in the machine slide below.

The jig is now ready for action and has a considerably larger capacity too. I use a ball turning jig often to make hemispheres that I glue together to make globes.