Far left: one of the uses of an 18 x 5 inch log: to make a pie former
(or something), darning aids, handles, garden dibber (click for larger image). Left: my attempt to mend a sock using the darning egg (not too neat, but
(for spindle shapes) The work piece (termed a "billet") needs to be prepared for the lathe. This usually
involves splitting a log into sections - quarters in this example.
An axe or billhook can be used to cut the wood into an approximate
round shape. I find it easier to shape a cross-section with an even number of sides first, but this can waste
A draw knife can then be used in conjunction with a shave horse to
smooth out the billet so that it is as round as possible. >
> Preparing the billet well should reduce the effort required on the lathe,
and wear to tool edges.
Next, the billet can be put on the pole lathe and a roughing gouge used to form
an approximate shape of the spindle. This has been done on the billet shown at bottom of photo, but it has not yet
been smoothed using a skew chisel.
It's important to bear in mind the effect of seasoning (changing moisture content)
on dimension changes of the wood, especially if parts are to be joined.
Shaping and Decoration
After making into an approximate shape with a roughing gouge, the billet can be shaped
with smaller gouges and chisels (typically skew and parting types).
To get a smooth finish a skew chisel may produce best results,
but sandpaper is useful especially if wood is on the dry side. Beeswax is traditionally used to give a protective
Some typical shapes (bead, cove, taper) are shown on these test pieces of sycamore
(left), and beech (far left).
Tools Special tools are needed for turning - including gouges, skew chisels and
preferably a parting chisel. There are wide varieties of styles and prices, and some
good second hand tools can be found. If tools require re-shaping a bench grinder may
be needed, otherwise honing on a sharpening stone should be sufficient. The photo
below shows the tools I used for making items on these pages. The 5 chisels with light
handles were a cheap set costing about £12, but they worked and could be sharpened.
This set would not be suitable for use on a powered lathe or for turning bowls, where
sturdier types are required.
From the bottom the chisels comprise: 3/4", 1/2", 3/8"
gouges, 1/2" skew, 5/16" skew (for captive rings), 1/2" parting, standard
wood chisel for final parting and tidying up. Not shown are drill brace and bits.
Splits. warps, distorted spindles ... The tendency of fashioned wooden items to crack and split must have many
factors, I can only say what was successful for me. Items made "in the round" are
more likely to develop splits than those made from sections of a log. I usually use
quarters or eighths of split down logs. I leave the wood to season for a while after
felling, and at stages during work, which can reduce long term warping and distortion
of cross sections. Not subjecting the wood to fast changes in temperature and humidity
is important. Some wood types I've found to be the most stable include ash, beech,
sycamore and cherry - as long as the log doesn't have much in the way of defects to
An experiment - what happens if a spindle
(below left) is turned from a slightly bent, whole willow branch?
This isn't considered the best material. and was a pruning off a goat willow or similar
(approx 1 3/4 ins diameter). The wood wasn't straight (approx 0.5 ins out over 18
ins) - and was left for 10 days before turning. It tended to chip first, but eventually
turned fairly smoothly and easily. The bat and rattle in the photo (below right) were
also turned from a small, whole willow branch (termed "in the round"), four
weeks after pruning.
After 2 weeks (stored in house) - no cracking, spindle about 0.25
ins out of true (as expected)
After 3 months (stored in house) - same condition
After 24 months (stored in house at between about 15-25C) - condition
These items haven't been used, and are probably not so durable as harder woods, but
it was interesting to see what could be made from humble pieces of willow.