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).
For turning: Special tools are needed - 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.
Of course cutting tools are useless for working on wood unless they are sharp ...
Some sharpening tools include a flat file for "dressing" or correcting
flaws in chisels etc. (top). Triangular files and saw-set for older saws; many modern
ones can't be easily sharpened because the metal is too hard, but the teeth might
be settable. Sharpening stones (bottom): the one on the left has fine and medium coarse
sides, and is the main one used for the chisels in the photo above. After a while
the stone becomes worn and needs to be made flat again. One method is to use a diamond
stone (bottom right). This one is a cheaper type (about £12), and has fine (1000
grit), and medium (400 grit) faces. It can be used to sharpen tools made from harder
or stainless steel.
For preparation: useful or even essential tools include
a saw, billhook, axe, wedges (I use wooden ones). A froe isn't essential if just splitting
logs, billhooks and wedges can work fine. A new addition (2019) is a side axe, ground
down from a cheap hatchet (photo on the right). Obviously it's not as good as a "real"
one, but it works well and can be sharpened with a stone. A lot of metal was ground
away from one side of the small splitting axe to make it as level as possible.. This
is shaped for right handed use; the other side (top in photo) needs to be flat for
left handed use,
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 because of shrinkage
around the rings. Splitting a log in two will probably prevent splitting. For turning
I usually use quarters or eighths of split down logs. These may become oval in cross
section, but not split. I leave the wood to season for a while after felling, and
if accurately sized items are needed (e.g. including tenons) the piece is left to
season for a while at stages during work (in an oversized state). The piece can then
be turned or worked again, reducing any distortion due to shrinkage. Not subjecting
the wood to large or fast changes in temperature and humidity is important..
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.