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Using a Wood Lathe/ The first 100 hours


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I like to make sawdust... and as a student of the Arts, I knew that I have to get comfortable with using a lathe - because there is just so many projects that require beautiful turnings.  About a year ago it crossed my mind when posting on the forum that if I were to set a goal to spend 100 hours on the lathe, It would help me become more confident in using my lathe.  My husband, is a wonderful supporter of my hobby... he is always coming home with tools to help me, and he found me a jet mini variable speed lathe at a local pawn shop that was a fraction of the retail price and not a scratch on it...  I had moved up in the equipment world.  This was September 2010 - and we were traveling internationally that year for vacation right after I got the lathe, and so it sat through the winter....


About 1 year ago, I turned my first pen at a local woodworking store - it was that nudge that I need to use that lathe.

I've fiddled, fussed, and no success, in the past years, yeah, I can turn, but no... I'm not happy with the results, so Guild School it is... let's take a class... and being way out of my comfort zone I went to class very inexperienced.  I was seeking that transference of a learning experience to understand how to obtain a crisp defined turning.


I didn't finish my project from Guild School at Guild School - and I still need to make some decisions about collets before I can finish this project at home... but let's say of those 48 hours of classes, that I was turning 36 hours, so that will be the beginning of the 100 hours.


When we talk about learning and teaching, brilliant teachers have us work on projects that transfer knowledge with experience into our brains and hands.  In my position as a student I wanted to begin my journey at home with something that was confidence building, able to duplicate, challenging, but still repetitive... and then sprinkle in some fun stuff to break up repetitive skill building exercises.  So after I made my graver handles, I decided to make porch posts.


First, we browse internet for wooden porch posts and I finally choose Porch Post 3204 from the Vintage woodworks website.  It is 10 - 1/2" x 10 - 1/2" x 147-3/4".  (it is actually a polyurethane post... but I like the shape.)


I had recently attended Peter Aquisto's theme luncheon at the NAME Convention, and he indicated in that presentation, that he seldom has the real item sitting in front of him, so he reduces the photograph to the correct miniature size... so I also adjusted the photo with a copier for a visual reference to the size I wanted for my posts.


1)  The first turning that I did was a 1/12th scale version of the actual measurement

2)  Turning 2 was mathematically scaled down for my 10" height of my RGT structure

3)  Turning 3 was scaled down again for visual perception.

4)  Turning 4 is the beginning of the attempt to duplicate... where the plan starts to come together.


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Those first 4 porch posts are the experimental posts..  9/5/2015 is when I began turning post #1 and now I am up to post #13, of which 9 are close... so I probably need about 6 more.  Depending on the amount of fussing that I am experiencing, it is taking about 35 minutes to turn and sand a porch post. 


I've also made a couple of life size projects,  2nd  pen, and a stiletto tool, and a couple of free hand hat stands.  I also snapped that first hat stand parting it off... (oops!) the good news is that is so small, it doesn't hurt when it comes flying off from the lathe at xx rpm.   I definitely need to learn how to part off a turning.


Here are my math calculations and you can try this if you wish.


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Your porch posts are looking good Tamra, isn't turning just the greatest fun. My favorite for parting off especially really small pieces is using my jewelers saw, I try to saw not right through, stop the lathe and twist the part off, best way not to lose any really tiny pieces like this one that still needed to be cut off when I took the photo.


And keep on practising and learning, I made the birdcage on the right for a tilt top table in 2012 with a duplicator when I knew very little about turning, on the left is the posts I turned this morning from cherry for the Norwegian class prototype. What a difference taking turning classes and practising has made in my results, I turned a few blanks in mopane too and can't wait to see how they will look when I get to them later this year. I think my duplicator is destined to become a white elephant now.


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Here is a photo of the tools that I used to make the porch post, and how I segmented the post after turning a portion of the post to round.


Each end of the centered portion of the tapered portion of the post is turned to a preset circumference that was measured with the divider. 


1" inch on each side of the center is not turned, and the remaining portion of the bottom and top of the post is turned to the preset measurement on the divider.


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I used a gouge to turn the post down to the specified dimension measure by the dividers, and then it is cleaned up with a skew chisel.


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I used 180, 220, 325,  500 and up to 800 grit sandpaper.  I really like the stick - on sandpaper and use this on hand palm sander - nice useful way to hold a piece of sandpaper against a tapered column - I think I have more of these somewhere - I just need to find them.


And finally, turning #20 is finished.


Next, I will cut the posts so bases are all the same height, spray them with sanding sealer, and will paint them with my airbrush.


I have now been turning approximately 40 hours more hours, so we are up to 80 of those first 100 hours...

I have not turned for two days...feeling a little withdrawal from making sawdust.   I will be trying to find the perfect form for a hat stand, as every beautiful frou frou hat needs a custom wood turning...and then it will be back to the needlework stand, stair spindles, and bed posts, and other furniture turnings for my petit point projects.  I am quite content making hats, purses and shoes... but making free-hand hat stands is fun exercise and gives you a nice instant gratification project... perfect gift for a table favor - yes?  If only I was at a convention with the appropriate theme. You can easily turn a hat stand from a 3/4" x 3/4" pen blank, here prices range from $1 to $4.00 per wood blank. 


It is amazing to see wood "melt away" as you are cutting it.  I had not imagined a fluid visual experience when turning something that is wood.


I hope these photos give you a better explanation of the steps I took to duplicate the posts.


And I hope other people who enjoy turning on a wood lathe will tell us about some of their projects that they have turned.  I am looking forward to my continued adventures of romancing the lathe, and will attempt to post more photos of those first simple, confidence building projects in the future.


Go make some sawdust and toothpicks!




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Some thoughts about safety as it relates to a lathe...


Please remember to always wear eye protection.  You could set up a small portable fan, behind you, or a small vacuum to draw dust away.  When you are sanding with micro fine sandpaper, you will be amazed at how much saw dust is created, and micro particles are easy to breath in.


There is a wood toxicities database, that you can check.  As I have allergies, I got tested for common substances, and am allergic to several species of wood - so in absence of a fan, or a vacuum, do consider wearing a dust mask.


And finally, don't use a dull tool for turning.  If you want to use the lathe, you will have to figure out how to sharpen your tools.  It isn't safe to turn with dull tools, and turning with a dull tool will actually result in tears or gouging your wood...


There is a lot of info published in Wood Magazines, forums, and books - readily available - but ultimately you just have to try and see what happens... next Friday when I go into Chicago for the GSP, I am planning to look for some of those wonderful thick leather scrap pieces from my favorite fabric store to be used in the sharpening exercises.



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Tamra, when I attended Guild School 2012 I decided to try something different - woodturning! On my arrival home I could not wait to purchase a lathe. Found one of my fellow club members had one she did not use, so got it for a good price. I then had some tuition with a friend who does full size turning. He did try to convince me to buy a larger lathe and do 'bigger' work but this did not interest me. I am very lucky to have him sharpen my tools regularly as although I do have a grinder that he set up for me with a fine wheel I do not feel comforable sharping the curved tools! I have since spent many hours on this lathe turning a variety of wood and acrylic. Love the way different woods look and no two pieces are the same. I do not use a duplicator, also use a mixture of full size tools and miniature tools.

I have just purchased a mini metal lathe as I would love to turn some metal. Was hoping to get back to Guild School next year and attend Bills classes but due to the value of our dollar dropping the cost was to expensive. So hoping I can learn some 'stuff' on this forum.



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Mavis, it is good to have you posting in the forum with us.  As both You and Elga indicated, it is a lot of fun turning on the lathe.  I also purchased a couple metal lathes this year, but I have not used my Taig yet - but soon... all things in due time.  I wish I could have been at GS in 2012 and had the opportunity to meet you in person.  I still haven't made my own tiny wooden casket from Helen's plans (NZ)  that she posted on PetitPointers Yahoo group,  but I did take Pete & Pam's box class this past summer, and hoping that will give me a confidence boost.  May I say that I do not like butt joints????  This class was most enjoyable experience and I will use what I learned to make Helen's casket.


I am pleased that I got over my "chicken" self and did reverse the direction of the motor for my taig lathe.  I reversed the direction of the motor's mount on my formica board and it worked, and I didn't call our electrician, though I was very, very tempted.  I reversed the mount so I can use the indexing fixture that I purchased from my class at Guild School.  It was very easy thing to do... now I just need to wire my switch.  Who would have thought that I would be writing about wiring my own tools for my own configuration.   Our sons and my husband indicate they will help me, and I am determined to do this myself!


I am sure that you will learn from the members of the forum. 


Metal turning will be a lot of fun.... and that is where I am headed over our winter months - candlesticks!!! I have some life size Baldwin reproduction candlestick's that I am planning to reduce to miniature.  And am also hoping to start producing turnings for the elusive staircase project for my dream structure build.  I have decided to build the stairs first and then build the structure around the stairs...



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  • 1 year later...

In my post on 9/22/2015, I indicated I had decided to spend some time making hat stands.  Here is a picture of some of the finally finished hat stands... (using a hand rubbed oil finish)...  there are some not photographed, and some that I broke while turning...   I haven't thrown them away yet, as it is a good reminder that there are limits to the flexibility of wood that is spinning at 'x' rpm on a lathe...

I seldom wear hats in real life, but in miniature, hats are very hard to resist - they somehow give me that quick fix for beautiful object in a scene, and just a touch of realism that someone lives in that 3D piece of art that we work on...

I just finished these in the month of February 2017.  I know my hand rubbed finish isn't for everyone, but I love a hand rubbed oil finish - wipe on / wipe off, pretty simple and no spray gun to clean later, and no worry about waiting until it warms up and wind, and humidity issues so I can finish outdoors.

When these hat stands were completed in 2016, I am still under 100 hours so there is a lot of experimenting in these hat stands!  I'm experimenting with sweeps, and balls, and undercuts in my turnings... and I wanted the stands to be of different heights... remember in the miniature magazines where you add a round ball to a golf tee?  Well, I was thinking of that too...but finding life size models of turned hats stands wasn't prevalent in my searches...

As the weather warms here in the Midwestern States of the US, and after I sharpen my standard wood turning tools, I plan to warm up by turning some hat stands first... and perhaps an ink pen or two...





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  • 3 years later...

Fast forward 3+ years later and I'm way past that first 100 hours of bonding with my lathe.  I spent an entire summer learning to measure and turn to specific diameters and lengths on my taig lathe to complete the Guild School Needlework stand turnings - and just need to index them for the flats... more on that project later in the year.   I was obsessed with a chair build in 2020 so I didn't turn much last year, so I thought I would try and turn something at least every other weekend beginning January 2021....

So here are my first turnings of 2021...

1)  Is a too tall hat stand - that could become a newel post for a staircase.   I've left a small base should I decide to turn off or reshape the top.  This is some kind of (Brazillan?) rosewood and started as a pen blank with beautiful flames of wood grain.  This turning took about 25 minutes to create, and has a hand rubbed oil finish.

2)  is a Hondoran rosewood; the grain is not in scale, but it is a practice piece and my first attempt of making a vase... it isn't finished and I'll put it back into the chuck to continue hollowing it out... I have about 1.5 hours in this turning.  I turned the exterior last weekend and left it on the lathe to think, ponder, think, how to hollow it out...I finally bought my first set of brand new lathe tools on Black Friday and selected Sorby(s) and bought the mini hollowing set of three.  Ultimately, it was easier to unchuck the turning and take it to a drill press.  I haven't figured out how to use a tailstock chuck on my jet mini lathe.    It isn't finished, but I love Rosewood; it is currently only sanded to 400 grit.






2021 Turnings 1.jpg

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