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My exploration of seating continues with a couple of Shaker inspired stools. Many, many moons ago, long before GPS, we made a trip to Nashville for a friend’s wedding. We had very little money at the time and knew this would be the only trip for that year. Unfortunately our time in Nashville was less than pleasant, other than the wedding. Anyway, on the trip home we began looking for any stop that would salvage the trip. My wife scanned over the road atlas and stumbled on the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill just outside of Lexington, KY. So, on a whim, we routed ourselves to the village.
We arrived late afternoon on a Saturday and were pleasantly surprised that they had overnight rooms. As luck would have it there was a room available. Not only that, they had a dining hall that served family style meals. So we moved into our room and walked to the dining hall and had a very pleasant dinner by candlelight.
The next day we toured the village and I poured over the furniture and buildings as far as they would let me. This was long before I had any tools or even a shop space, but the desire, the desire to build was there. The last stop before leaving the village was the gift shop and there I bought three little books of scaled drawings of Shaker furniture.
That’s a bit of back story, but I thumb thru these books every now and again for inspiration. This time around the stools caught my eye. Actually the rocker has my interest, but I figure the stools will be a good way to get my head around the process. These are simple stools and should nestle nicely with the kitchen island that I converted my old workbench into.
I like most things Shaker, there is an elegant simplicity in all that they built. The one thing I have never been a fan of though is the woven tape seats. Seats woven with muted earth tones are OK, but the brighter colors just look out of place to me. So my stools will have seats woven with fiber rush. It looks simple to accomplish and I personally like the look.
After playing around with the proportions and a little time at the drafting board, here is what I came up with.
Not too different from the original Shaker design, just tweaked slightly. I’m building these stools with what I have on hand. The legs will be red oak and the stretchers will be white oak. The seats will be woven from fiber (paper) rush. I’ve gotten off to start turning the eight required legs. The goal is to crank out one leg after work every evening. So far, so good. I’m three for three. I’m actually getting pretty quick at it. Quick being a relative term. The story stick is a handy thing for this repetitive work too.
I deviated from the Shaker simplicity and added a single bead to the leg as well as a little wood burning. You know I can’t not add some wood burning. Just one more reason I would have made a lousy Shaker.
The second chair went together pretty much as the first.
The next bit of fabrication was the back panels that will eventually be upholstered. These are simple squares of ply that will be secured with bolts and “T”-nuts. A little shaping should make for better comfort.
With that done it was time to make a final decision as to the finish. You know I’m an oil and wax kind of guy, but plywood needs a little something more. I thought about some sort of paint. Maybe a bold color to make my wacky design even more over the top? Maybe a traditional color of milk paint? In the end I went a somewhat conservative route and decided to dye them.
Before committing to the dye, however, I broke out the wood burner (don’t act surprised, you knew I would). I did show great restraint and limited myself to burning the front and rear corners. For the dye, I chose to use Transtint’s Dark Vintage Maple. I’ve used this product before in a different color (dark walnut) on a few tables.
Transtint comes as a concentrate and needs to be mixed with a carrier. Water or denatured alcohol are the choices and I chose to use alcohol. The alcohol dries fast and doesn’t raise the grain, although water may offer deeper penetration. So mix the dye per the instructions and apply. I rag the mixture on and work as fast as I can so as not to lose the wet edge. The open grain of the red oak and birch ply absorbed more dye than I wanted resulting in a slightly darker shade, but I can live with it.
Since the dye/alcohol mix dries quickly, I was able to follow up with a first coat of Tried & True Original just a few minutes after applying the dye. Today I applied the second coat of Tried & True.
While waiting on the finish to do its thing, I tackled the last bit of construction. The wedge pins that secure the backs. These are simply dowel pins shaved to a wedge shape. To create the dowel pins I prepared two red oak billets. One billet would generate two pins.
The last task was to upholster the two small back panels. I completely missed taking any photos of the upholstery operation though. They are really simple. One inch foam covered with sage green vinyl (the same vinyl that I used on the footstools) and stapled in place.
That is pretty much it. A final buff with a soft cloth and the backs wedged in place.
So that concludes my crazy chair experiment and my entry in Brian’s “June Chair Build“. This design works, but is best suited to power tools because of the use of plywood. Shaping the outside edges of plywood with hand tools is doable (requires frequent sharpening). Shaping the inside edges (mortises/handle) is possible, but best suited to the use of an electric router. One note about the stretchers. Structurally they are not required, although they do add quite a bit of strength. The legs and their tenons are more than strong enough on their own. I simply prefer the visual of having the stretchers.
All in all I think I accomplished my original goal. A simple chair that required no special tools or steam bending. A chair that could be built from readily available materials. Maybe even a chair that took an age-old construction method and updated it to a modern aesthetic. The degree of my success is in the eye of the beholder and will most likely run the gamut of the scale.
Part 3 Greg Merritt
Since my last post I have managed to turn and fit the stretchers for the second chair. I truly do enjoy the spring pole lathe. Nothing like and hour at the lathe after work to rid the mind of the stresses of my day.
With the parts for both undercarriages fabricated it was time to turn my attention to shaping the seats. Given my whining about having to resort to using an electric router to round the edges of the back mortises and handle cutout, I really wasn’t looking forward to tackling the seats. Once I got started however I found that I could do all of the shaping with hand tools. So no electric router torture was needed.
To shape the seat I first sketched a few shapes directly onto the seat board. Once happy I used a combination of hand saws to hog off the waste. Then used a hand plane, spokeshave, rasp and files to refine the outline of the seat.
Here it is cut to the basic shape and very light shaping.
I had to hold back on the sculpting of the first seat so that I could use it as a pattern for the second. Once the outline was established on both seat boards I could begin the sculpting of the edges. That’s right sculpting. Just because I’m using plywood doesn’t mean I can’t go beyond the basic edge rounding.
If you look closely at chairs, especially Windsor chairs, you will note that the front corners of the seat are eased over. This easing prevents having a pressure point on the back of the sitter’s thigh. It also helps to visually lighten the chair. As a nod to this time proven design feature, I too eased the front corners of my seats. This was a simple exercise with the spokeshave, rasp and file. Sanding blended everything together.
I also gave the rear corners of the seat the same, albeit less pronounced, treatment.
The majority of the remaining edges were simply given a rounding over. The other area that was given a little more dramatic treatment was the outer ends of the front batten. At an inch and a half thick these looked pretty clunky and felt even worse. So I added a heavy chamfer to lighten the look and rounded all of the edges to create a pleasing surface to touch.
Tonight I came home from work and gave all of the parts for the first chair a thorough sanding and inspection. Satisfied with the parts, I cut some wedges and starting adding the glue. I’m happy to say that the glue up went smoothly.
Tomorrow after work I’ll go over the parts for the second chair and assemble its base.
The next task will be the upholstered panels for the backboards. Those still need holes drilled, hardware installed and upholstered.
Brian is also making good progress on his “June Chair Build“. He is wrapping up the eight legs that he needs for his two chairs. Be sure and check out his blog.
Part 2 Greg Merritt
I’ve been in the shop every chance I get working on these chairs (technically back stools). Mostly things have progressed reasonably well. The first thing I tackled was turning the six legs. This is a first for me. Up until now all of my legged projects have received tapered octagonal legs. For these chairs though, I wanted a leg that leaned a little more toward mid-century modern/Danish. So a simple tuned leg with a very slight taper along its length towards the floor. The legs went pretty quickly. I managed to get almost two per evening after getting home from work.
Next up was drilling the glued up seat blanks for installing my freshly minted legs. Same old, same old. Set a bevel gauge, chuck a 1″ bit in my brace and bore away. I’m really liking the cylindrical tenon option over the tapered tenon approach. I’ve also discovered that I have a pretty good knack for drilling at the correct angle. At least I managed to drill these six holes without making a mess of things.
Creating the mortises for installing the back panel was pretty much the same as installing the legs. The back panel is installed with a 5deg slope. So I once again set a bevel gauge, bored holes and then chopped out the adjoining waste. The mating tenons were straight forward cuts and chopping of waste.
Here is where things took a bit of a turn.
I knew going in that all of the edges of the plywood would need to be rounded over. Decent plywood responds well to sharp hand tools. At least outer the outer edges do. Shaping internal cuts however, is an entirely different story. Internal cuts such as those of the mortises and the handhold that I added to the back board. I tried just about everything I could think of without finding a satisfactory method. So I had to resort to…rotary power.
Many moons ago it seemed that I was helping just about everyone I know install laminate flooring. To tackle the job of cutting holes for HVAC vents I purchased a knockoff Rotozip tool. Basically a mini router. With a spiral up-cutting bit it did a fantastic job of cutting vent holes in laminate flooring. Anyway, I remembered that it had come with a cheapo 3/8″ round over router bit. So this is the setup that I resorted to for rounding over the edges of the plywood. It was loud, dusty and less than enjoyable work, but it did the job. As a consolation prize, the cheap HSS router bit added a little wood burning. So there is that I guess.
You can also see in the above photo that I taped one of the back pad into place. This helped me to verify the height and get an idea as to whether or not it would even work. I think it will. I may have to fuss with the thickness of the foam. We will see.
Today I managed to turn and fit the stretchers for one of the chairs. I designed these to be beefy. I even went a bit thicker than my design when making them. The intent is to give a feeling of solidity and stability. No one has come out and questioned the three leg design, but I can see the uncertainty on their face when they see it. The strange thing is these same folks didn’t hesitate with the three legged stools that I just finished. Something about adding a back and calling it a chair triggers a reaction in some folks.
Even in this raw state the chair is actually pretty comfortable. There is a bit of flex to the back board and its width fits well along my back. So, even though the plywood is a PIA to work with, I think I’m on the right track.
I think I’m making pretty good progress. Four days into the “June Chair Build” and I have something I can sit on. Still a long way from putting the finish on, but not too bad.
Part 1 Greg Merritt
I assembled the remaining three stools and added the texture and wood burning as with the first. There were a couple of folks with questions regarding the order of assembly, so I thought I would go over that a little here.
First I lay out the parts of the undercarriage. (legs and stretchers)
Add glue and assemble said undercarriage. Apply glue to the seat mortises and leg tenons and install the undercarriage into the seat. There is enough “give” in the undercarriage to make starting the leg tenons into the underside of the seat possible.
Once everything was seated, I wedged all of the joints.
When the glue had cured, I trimmed and flushed the tenons.
Each seat received a light uzukuri treatment. I wanted a tactile feel, but didn’t want to make the texture so deep as to create potential comfort issues. The seats now have a lightly worn feel to them.
To trim the stools for final height I first created a level platform on which to work. The seats have a slight slope front to rear and I simply use a scrap of wood lined up with the rear of the seat for ease of consistency. Each stool was shimmed for level in each direction and the legs marked for trimming. A pencil taped to the blade of my bevel gauge (Peter Galbert-“Chairmaker’s Notebook“) is easily adjustable and perfect for this.
All that remained was finishing. The finish consists of two coats of tinted linseed oil followed by two coats of Tied & True Original (linseed oil and beeswax).
The first coat of tinted linseed oil really brings the stool to life.
After a few days of oil and buffing, I have four completed stools. They are light, comfortable and sturdy. An impromptu poll finds that the height is “perfect” for the tables that they are intended for…management tested, management approved!
Next up…I continue with the crazy chair experiment and possibly a bench.
Part 2 Greg Merritt
Well, its time to tackle a chair. For my first chair you would think that I would opt for a proven and well documented design. Nah, where is the fun in that?
I’ve been kicking around an idea for a while now. Sort of a mix of Mid-Century/Danish and traditional vernacular (staked) chairs. A chair with no seat carving or steam bending, but still comfortable, strong and, hopefully, attractive. A chair made with easily sourced material.
After a lot of head scratching and sketches, here is what I have come up with.
A Moravian style (although several cultures have built chairs this way) chair, but built with modern plywood for the seat, battens and back. With the plywood bits being derived from a quarter sheet of 18mm(3/4″) thick plywood (24″x48″ in the U.S.).
With design work complete, all that is left is to build a couple and see what they are like in flesh. To that end, I picked up a sheet of Finnish birch ply from the local Woodcraft and spent an afternoon milling parts. The legs and optional stretchers will be from red oak.
The next operation was to glue the battens in place after first shaping their edges. I tackled one batten at a time. Leaving each in the clamps for an hour before moving on to the next one. It took all evening, but the all four of the battens are installed.
Using a clamping caul for even distribution of pressure.
The vise proved the best option for clamping the smaller batten.
Then a little layout work with the aid of a scrap piece of ply.
Well I’m committed now. Stay tuned.
Brian, over at Toolerable, has an annual “June Chair Build“. Fortuitous timing means that I will be able to play along this year. If things go as planned, I may even knock together a bench to match the stools.
Check out Brian’s blog and join in on the chair building.
With the legs at the ready, I moved on to tackle the seats. The seats are from a construction grade SYP 2×12. When working with construction lumber, you have to really plan ahead and possibly get a little creative in order to end up with something decent. I’m not opposed to having knots in my projects, but the trick is to keep those knots out of the joinery areas. After a little trial and error I hade four usable slabs and a decent piece that may end up as a bench.
Layout is pretty simple and went quickly for all four seats.
As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve opted for cylindrical 1″ tenons on these stools in lieu of the tapered tenons that I have been using. Why? First, I simply want to try this method to evaluate the difference. Second, when building the table trestles I found that the addition of the stretcher can cause the tapered tenons to be difficult to seat if any outward pressure is introduced by the stretcher.
The process for drilling the holes is the same regardless if they are cylindrical or tapered. So I set a bevel gauge to my resultant angles and drilled the required holes for installing the legs.
With the legs installed, I set a pair of large dividers and marked the locations for the stretchers from the underside of the seat.
I then drilled each of the stretcher mortises with a spade bit and a backer board to keep the spelching at a minimum. I’m making these as through mortises and will wedge all of the joints.
Next up was the front stretchers which meant a little lathe work.
Then the center stretchers and more lathe work.
Soon enough I had all of the joinery for the four stools completed. Note that I added Turks head knots to the front stretchers.
Now I could turn my attention back to the seats and begin their shaping. The shape is pretty basic. A rectangle with the corners clipped. All of the edges will receive a heavy chamfer just as I did with the recent table tops. The idea is that these stools should look like they belong with the tables. They don’t necessarily need to match exactly, but have the same general flavor.
Seats are shaped.
All that is left is assembly and to add my “decorative” embellishments. So I assembled the first stool (glue and wedges), stamped in some texture on the clipped corners and went at it with the wood burner. Finally, the seat received the uzukuri treatment.
Here is the unfinished stool next to one of the tables. Note the color difference that the oils finish imparts.
Well, three more to go and then I’ll trim them all for height and start slathering them with oil.
Part 1 Greg Merritt
I have been having a lot of fun with then lathe, but it is time to get back on track. I have two new tables that are in desperate need of some sort of accompanying seating. To that end my first run at keeping butts off the floor will be four Welsh inspired stools.
I’m lucky in that Chris Schwarz just completed a run of High Staked Stools built in this manner. So he effectively did all of my prototyping for me (thanks Chris!). He worked through several seat, leg and stretcher shapes in his process. His posts about them allowed me to see the forms, eliminate options and firm up my own plans.
My version will draw visual elements from my tables and will be a couple of inches higher than a standard dinning chair. It has been my experience that stools matching dinning chair height always feel too short in use. There is a delicate balance between seating height, the sitter’s center of gravity and the back of chair. Remove the back and everything feels off. So my stools will be a little higher to try to bring things back into balance (I hope).
To finalize my design I worked up a proportional drawing.
These four stools will have SYP seats, red oak legs and white oak stretchers. I began by milling the red oak leg stock.
Then laid them out to be tapered octagons.
To shape the legs, I first removed the bulk of the waste with a drawknife at the shaving horse. Then refined the octagon with a plane.
On all of my previous staked projects I have used the Veritas tapered tenon cutter and reamer. They work well, but I will be trying out a 1″ diameter round tenon method on these stools. From what I can find this method was used by John Brown and was recently demonstrated in Don Weber’s video “Build a Welsh Stick Chair”. Thanks to the new lathe, creating the 1″ tenons is quite easy.
After an afternoon of work, I have all of the legs ready to go.
Next I’ll work on the seats.
One of the projects high on my list, in the event that I ever had a lathe, is a 17th Century turned book stand that Peter Follansbee reintroduced. It’s a nifty design with a ratcheting mechanism to adjust the angle of display and a wide shelf on which to seat the book. Now that I have a lathe and trying to learn to turn, the book stand seemed like a perfect project to aid me along. Plus, I simply really want to make one!
In a previous post I discussed that these beginning lathe projects needed to have a high probability of success. This book stand meets that requirement while also challenging me to improve my skills. One challenge is the need to replicate identical parts. The posts should be turned to look identical and need to be the same length. The spindles need to all be the same length, but don’t necessarily need to be turned identically. So not as much pressure there. There is also the added challenge of laying out and drilling for the spindles. Another skill builder in this project is creating and sizing tenons. Plus there is a lot of practice in turning a uniform cylinder.
Peter Follansbee is not known for using plans and, true to form, I couldn’t find any existing plans for this book stand. There are several photos on his website and there is an episode of The Woodwright’s Shop where he and Roy build the book stand, sans any mention of sizes or measurements. He did post photographs of a book stand with a known book resting on it and another set of photos with overall dimensions. So, using my best reverse engineering skills, I looked up the dimensions of the book and extrapolated from there. I took all of that information and made my best guess as to the size of the parts and the for layout. I used that information to build a prototype. I knew I could refine that guess and develop a proportional design drawing once I had prototype in hand.
Using my rough sketch I began fabricating parts. Replication of identical parts was more challenging than I had anticipated, but I made a decent showing. The spindles were fairly easy, but getting the finials of the post to look the same involved a lot of fiddling and remounting before I was satisfied with the results. Soon enough I had a dry fit of the basic parts.
One element that I guessed wrong on was the ratchet “leg”. My first attempt was far too long. This caused the book stand to have too large of a footprint and it looked clunky. I simply made another shorter version.
I soon had my prototype complete with the first coat of Tried & True applied. Maple posts, white oak spindles and red oak shelf.
Now I could work out the proportions, make corrections and generate a proportional design drawing. My initial guess work proved to be pretty close. One thing that needed to be corrected was the locations of the spindles. I had noted, but chose to ignore, the asymmetric layout of the spindles on Follansbee’s examples. The spindle that houses the “kickstand” is offset towards the top spindle on his examples. I work with CAD every day, so I ran the layout on CAD to check as to if this offset is needed or is just an aesthetic choice. Turns out it can be beneficial. It allows the ratchet leg and kickstand to be the same length. Both spindle layouts work, but the asymmetrical layout does offer a functional edge and a bit of visual interest. I made a few other proportional corrections and then generated a final drawing to work from.
As with the lathe, I’ll not be posting my design drawing for the book stand. This is Peter Follonsbee’s work, not mine. He makes his living making, teaching and writing. I’m just some guy banging together stuff in my garage and my family eats the same regardless. Besides, rumor has it that he has a book in the works that may contain a certain book stand, so keep an eye out for that. I will post these drawings of ideas for finials, feet and spindles that I worked up.
The full-size book stand is large and perfectly sized for larger books such as those produced by Lost Art Press. However, most people don’t have need of a book stand this large. Tablets have replaced books for most people these days. So I decided to build a 2/3 scale example that would function as a tablet stand and be more useful to most people. This scaled down version would also serve verify if I had the proportions correct.
To scale the book stand down from the drawing I simply substituted a smaller dimension for the module (controlling dimension). The full-size version is based on a Module of 300mm. I altered this by using a dimension of 200mm (2/3 of 300 is 200) and worked out all of the rest with a pair of dividers.
Just about all of the material for this version came from the offcut bin. The posts are white oak, the spindles are black walnut and the shelf is white oak from a particularly unruly piece (I had to break out the card scraper) salvaged from a pallet.
This 2/3 scale version is perfect as a tablet stand, but is bit too small to be functional as a book stand. Since I was on a roll, I decided to build a 3/4 scale version. Again, all parts were culled from the scrap pile, save one. I had to buy a piece of oak for the shelf. This one has white oak posts and red oak for the spindles and shelf. I also ran with the oak theme and tried my hand at creating finials and feet that had an acorn motif.
I think the 3/4 scale is a good compromise and will be the perfect size for most people. It will easily hold most books as well as the popular tablets of the day.
I still needed to build another full-scale version that is based upon my design drawing to round out the set. So I rummaged around in my magic attic (previous owner left a lot of scrap wood up there) and culled out enough walnut and mahogany to build a full-scale version. The walnut is a little gnarly and has a big knot running through it and contains a little sap wood, but is fine for this. The shelf is from some unknown stuff that I have had for quite a while.
Quick tip: To locate the holes in the shelf for installing the feet install a finish nail in the post and clip it short. Then assemble the frame and press it down onto the shelf in the desired location. The finish nail will mark the location on the shelf for the hole.
The following shows exactly why I like designing with proportions. A piece can be scaled up or down and retain the same visual look. I can plug any distance into the Module (within practical reason) and produce a version to suit the need without altering the overall appearance.
These book stands are a lot of fun to build and are a great skill builder for learning to turn. They are also a great way to shrink the offcut pile.
In my ongoing quest to learn to turn and, to a lesser extent, shrink my mountain of offcuts I present the next beginner project that I have tackled. The Honey Dipper.
There is not much to say about the honey dipper, the name pretty well sums it up. It is another simple lathe project that lends itself to beginner success. There is ample opportunity for practice with basic shaping and working with the parting tool. The honey dipper can be any shape or size that your imagination can contrive or available material will support. However, I thought I should at least set forth a goal. Part of the skill building for me is to develope the ability to execute whatevere desired shape and size that I want. To that end, I worked up a design drawing for a simple honey dipper.
I’m not going to show photos of the progression. What I will show are the first two honey dippers that I have turned on the lathe. The first one is the prototype prior to the design drawing.
Here is my first attempt at matching the design drawing.
As you can see, its not an exacting execution. It is, however, a perfectly acceptable and functional honey dipper. I’ll keep trying.
This is one of those quick 15-20 minute projects that can be done whenever I just want a few minutes in the shop. I need to find a basket or build a box to start collecting these type of projects in. I think they will come in handy as gifts.
Anyway, there you go. Another simple beginner project for those of us just starting out and possibly a fun quick project for you experienced turners.
Well the leather sewing machine belt drive cord gave up the ghost. A little disappointing that it only lasted about three weeks of moderate use. Rather than waste my remaining leather cord, I made a trip to the Big Box and bought a fifty foot hank of 7mm solid braid polyester cord. I let you know how this stuff holds up.
This next bit is about an accessory. Once I started using this lathe it became immediately apparent that it would be impossible to turn short lengths of wood or oddly shaped pieces. There would be no area on which the drive cord would run in those instances. What I needed was a drive mandrel that would serve to accommodate the cord and transfer that energy to the workpiece.
After doing a bunch of searching online, I came up empty. There is plenty of information to be found on creating a drive mandrel for bowl turning on a pole lathe, but practically nothing about a mandrel that was independently supported from the actual workpiece. So I did a little head scratching and sketching and came up with an idea that seemed promising.
My idea is essentially the same as the drive pulley on a typical treadle (flywheel) lathe except I only need to have a bearing to support the end of the mandrel. There is no need for thrust bearings. The existing dead centers continue to serve in that capacity. In use, the drive mandrel and the workpiece are “pinched” between the existing dead centers. The bearing mounted on a removable puppet serves to support the juncture of the mandrel and workpiece.
So I ordered a 1-1/2″ bore flange mount bearing and a 1MT drive center off of fleabay.
The mandrel I turned from hard maple. I sleeved each end of the mandrel with copper to prevent splitting and add durability. A 1-1/4″ copper slip coupling has a 1.9ish outside diameter and was a friction fit to the bearing once I added a shim fashioned from aluminum tape. The 1MT drive center was installed in a stepped hole same as the dead centers.
The tricky bit was getting everything to line up along the same centerline. Time and patience paid off and everything lines up reasonably well.
The thing works great! The bearing is new and arrived somewhat stiff, so it takes a little more spring and little more effort to push the foot board. The bearing is beginning to loosen with use though. I also needed to put together a smaller tool rest. The new one is about 5″ wide and utilizes the same locking base as the the large one.
Now I can turn just about any length of wood I want.
A short clip taken before the drive cord swap.
Notes 2 Greg Merritt
Like most things in hand work, no amount of reading or watching of videos can teach you to turn wood on a lathe. At some point you have to start putting tool to wood. Only then can your hand and mind begin to build the connections that are need to actually use a lathe efficiently. I don’t know about you, but there is only so much random turning I can as practice before it becomes boring and thus less conducive to learning. I need to have something at stake. I need to have the risk of failure or the lure of success in order to fully engage in the process.
Knowing that I would be teaching myself to use the lathe I started looking for lathe projects that would help me along the way. Magazine articles and videos are great, but without actual interaction you are still on your own. So I searched for projects that would progressively challenge my burgeoning skills. Abject failure sucks and can be discouraging, especially when your on your own. Therefore, the beginning projects needed low risk of failure and a high probability of success. One other wrinkle is that I wanted projects that would be useful. This brings me to my first project, the Garden Dibber.
The Garden Dibber is essentially a fancy sharpened stick of a known length with additional indicating marks of distance. It can be used to establish the spacing of plantings and also create a hole for planting at the desired depth. According to some sources the history of the dibber traces back to Roman times.
The Garden Dibber is a great beginner project. It requires roughing out, tapering, incising lines at exact locations. The surface needs to be smoothed and the handle portion can made simple or as complex as you want. None of the steps are critical to its function (a graduated pointy stick), so risk of failure is low.
I started by roughly shaping a billet octagonal at the shavehorse with my drawknife. I could also have done the same at the workbench with a plane. You can turn square stock directly on the pole lathe, but the sharp corners are hard on the drive cord.
One of the quirks of this lathe is that the drive cord wants to run at the end of the workpiece only. I can move it slightly over by angling the treadle, but it is much more efficient to simple flip the workpiece end for end to work the entire length. I could also use a longer blank and designate one end to be the pulley. I have done this, but it generates a waste piece. Since I’m frugal, I’ll use a smaller blank and flip it. Anyway, here is the blank roughed round.
Next, a little layout to delineate the overall length, the handle and where to start the taper.
After the taper is turned, I laid out the 1″ graduations.
The lines were cut in with a skew chisel.
Then I flipped the workpiece and shaped the handle.
I used a piece of MIG welding wire with toggle handles installed on it to burn (it’s not a Hillbilly Daiku project without wood burning) in the lines that I had incised with the skew. Pressure and friction does the trick.
The lathe work is done. All that is remains is to saw off the waste and shape the ends with chisel, file and sandpaper.
I wiped on a coat of BLO and called it done. This was my third (middle) attempt at this project. My first try is on the left and the second run is on the right. I can see some improvement and I’m becoming more comfortable with the tools.
I think the Garden Dibber was a good first project on the lathe. Heck, I can see cranking these out every now and again for practice and gift giving. It’s a relaxing way to spend an hour in the shop and there is almost no way to fail.
The pole lathe takes a little getting used too. Even more so since I’m trying to learn to use it and learn to turn simultaneously. It took me a couple of hours to develop a rhythm and feel for the pumping action. It proved to be a much more relaxed rhythm than I had imagined it would be and there is a good bit of feedback from the lathe and the work to guide you. One element of this lathe that has proven quite useful is the adjustable double spring pole configuration. I quickly took to adjusting the tension on the springs to match the type of turning I was trying to do. Heavier tension for roughing out and lighter tension for more detailed work. It takes only seconds to reach down and slide the connecting strap to change the spring tension.
On the subject of spring poles. The plans call for 1″ diameter spring poles, but since I made my lathe a little longer I bumped my spring poles to 1-1/4″ diameter. At first I thought that they were still too slight, but once I developed a feel for the lathe, I find that they are more than adequately sized for the task.
On the movable puppet I opted for a fixed dead center over an adjustable screw configuration. I struggled over this fearing that it would be cumbersome to adjust the pinch between the two centers without the aid of the screw feed. However, I find the puppet quite easy and intuitive to adjust with light taps from a mallet or tool handle. I’m happy that I didn’t go to the extra work of fabricating a screw-fed center point.
Another element that I needlessly worried about during construction was the wire linkage between the pivot arm and the spring pole. The wire is looped at each end and simply slid over the respective member and rests in a shallow groove. I was convinced that it would constantly slide off during use. It doesn’t. It hasn’t even moved from its installed location.
My first couple of pieces through the lathe were just to get a feel for the lathe and the tools.
Practice has its place, but I find that my skills improve much quicker when I’m tackling actual projects. I’ve come up with a couple of projects that seem to be geared for the beginner, a Garden Dibber and Peter Follansbee’s Ratcheting Book Stand. The Garden Dibber is a basic shaping exercise, but can be made as elaborate as you want. The same holds true for the Ratcheting Book Stand with the added wrinkle of needing to duplicate parts. We shall see if my choices for my first projects was wise or not.
Noets-1 Greg Merritt
This will be a first in a series of ongoing post as I learn to use the spring pole lathe. These posts will be mostly for my own journaling purposes, but it may prove useful to others as well.
When I finally made the decision to build a lathe, I agonized over which design to build. I knew that I wanted a human-powered version though. So the first major decision was spring pole or treadle? Ultimately I chose to build Roy Underhill’s version of a German double spring pole lathe due to its portability, simplicity of construction and the fact that it is a self-contained unit. My build process of a modified version of Underhill’s original is covered in a five-part series beginning here. Since Underhill still derives income (books, magazine articles, classes) and, as to my knowledge, has not made these plans free to the public, the series is just an overview of my build experience. In short, I built a lathe.
Now I have to learn to use the thing. Especially daunting since I have never used a lathe of any kind, human or electric powered. Well, there was an attempt at building a lathe about twenty years ago that involved pallet wood, a garage door spring and, very nearly, severe property damage from launching said garage door spring when the cord broke. Anyway, with this design of lathe I had a couple of concerns, the pivot arm and the loose foot board.
In every video I have watched of this style lathe in action the pivot arm looks to swing dangerously close the operators head. It also looked like it may pose as a constant distraction in my peripheral vision. I’m happy to report that neither concern was warranted. When using the lathe I am blissfully unaware of the pivot arm. Nor have I whacked myself in the head with it.
The loose foot/treadle board proved to be somewhat more problematic. My findings don’t seem to be unique in this regard. There are several folks who seem to have had the same experience and many creative solutions can be found on the internet. The majority of which add a good bit of weight and are bulky. Ultimately sacrificing a degree of portability and versatility.
The problem is keeping the thing in place during use. In use you place your stationary foot at the pivoting end of the foot/treadle board and pump away with your other foot. What I found is that the thing tends to walk away during use unless you have the perfect angle of push with your other foot. I found it quite frustrating to chase the thing around. I needed a simple way of keeping it in place. Another issue was that the return was a bit sluggish no matter the tension on the springs. This told me that the foot/treadle board was simply too heavy (see photo above).
Ultimately my solution ended up being quite simple. The treadle/foot board was trimmed to a triangular shape. This made it much lighter, but still stiff enough to do its job. To keep the thing from wandering around in use, I drilled a hole and tied a scrap of leather to the pivot end. In use, I can place my stationary foot on the leather and pin the foot/treadle board in place while still maintaining the ability to swing the end of the foot/treadle board left or right. This allows me to adjust where the drive cord is riding on the workpiece as well as preserve the lathes portability. Now I can concentrate on learning to turn.
There is a lot more to come.
At the conclusion of my last post on the spring pole lathe I had just begun work on the tool rest. The basic structure was complete. All it needed was the finishing touches. So the next day after work I installed a steel wear strip and completed the shaping.
The steel wear strip sits in a shallow rebate and is held in place with screws.
The remainder of the shaping is decorative, save one element. The edge directly opposite the wear strip needs to have a heavy bevel so that the tools can be angled down in use.
Once I had the tool rest complete, I could use it to determine the installation height of the dead centers. The general recommendation seems to be that the top of the tool rest should be at or slightly below the centerline of the dead centers. As I stated before, I’m using 1MT(#1 Morse Taper) dead centers. I don’t have the required tapered reamer to match the Morse tapers, but Roy’s article states that a stepped hole beginning with 7/16″ and finishing with 3/8″ will work just fine. The tricky bit is that the two dead centers must be in exact alignment, or at least as close as you can get them to exact alignment. I don’t mind telling you that I stressed over this operation. After drilling a couple of test holes, I drilled and installed the dead center in the short upright. It came out square and plumb. Whew! Next was the really stressful install in the movable puppet.
The location for the dead center in the puppet is marked directly from the first dead center. So I slid the puppet close to, but not yet touching, the first dead center. I then locked the puppet down with its wedge. I then slowly tapped the puppet over until the first dead center marked the location for the second. Then another stressful round of drilling and checking for plumb and square. Luckily all went well and the dead centers were installed and in pretty decent alignment.
All the remained was to fabricate the linkage between the spring poles and the pivot arm. I also needed to install a drive cord. The linkage I made from a piece of heavy gauge wire. A loop was formed at each end of the wire and secured by twisting the wire back onto itself. I also filed a shallow groove in both the spring pole and pivot arm to help keep the wire loops in place.
The drive cord is the recommended leather sewing machine belting and installs thru a hole bored thru the end of the pivot arm. The other end is attached to the treadle board.
With the drive linkages installed the construction phase was complete. At this point I dismantled the lathe and went over each and every piece and refined anything that I felt needed attention. Then everything received a wiping coat of hardware store BLO. I’m a fan of this BLO, heavy metal driers, ect., but it is cheap and serves the purpose for this utility type application.
Once the BLO was dry, well mostly dry, I reassembled the lathe and finally had my first go at using it.
I’ll talk about my experiences using this lathe in my next post.
Part 4 Greg Merritt
My goal was to have a functioning lathe by the end of this weekend. As progress was made over the past week I became confident that my goal would be met. Alas, the weekend has come to a close and finds me still short of a completed lathe. I’m really, really close though. So close that it was hard to put down the tools and shutdown the shop this evening. But it is better to stretch out the project by a few days than to make some silly mistake because I’m too tired. Anyway…
Most of the progress over the past week has been related to mortising for the wedges and adding “decorative” embellishments to the rail tenons. The mortises are straight forward. Simply chop thru and match the angle of the wedges. The decorative embellishment is completely unnecessary but I like to seize any opportunity to try out something new or to practice something. These are tusk tenons and the area after the wedge needs to be strong to resist the pressure of the seated wedge. So I needed to be careful as to how much material I removed. After several sketches I settled on two options. One for the upper rails and one for the lower rail.
The design I used for the upper rail rounded the two corners with the addition of a scroll. I created a template from card stock so that each layout was easy and quick. To cut the design, I sawed away as much waste as I could and then used a sharp chisel for the rest of the outer work. The scroll I incised with a gouge. Once the shaping was done I broke out the wood burner and went to work.
The lower rail received a simple angle cut. What angle? No idea. The leg of my square is 15mm wide, so 0mm to 15mm is the angle technically.
I will be installing 1MT (#1 Morse Taper) dead centers in this lathe. These are a little over 3″ long. When installed in the 1-1/2″ thick upright, just over half of the dead center will be unsupported. It would probably be fine, but the idea bothers me. To remedy this I laminated another piece of 1-1/2″ pine to the inside face of the upright. To keep this extra piece from looking out of place and clunky, I gave it a little shaping.
The next job I tackled was the puppet. The blank for which has been glued up and waiting patiently since this whole thing started. I shaped it to match the short upright. The lower portion of the puppet fits between the upper rails and hangs below them far enough to install a mortise and wedge. The wedge locks the puppet in the desired position along the rails. With the shaping out of the way, I laid out the mortise. To create the mortise I bored out the bulk of the waste and cleaned up with a chisel.
The next pieces that I fabricated were the spring poles. I have a few bits of white oak and searched thru them to find two pieces with straightest grain I could find. Then I ran them thru my old table saw to bring them to 1-1/4″ square. From there I went to the shaving horse and shaved them to octagonal with my drawknife. Then a little fine tuning with the spokeshave.
I then installed my fancy copper strap, that I made from a bit of pipe, and secured its ends with a rivet.
I began work on the tool rest today but, quite frankly, was to dang tired. Oh well, I’ll hit it hard again this coming week.
Part 3 Greg Merritt
My day in the shop didn’t go as I has planned. It’s not that anything went wrong, but I had gotten the order of operations a little out of order. Originally I was going to cleanup the uprights and chop the mortises for the rail wedges. As I was about to plane off all of my layout lines it dawned on me that I had better cut and fit the pivot arm first.
The pivot arm installs in a slot in the taller upright and rides on a 1/2″ diameter steel axle. I also installed a bronze bushing to protect the soft wood of the pivot arm. I purchased both the steel rod and the bronze bushing from the big box store. Both needed to be cut to length
Since I was in metal working mode I thought I would have a go at fashioning a strap that will eventually connect the, yet to be made, spring poles. In his book, “By Wedge and Edge“, Roy says the strap can be fashioned from a copper pipe that is cut in half along its length. Ideally I would have a metal cutting blade for my turning saw, but I don’t. So I was left to use my hacksaw with a fixed blade. By loosening the blade I was able to twist the blade enough to cut away about a quarter of the 12” long piece of copper pipe. Then I worked the remainder flat. Just like that, I had a copper strap.
The pivot arm is fashioned from a piece of clear pine that I bought specifically for the purpose. When I went to the big box I culled through the pile until I found a piece that had the grain running in the same direction as the taper of the arm. I was really lucky and found an almost perfect match.
The axle partially installed.
The rest of my day in the shop was spent planing the uprights clean and chamfering every exposed edge. I then reassembled what I have so far and manged to actually mark out for the wedge mortises. The chopping of those will have to wait until tomorrow.
Part 2 Greg Merritt
Confession time…if you follow me on Instagram, then you know that I started this lathe project a week ago. I’m little behind on my blogging, but I’ve been running a little time management experiment this week.
It is exactly five minutes between my house and my work. As a result, I come home for my lunch hour most days. Usually I eat something, check the news and catch up on reading blogs (another thing I’m behind on). Anyway, I decided to try getting in twenty minutes of shop time while on my lunch hour. So every day this week I set a 20min timer on my phone and headed for the shop. Its been a nice break in my day to get in a little wood working. More importantly, it has been surprising how much I can get done in that short twenty minutes.
Once I had the mortises in the uprights I turned my attention to the three rails. Two will be the ways and form the bed of the lathe. The third rail serves to stabilize the assembly. Each of these rails will eventually be secured with wedges in a tusk tenon arrangement. The two bed rails have single-shoulder tenons and work in unison when wedged tight to keep them square to the uprights. The lower rail tenons have two shoulders that will keep it square.
Once I had the tenons laid out, I sawed the shoulders. I opted to split off the bulk of the waste. In hindsight, it would have been quicker to saw it off. This SYP is stringy and will not split work a darn! Which will make for a strong assembly, but tedious going for waste removal.
Next I worked on the feet. I made these feet much taller than Roy’s version. Which is part of how I’m gaining a little extra height. The remainder of the extra height is in the uprights themselves. The connection between the upright and the foot is a thru, spit tenon. Which ment that I needed to chop a mortise through 180mm (7″) and keep it square and plumb. Not my best design choice. This depth is the limit for my chisels, but I managed to pull it off in both feet.
The tenon was formed as I described above for the rails.
I’ll be glueing these feet in place, but also opted to add square drawbore pins. These aren’t actually necessary, but a little extra structure never hurts. Plus a little practice never hurts either. To chop the required square holes I fashioned a plug to fit into the mortise. The plug adds backing and keeps the inner wall of the mortise from being splintered out. I should have waited on this step though. I’ll explain why in a minute.
I’m shaping the feet with a Japanese inspired shape. My original plan was to have a shallow arch at the bottom center of the foot. (This is why I should have waited on locating the square pegs). I saw that I had a couple of knots in these pieces, no big deal. What I hadn’t noticed is that one of them was dead and loose. I saw that I could eliminate the knots by changing the shallow arc to a deeper shape. Ideally the drawbore pins would be closer to the shoulder of the tenon than to the end of the tenon. Changing the shape of the cutout will shift my pins about 12mm(1/2″) closer to the end of the tenon. Not a big problem, I’ll just have to lessen the offset so as not to over stress the tenon.
At any rate, I laid out my desired shape with a compass and cut it out with my turning saw. The shape was then refined with a sharp chisel and spokeshave.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
Finally, I ended my day in the shop today by fashioning the required pins and wedges. I made these from white oak.
OK…that brings this blog and you up to date.
Tomorrow I’ll chop the mortices in the rail tenons and fit the wedges. I also hope to clean up the uprights and feet with a plane and assemble them.
Part 1 Greg Merritt
I have always been fascinated by the lathe. There is something mesmerizing about watching the shapes appear from the spinning wood. As much as I like the lathe, I never planned on adding one to my shop. There’s a whole list of excuses why and I had taken the lathe off of my to-do list and penciled it in on my some-day list.
Through a strange series of events however, things have changed. There’s a big long story that explains all of it, but I’ll just cut to the gist. I was recently given several turning tools. How awesome is that? There is a mixed bag of Craftsman, Buck Brothers and Vermont American. I think all of the basic profiles are here. A few gouges, a skew, a parting tool, thumbnail, ect. They are in need of a little love, but should get me more than started.
So now it seems silly not to delve into lathe work. Of course I need a lathe first.
The basic types of human-powered (I have no interest in electric) lathes are spring and treadle. Each has its pros and cons. The spring type lathes are simplest to build, are portable but work with a reciprocating action. Treadle lathes are a little more complex to build, are generally too heavy to be easily portable but have the benefit of constant rotation. So why choose one over the other?
Portability seems to play a big role in the decision process. Even still, there are several examples of historical shops with permanently installed spring pole lathes. So maybe personal preference has always played a part. For me, the combination of simple to build and portability is hard to ignore.
Roy Underhill’s version of a German spring pole lathe is a design that is hard to beat. It’s a self-contained, reasonably light and portable lathe. The only issue I have found with Roy’s version is that it seems a little short. In most of the videos I’ve watched, including The Woodwright’s Shop, Roy and others look stooped over while using this lathe. My suspicion is that the low height is a function of the novelty of building the lathe frame from a single 2″x12″x12′. That’s just my personal guess though. Anyway, I think I’ll have a go at building and using Roy’s version of the spring pole lathe but, I’ll build it a little taller.
Plans for the lathe can be found in a few places. One source is Roy’s book, “By Wedge and Edge“. Most recently, PWW magazine (August 2016) ran an article by Roy on the building of the lathe. Or (if you have the time and money) you could attend a class and learn to build this lathe directly from Roy.
As you may know, I like to work with proportions. Short of that I prefer metric. All of the plans for Roy’s lathe are based on imperial dimensions though. So I did a little CAD work, converted the plans to metric and tweaked a few of the details. My version will raise the work a few inches/centimeters, it will be a bit longer to ensure that I can work with table-length legs and I’m changing the decorative elements as well. No surprise there.
I’m building the lathe out of SYP and purchased a couple of 2x boards and will be utilizing the pieces left over from the recent table builds as well.
Step one was to break that lumber down into the required components and layout the joinery.
I then cut the large mortises that will receive the rails. I used an auger to remove the bulk of the waste and then used a chisel to finish off each mortise. The “spring” part of this lathe design is supplied by two wooden rods. These rods are contained in three holes and one slot. The slot allows the end of one rod to travel up and down creating the spring action. The three holes I simply bored through. To create the slot I bored a hole at the extents of the slot and used my turning saw to cut out the bulk of the waste. Finally cleaning up the walls of the slot with a wide chisel.
It is no secret that I prefer a hand-rubbed oil finish. It is my go-to finish of choice. I don’t think that I am alone in this fondness. Judging by the blog posts and articles that I read, several others feel the same way.
Oil has a lot of things going for it. It is easy to apply, easy to renew and easy to repair. It can also be better for your health, depending on your product of choice. An oil and wax finish does have some shortcomings though. It’s not the most durable finish and if your after a high gloss, forget it, it is not going to happen. Also, an oil and wax finish requires some maintenance. It will need an occasional buffing and reapplication once in a while.
Yes, an oil and wax finish is easy to apply. Your don’t need any special training or skill, but don’t mistake easy application for quick or less work. The finishing process can span several days. Possibly even a week or more, depending on the size of the project and surface quality that you are after. If you want a hand-rubbed finish…yep, your actually going to have to rub it by hand…a lot.
Since I’m just completed two large tables, I thought I would discuss the steps that I go through when applying an oil and wax finish. I’m no expert, so this is not holy writ, just the steps that I have found to work best for me. Please feel free to question or contradict any of all that follows.
Note: time on task in the following is based upon one face of a 30″x77″ table top.
First and foremost I want all surfaces to be from an edge tool. I use sandpaper when I need to, but those areas are given more attention with oooo steel wool or burnished with shavings. Why? I want the surfaces to be burnished and that is what a cut surface from an edge tool is. A burnished surface is basically a head start on an even luster from the finish. I prefer to use Japanese planes, but any well tuned finishing plane will get the job done. Push, pull, iron body, wooden body doesn’t matter. It just needs to be sharp and finely set.
If I can’t get the burnished finish from an edge tool, I’ll use the alternatives that I mentioned earlier. Rubbing a handful of shavings on the surface of the work piece is quite effective. 0000 steel wool will get the job done too. Alternatively, I will use the uzukuri technique to both texture and burnish the surface. This is what I did with the table top.
First using the rough and then the medium uzukuri brush, I went over every square inch of the table top. I also employed a couple of different size gouges for areas that had deep tearout or that I simply wanted to have a more pronounced texture effect. In all it took between seven and eight hours to complete the uzukuri treatment and bring this table top to the point of being ready for the oil.
Step two is an application of linseed oil only, no wax. This is a penetrating coat of oil and for this I use Tried & True brand Danish oil. Which is a polymerised linseed oil and contains no heavy metal driers and is completely food safe. Also I have tinted the oil with “Raw Sienna” artist’s oil paint, which imparts a warm amber tone to light-colored woods such as pine, poplar and oak. To apply this first coat of oil I use a soft cotton cloth and vigorously rub the oil into the wood. The friction induced heat helps to drive the oil into the wood. This application took between thirty to forty-five minutes. I then let the oil “soak” in for five to ten minutes.
Below are side-by-side comparisons. With tinted oil on the left, without on the right.
Once the oil has been allowed to dwell, I begin buffing the surface and removing any oil that remains on the surface. I’ll continue this until the surface has NO remaining wet areas. This step took about fifteen minutes. After a couple of hours I go over the surface once more to remove any oil that seeps back to the surface.
Then I wait for twenty-four hours. Technically the directions on the can say eight hours, but I almost always let it dry for twenty-four hours.
Step three begins with buffing the surface once again with a cotton cloth. I repeat if necessary. What I’m looking for is no color or oil coming up on the cloth. Then I buff the surface yet again. This time with 0000 steel wool. This further burnishes and seals the surface of the wood. All this buffing takes about thirty minutes. Now I’m ready for the second coat of oil.
For the second coat of oil I use Tried & True Original finish. This is a mixture of polymerised linseed oil and beeswax. Again, it is food safe and contains no heavy metal driers. Just like the first coat of oil, this is vigorously applied. This took another half hour to forty-five minutes. The product needs to “soak” in for an hour before buffing off, which took an additional fifteen to twenty minutes.
Then I wait for another twenty-four hours. Buffing once more along the way.
Coat number three follows the same exact steps as the second coat. Buff, burnish with steel wool, apply the oil and wax mixture, wait, buff, wait, buff again and wait.
Generally three coats will do. One coat of the tinted linseed oil and two coats of the linseed oil/beeswax mixture. After the third coat has been allowed to dry, forty-eight hours this time, a final buffing with a cotton cloth completes the finish. I’ll typically add one more coat after a few months have passed. From then on out, a periodic buffing is all that is needed to keep the piece looking fresh.
So there you have it. An oil and wax finish doesn’t require any great skill, but easy is a relative term. This type of finish does require some hard work and time. Sure, you could skip some of the buffing and burnishing steps, but the end result will suffer…trust me on this.