Tips & Techniques


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The Tips & Techniques page contains articles on woodturning and useful help items. It also contains links to You Tube videos of some of the demonstrations at the COWA. Many great educational videos on woodturning projects and tools can be found  on You Tube for beginner and experienced turners. One in particular that every wood turner should see is "Why you don't use a Spindle Roughing Gouge on bowls." There are many great wood turning sites for their educational value. One that we recommend is Turned Treasures by  former COWA member Larry Hancock. Larry provides step by step instructions on several projects.

COWA Demonstrations on You Tube

Using the Rose Engine Lathe by Dale Jones

Production Spindle Turners Perspective by Bob Jarrett

Inside-Out Turning Heart-Shaped Candlesticks by Dewayne Colwell

Turning the Finger Spinning Top
By Wayne Furr

Children of all ages love to play with tops. With hundreds of different designs there are many possibilities for turners. One thing that I have found is that many turners have some difficulty in creating this simple little project. Often the design is wrong for a top that spins well: the spinning point may be too long or the handle is too fat for the little ones to hold and make the spinning snap. Another problem is developing tool control to make efficient cuts to produce a smooth surface on a top. In this demonstration, I will show different methods for creating an esthetically pleasing design and one that spins for a long time.

Method 1: Turning the spinning point first

1. Start with a block of tight grained hard wood like hard maple that is about 1 �--2 inches x 6 � inches long. With this size block you should be able to turn 4 tops that are about 1 � x 1 � -- 1 � inches. These are what I call the low profile spinner.

2. Take a spindle roughing gouge and round out the blank. Remember to ride the bevel and make clean cuts not scrape! Avoid taking away too much wood, strive for the maximum diameter from the 1 �--2 inches.

3. Now take a small spindle gouge or a detail gouge and start shaping the spinning point by making clean cuts down the end of the round. Again, ride that bevel!  Avoid making the point too long: strive for about 1/2 inch. I find that the lower profile has a better balance and spins much longer.

4. After you are satisfied with the spinning end we can start cutting away for the finger spindle. For this you can use the 1/8 inch parting tool, your small spindle gouge or detail gouge. The gouges require a little more room, so let�s use the parting tool and refine with the detail gouge. Again, ride the bevel and turn the finger spindle down to about 3/8 inch, and then use the detail gouge to refine the back profile. I like to concave this area to lower the center of gravity even more. Also strive for a thickness of no more than 1/8 inch.

5. Now it is time to put some decoration on both sides of the top. For this, I like to use a chatter tool followed by color. Different speeds of the lathe will result in different patterns. With the tool rest at center or slightly above center of the work piece start the point of the tool at center drag it down to about 7 o�clock. Do this on both sides of the top. The only sanding needed for this project will be a slight touch with 150 or 220 grit paper to take the fuzz off of the chatter work prior to coloring. Now take brush tip color markers and while the lathe is spinning apply a little color using brush tip markers.  I find that two to three colors work best. Most often I only two colors that compliment each other. When doing these at shows where the kids get to watch, I let them pick the colors that they like.

6. Now it is time to finish turning the finger spindle to its final diameter of about 1/8 � 1/4 inch.

7. Finally part the top off with the tip of the detail gouge or use a skew to make a clean cut.

8. Now it is time to enjoy the excitement as the recipient takes their personal top.

Method 2: Turning the finger spindle first

For this method, we will continue to use the round from the first top. You should be able to get up to 5 tops that are between 1 and 1 � inches tall from this method. We will also switch to the skew. Don�t worry we are only going to use a couple of simple cuts to help develop cutting skill with this tool.

1. With the tool rest slightly above center lay the skew flat on the rest with the point toward the wood. Make sure that you start with the tool rubbing and then pull it down into the cutting position to make a peeling cut. Peel the wood down to about 1/4 inch for the finger spindle. I strive for a spindle of about 1 inch and then cut the back concave.

2. Take your chatter tool, chatter and color this side of the top as describe in Method 1. After you are satisfied proceed to the spinning side.

3. On the spinning side use the skew and make a �V� cut. As you proceed keep the top at no more than 1/8 inch and widen the �V� cut away from the top for about 1 inch. When you have cut to about 3/8 inch take the chatter tool and decorate this side of the top.

4. Continue with the skew and �V� cut to part off the top. Be very careful not to break the top off the block: keeping a sharp point results in a better spinner.

Making a Spindle Top with contrasting body and spindle

For this method take a 3/8 or 1/2 inch hardwood dowel of about 2 � inches long and a piece of exotic wood scrap of about 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick x 1 � to 2 inches square. The dowel can be held in a Jacob�s chuck or a scroll chuck with the small jaws that will clamp down to 3/8 inch.

1. Drill a hole through the center of the exotic scrap to accommodate the dowel used.

2. Add a small drop of wood glue to the hole and drive the dowel through the hole until it protrudes about 1/2 inch.

3. Hold the dowel in a Jacob�s chuck or a scroll chuck with the small jaws that will clamp down to 3/8 inch.  Using method 1 turn the top. A finish without color can be used on this one. For more information see Useful Beauty: Turning practical items on a wood lathe by Dick Sing, p 48.


Inside-Out Turning
Heart-Shaped Candlesticks

By Dewayne Colwell

1. Mill two pieces of wood to the same size. I used 1�� X 10� for this demonstration. The wood doesn�t need to be square; for example, it could be 1�� X 1� X 10�.

2. Lay the two pieces of wood together and match the grain so it looks as natural as possible. Then rotate both pieces 180 degrees so the inside is moved to the outside. Put a little CA glue and accelerant on each end of the wood blanks. Then press them together until the glue sets.

3. Wrap both ends with a nylon stranded tape (at least two wraps or more). This is very important and will prevent a possible safety hazard if the pieces come apart.

4. Mark the center of each end on the glue line.

5. Identify the top and bottom of the project. Then locate where the heart is to be placed on the stem. Using a dark pencil or marker draw the inside of the heart on the project. The drawing needs to be visible on the top of the project closest to the tool rest.

6. Mount the project between centers on the lathe using a clutch drive on the head stock and a live center on the tailstock.

7. Use appropriate safety gear (full face shield, gloves, and etc.). Then turn the lathe on and adjust the speed to about 1800 to 2100 RPM.

8. Make a cut with the parting tool near the point of the heart and at an angle cutting to the depth of the heart.

9. Use a detail, spindle, or bowl gouge; remove the wood from the inside of the heart down to the cut you made with the parting tool.

10. Use a small swan neck tool to clean out the remainder of waste wood inside the heart.

11. Remove the project from the lathe, and then remove the tape. Use a wood chisel and a mallet to split the two halves apart.

12. Sand the two halves. Then glue and re-assemble to form the heart shape. Clamp and remove excess glue. Let the project dry.

13. After the project has dried, use a forstner bit to drill the hole for a candle.

14. Remount it on the lathe as in Step #6, and turn the outside shape.

15. You are now ready to sand and apply a finish to the project. Enjoy!

See the demonstration on You Tube

The Honey Dipper (One piece)
By Wayne Furr

The honey dipper is a fun and useful project. Recently I was giving a demonstration at a Mid-High School when one of the students ask what I was going to make. I replied a honey dipper. To which the student ask what's that? Later I realized that to many young people honey comes from a plastic squeeze bear.

1. Start with a turning square 1� x 8� inches.

2. Mark the centers on each end. This is a project that is normally turned between centers, but can be held in a chuck with small jaws.

3. Place between centers and round down to about 1 1/8 inch using a spindle roughing gouge. If you don�t have a spindle roughing gouge a 1/2 or 3/4 inch wide spindle gouge can be used. If you want to practice a skew is also a good tool to use. Remember to ride the bevel making clean cuts: NO SCRAPING!

4. Mark 1/2 inch waste ends. Then mark out the dipper head on the tail stock end. A good length is about 1� inch.

5. Using a skew make �V� cuts on each end to define the dipper head.

6. Using the roughing gouge reduce the handle to slightly smaller than the dipper head.

7. With the roughing gouge shape the head to a slight barrel shape.

8. With a narrow parting tool start to layout and cut grooves. I use a 1/16 inch parting tool but widen each grove to 1-1/2 thick cuts.

9. Now proceed to reduce the handle adding any embellishments that you desire. I happen to prefer a simple design over lots of beads and coves.

10. When you are happy with the handle it is time to sand. If you have been making clean cuts without scraping you should be able to start sanding with 150-grit sandpaper and finish up with 220 or maybe 320.

11. For a finish I recommend using only bees wax and polish while spinning.

12. Finally to part off take the skew and make light �V� cuts on the tailstock end to about 1/32 inch. Proceed to the headstock end and repeat the �V� cuts.

13. With a knife cut off the waste, sand and add bees wax to finish the ends.

The Honey Dipper (Two pieces)

1. You will need a turning block 2�� long x 1�� square for the head.

2. You will also need a piece for the handle of contrasting wood �� x �� square x 6�� long.

3. Mark the centers on each end of the large turning block and drill a 3/8� hole in one end about �� deep.

4. Mark the centers on each end of the handle stock and mount between centers using a small four prong, steb center, or a safe center drive.

5. Turn one end down to 3/8� x ��. Be sure that this tenon bottoms out in the hole in the head piece. Glue in when it fits with waterproof glue.

6. From this point follow the steps for turning the one-piece dipper.

Roast�n Ear (Corn on the Cob) Holders
By Wayne Furr

Roast�n Ear or corn on the cob holders are a good alternative to the cheap plastic ones that you buy in the store. I am sure that you have found these always break after a few uses. These are easy to turn and make great gifts.

Turning the handle:
1.      Start with a turning square of 1 � inch x 3 inch wood of your choice. You will need two pieces of stock.

2.      Mark the centers on each end of the pieces.

3.      Drill a 1/4 inch hole in one end to a depth of 1 inch.

4.      Using a 1/4 inch pin chuck position one piece between centers and bring up the tail stock for support. A pin chuck can be made from a piece of 1/4 inch cold rolled steel stock. Cut the stock to a length of 2 � inch. On one end grind a flat section about 1 inch in length to the depth of a 10d nail. Cut the head and tip off of the nail to a length of 1 inch.  The cutoff nail makes the locking part of the pin chuck.

5.      Using a spindle roughing gouge start to round out the block to a cylinder.

6.      When you have achieved a cylinder proceed to shape the holder to your desired shape. I prefer to use a 10mm (3/8 inch) detail gouge but any small spindle gouge will work just as well.

7.      Add a couple of detail cuts. These can be burnt with a small wire held by dowel rod handles. Be careful the wire will get red hot.

8.      Take a skew or detail gouge and turn the waste stump from the tail stock end. You should be able to make cuts all the way through.

9.      When you are happy with the holders it is time to sand. If you have been making clean cuts without scraping you should be able to start sanding with 150-grit sandpaper and finish up with 220 or maybe 320.

10.  For a finish I recommend using bees wax and polish while spinning.

Turning the skewers

1.  For these, I buy �� hard maple dowel rod and cut it into lengths of 2 � inch.

2.  Hold the shortened dowel in a drill chuck and using a skew turn down to a point.

3.  Glue the skewers into the holder using waterproof glue.


Keep your finish fresh

Wood finishes tend to develop a scum on the top if stored in the original container over an extended period of time. To avoid this and keep the finish fresh, I store my finish in a Mason jar and seal it with a FoodSaver adapter for the jar connected to a small vacuum pump that removes the air from the jar but not the liquid. FoodSaver sells the regular jar adapter for about $9.00 and the wide mouth jar adapter for $10.00.

Joe Millsap         

Vinegar Paint

1/4 cup vinegar
1/2 tsp sugar
1 Tbl spoon liquid soap
1 Tbl spoon powered tempera paint

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This site was last updated 02/23/12