Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Woodworking -- Lathe

Cherry wood blank chucked up and ready to turn.

This spring I've been reorganizing my garage/ workshop and brought my vintage Craftsman wood turning lathe out of storage.  My dad bought this old lathe when I was about 12 years old.  It was bolted to a rickety old wooden stand made of pine.  He used it a few times then never touched it again putting it up in storage in the barn.  About 18 years ago I salvaged it from that barn, cleaned it up and built a new solid stand for it.  I estimate the age of the tool to be 50 years old and maybe more.  A fine example of the saying: "They just don't make 'em like they used to".  The set up has the original Craftsman electric motor and all the Bakelite knobs are still attached.  I even have a set of older Craftsman gouges and chisels that most probably came with the lathe when it was new.  I will say that they are far superior steel to recently purchased tools of the same brand and really hold an edge.

The wood lathe is my favorite tool in the shop.  A lathe possesses a potter's wheel like artistic nature in that an operator starts with a plain lump of material and ends up with something symmetrical and pretty.  The machine runs quietly and I find using it so relaxing that I can waste away the hours easy!

I had a little time to kill after work yesterday so I dug out a piece of wood from my scrap bin and made some sawdust.  I've not done any turning for a few years but it does feel great to be back at it.

Roughing out the stock to round with a gouge

Sometimes I have an idea of what I want to do in my mind's eye.  In other instances I just let the shapes come from the wood.  Unlike a metal lathe which has the cutting tool solidly mounted and controlled by a geared mechanism the wood lathe puts the cutter in the artist's hands where a multitude of angles, pressures and nuances brings the piece to life.  It's a kind of magic that never gets old.

I love the look of the wood while it spins

In the picture above the tool rest is visible which has an inch scale molded into the top edge.  The spindle is only about three inches long.  While a larger piece of stock is easier to work with I like the challenge of turning a tiny piece.

I picked up a little trick from an online forum that I have never done until now.  The finishing method is simply to wet sand the piece with oil before removing it from the lathe.  I have always pulled my part and oiled it afterwords and no matter how careful I was with the sanding process I always had some machining marks become visible once the oil wets the surface of the wood.  By leaving the part chucked up and spinning while wet sanding accomplishes a couple things.  Most importantly it allows me to see any fine sanding lines or marks and smooth them out until gone.  Another effect from this method mixes fine wood dust and oil and works it into the pores of the wood creating an ultra smooth surface superior to an oil rubbed finish alone.

As can be seen in the photograph taking a piece of wood from a flat board and working it with the lathe can yield some fantastic grain patterns that you just can't find with any other type of machining.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, nice machine. Learning to use the skew chisel is challenging, but well worth it. When razor sharp it leaves a better finish than sanding. Have fun Mike. Tom, AB9NZ