Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Starting Out With a Lathe

Late last year, I got turned on to the possibilities of making bowls on a lathe. I did some investigation and decided that the Nova 1624-44 would be the right one for me. It's not a variable speed lathe so it requires moving the belt to change speeds. But that cut about $500 off the cost. It has a reasonably long bed that can be extended another 24 inches with an optional bed extension. The headstock rotates so it is possible to turn bowls as large as 29 inches in diameter, much larger than I'm likely to be turning. Nova is a New Zealand company and is well-respected. All-in-all, then, my new lathe is a multi-purpose machine that should serve me well for many years.

As the above photo shows, there are already a lot of chips on the machine. I started out not with bowls with pens, which is, I think, a good way to begin learning how to use the lathe. I've now turned 30-40 pens of all types, giving them as Christmas presents to many family members and friends this year. The photo below shows the machine set up with wood blocks ready for turning into a Slimline pen.

The process is fairly simple. I select a chisel and with the lathe turning at about 1400 rpm I round off the blank, working in from the ends. Once it's round, I can cut more aggressively to narrow the blocks to closer to their final size. After that, I begin to shape the wood to the configuration I want. In the case of the Slimline pen, I want it to be voluptuously curved in shape, coming to its narrowest points at each end and in the middle, where a ring will be attached during the final assembly. Once fully shaped and sized, I sand in ascending grits from 150 to 600, then polish with EEE cream before applying friction polish for the final coat. It takes only a few minutes to shape a pen and I find it to be good therapy.

Kits for pens and pencils, as well as wood and acrylic blanks, come in a variety of sizes and are available from a number of sources, including Woodcraft. So far I've concentrated on the Slimline and Wall Street II models so there are many more for me to explore.

I'm planning on selling my pens at some point, perhaps on the Web, and at craft shows with a friend. But before I can do that, I'll have to build up a large enough stock to merit the effort. Sounds like I need to spend more time in the woodshop!


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