Stretch Out those Legs, We're Gonna Turn!
There are so many great furniture projects out there that have turned elements. These round sections can be done by hand using chisels and spokeshaves, but nothing beats a lathe for speed and consistency. Lathes have been around for thousands of years so there are many options open for the hand tool woodworker. This semester will tackle the art of turning and will start by comparing spring pole and treadle lathes, then build an 18th century treadle lathe with some modern hardware and finish with an iconic table as a perfect introduction to turning furniture parts. We will need to build our lathes first before we can get into the lessons so the whole thing will be backwards unlike previous semesters.
The turning tool lesson alone is worth the price of admission to Semester 5! But then the lessons just keep going and I'm amazed at how much information is here. Prior to this I had never turned and now I feel I'm ready to turn anything.
Member Since 2012
Work at Your Own Pace
What makes the lesson in The Hand Tool School so effective is that they never go away. When you buy a semester you have lifetime access to the material. No need to worry about cramming in all the content before access goes away or how much it will cost you in monthly fees to get through all the material. And there is A LOT of material in Semester 5.
The techniques taught in semester 5 represent an entirely new direction of woodworking. Woodturning can be a subculture all its own but foot powered lathes will hone your turning skills even farther when we discover that high RPM and torque often disguise poor technique and dull tools.
Lessons, Projects, & Tools
- Applied Projects
- Pole Lathe
- Flywheel Lathe
- Pedestal Table
- Tool List
Lesson 1: Introduction to Turning Tools
This lesson discusses the wide variety of turning tools from roughing and spindle gouges to skew chisels and specialty hollowing tools. We will take a close look at how the tools cut, how the geometry of the blade effects the cut, and the body language needed to ensure a clean, consistent cut. We will even compare “traditional” turning tools with modern, replaceable carbide tip tools.
Lesson 2: Sharpening Turning Tools
Despite the complex geometry of some turning tools, they are quite easy to sharpen when compared with the variety of flat work tools used by cabinetmakers. We will discuss my sharpening process, when to sharpen, tools to use, and how to create repeatability to reduce sharpening time. Finally we will add a grinding wheel attachment to our treadle lathe.
Lesson 3: Spindle Turning
This lesson looks at all the aspects of turning between centers from preparing and securing the work piece to the actual cutting techniques to shape beads and coves. We also compare and contrast spindle turning on the spring pole and treadle lathes.
Lesson 4: Faceplate Turning
Turning with a chuck or a mandrel is a very different style and requires different tools and rock solid work holding. These techniques are even more important when foot powered lathes are used.
Lesson 5: Foot Powered Turning 101
You secure the workpiece and start it turning, that’s all there is to it right? Not quite. This lesson takes a look at the differences in technique and stock preparation between electric powered lathes and foot powered lathes. We also look closely at the differences between spring pole and treadle lathe turning. Basically we will cover the…um…basics to getting started turning on a foot powered lathe.
An incredibly useful aspect of a lathe is the ability to turn handles for all your tools, it also happens to be a great spindle turning warm up exercise!
Pole Lathe Bowl
We build a mandrel, shape a green blank with an axe, then employ specialized hook tools to turn a beautiful bowl on the Pole Lathe.
Turning for your furniture projects opens up a whole new realm of design possibilities. One of which is turning door and drawer knobs as shown in this exercise
Flywheel Lathe Bowl
Using a block of kiln dried Maple I employ a modern process of chucking, turning, and reverse chucking to make a bowl on the flywheel lathe.
Joint Stool Leg
This final spindle project applies everything we have learned about turning beads and coves into an ornate stool leg based on 17th century styles.
This project uses a sacrificial chuck to turn the basic shape of the rosette on the flywheel lathe, then its over to the Joinery bench to carve the details.
I build this to help in shaping the spring pole for the lathe but it is a great tool for all kinds of other applications. Its especially useful in Windsor Chairmaking.
Spring Pole Lathe
Some incarnation of spring pole lathe has been in use since the Egyptians and this ancient lathe form still exists today. The lathe is dirt simple and can be made from simple scraps and a sapling to more elegant 16th and 17th century forms. There are a lot of designs for this style of lathe from the bow lathe to a sapling woven through the rafters of your shop. All you need are two points to hold the workpiece, a cord to wrap around the work, and a treadle to set it in motion. We will build the now iconic Hulot 1775 version made popular by The Woodwright Shop and Roy Underhill. This lathe is easy to build, requires very little material, and can even be knocked down flat when not in use.
There are more designs for treadle lathes than one could possibly build in a lifetime. Fortunately that means we can take the best of many different designs, add in a little modern hardware and end up with a lathe suited for any size shop or style of wood turning. We will take several “field trips” to examine 18th, 19th, and 20th century treadle lathe designs. My design is a blend of the stability of the monster 45 degree frame with the space saving design of a vertical leg, timber framed model. It will be well suited for spindle turning as well as face plate work. Plus we will add in some great attachments for tool sharpening and large faceplate work.
This design is flexible for additional treadle driven machines like scroll saws and it makes a great base platform. It also is easily scaled to match your shop size requirements.
Hancock Shaker Village
With a solid grounding in turning techniques and an option of Spring Pole or Treadle style lathe built, why not build a classic example of wood turned furniture? The Candle Stand from the Lebanon Valley Shaker Colony has become a kind of Shangri-la of the perfect form.
This table is beautiful in its stark simplicity and gives us a chance to try several types of wood turning from the elegant vase shaped column to the larger top. Add in some great sliding dovetails and you have an outstanding skill building project.
Semester 5 Required Tools
Considering this semester tackles an entirely new world of woodworking there are quite a few new tools to add to the arsenal. Fortunately the "machines" we build ourselves but we will need a starter kit of turning gouges and chisels.
- 3/4 - 1" Roughing Gouge
- 1/2" Spindle Gouge
- 1" Skew Chisel
- 1/8 - 1/4" Parting Tool
- Mid-size Carbide Finisher
- Mid-size Carbide Rougher
Get O1 steel if possible instead of HSS, but not mandatory
Optional Tools for Making the Lathes
- Auger Bits: 3/8 - 1"
- 10" Mill File
- Keyhole Saw
An Unmatched Learning Experience
I firmly believe that if you follow each lesson, do the practice exercises, and build the projects you will be a better woodworker at the end of it. I think that dedicating 4-6 months to get through all the lessons and projects is a reasonable goal as well.
Of course I'll be here every step of the way answering your questions. Ask any of my students, I'm always ready to help.
The hand tool school has been an amazing resource. The first few semesters are a video anthology of how to accomplish any task by hand. I used to dread sawing by hand and be totally incapable of getting square cuts. With Shannon’s tutelage, I’m a confident sawyer and repeat the Hand Tool School mantra to everyone: “If you can see the line, you can saw to the line.”
Member Since 2014
But there is also a community of your peers waiting for you to share your triumphs, project pictures, and to help you when you have troubles. If you are struggling with a technique or project, many of them are building the same thing or have already built it and can offer advice.