Turn away

What I notice when watching a real turner is his speed and confidence. The shavings fly off the lathe in streams; small mountains of chips collect at his feet; and beautiful undulating shapes appear before your eyes as if by magic.  Real turners make it look so easy.  I know better. I’ve never considered myself a woodturner; always thought of myself as a woodworker who turns.  Same with carving, I’m not a carver, I just carve a little. I’ve never shied away from a turning assignment; never declined to build a piece with turned components. However, I hold myself to a high standard and would never incorporate poor quality turnings into anything I was making. Over the years, I’ve resorted to various tricks and techniques to maintain a high level of quality in my lathe-turned work. Most real turners would frown on some of the methods I practice. But we all take the occasional shortcut. Would I decline a delicious meal because my host used ready-made pasta instead of making it by hand?  Never. My “turning techniques for non-turners” actually make a bit of sense and my efforts always produce high-quality work as the end result. Turning a straight cylinder or taper:  After roughing a turning blank to approximate diameter, I frequently turn to my block plane for some help . Turning a really straight cylinder or taper is tough.  The secret is to create a flat surface, without undulations, along the developing form. Experienced turners would choose a skew gouge for this task. But a skew is difficult to control and prone to digging in and ruining the work. Using a smaller curved gouge will leave shallow depressions that reflect the curve of the tool.  By using a block plane you employ a design that allows woodworkers to plane the surface of a board perfectly flat, so the length of the plane directly affects the flatness of the lathe-turned surfaceAdditionally, the plane also controls the depth of cut, same as it does when planning a board. And this simple technique won’t damage your plane.

Using a block plane is a great way to achieve a smooth taper.

A Grobet file saves the day: I often use a Grobet detail file to work the curves on my turnings. This invaluable double-ended, half-round file tapers at each end; one end is coarse, the other is fine. Don’t let the delicate appearance of this workhorse deceive you. This tool quickly removes wood, leaving flowing curves in its wake. I love it.

use a Grobet file to better shape your forms.

Sanding shapes on the lathe: The best looking rings and reels are those cut to a smooth curve. Bumps, flats, and divots all detract from a good job. Both concave and convex shapes can be cleaned up with complimentary wood shapes, faced with sandpaper.  Another trick is to wrap a dowel in sandpaper and gently press it against the spinning blank to clean up and smooth curves.  Lee-Valley sells sanding rubber grips, in a variety of shapes and sizes, for the same purpose.

A rubber sanding grip neatly shapes a ring

 A hand full of shavings:  After planing, filing, and sanding the work, the final step is to burnish the turnings while still spinning on the lathe. Using a handful of shavings, gathered from the floor, I simply press them to the workpiece. The shavings will leave a pleasant, low-luster surface that’s ready for finishing.

Shavings rubbed against the turning will nicely burnish your turnings

Done: Burnishing your turnings will highlight any rough spots that might require more attention. Here, the turning displays a good-looking, soft-satin surface, ready for finishing.

ready for finishing