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Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Lathe

I try my best to come up with catchy little titles for my blog posts. Sometimes though, I just can't think of anything that does not sound over the top corny. So I decided to title this one simply, the lathe.
As such, let's talk about my lathe. Recently I realized that I was extremely unhappy with the height of my lathe. I was turning a small bowl that I needed to see inside of for those final light passes when it occurred to me, this is why my back is giving me problems after turning small bowls. I was stooping at an uncomfortable position to be able to see inside my work. This made me also think of other operations that made me have to stoop. It was clear that either my lathe had to come up, or I had to get shorter. Since I had no intention of cutting my legs.....
I built an eight and a half inch riser frame under the lathe stand and bolted the stand to the frame using half inch lag bolts. I added strips across the bottom and had my sons move these huge pieces of marble under it that we brought back from my Grandpa's place in north Georgia earlier this year. This added a lot of stability. I checked it and was much happier with this height. The lathe bed is even with my elbows. I can work comfortably without stopping or reaching up in any uncomfortable positions.
While I was at it, I decided to make a couple of other modifications.
The middle supports for my lathe stand were just there. I mean, they really served no purpose besides keeping the legs from buckling, which I didn't see happening anyway. So I thought I should make use of that space. So I added a shelf with sides and ends that extend up two and a half inches. This gives me somewhere to put small tools I'm using while turning any given project. This is much better than my previous method, which was to lay it on the lathe bed and forget about it until I hear it hit the floor. Then I would usually have to get down into the floor and retrieve whatever it was that I had just lost in a nearby pile of shavings.
This took care of things except for one more aggravation I'd been having. A lot of projects usually require the use of more than one cutting tool. I would turn around to my accessory table, replace whatever tool I was using, and retrieve the one I needed. Then later I would usually go back for the first tool. This happened back and forth quite often. It would be nice to keep whatever few tools I used for any given project right on the lathe stand. So you may notice the angles wooden pieces at each end of my lathe now. Each of these has four holes one inch in diameter in them to drop tools I am using into. The one on the left end of the front are for most spindle type projects. The one on the other end I use when I sometimes stand at the back of the lathe while hollowing small bowls. I know some of you may tell me it's wrong to work at the back of my lathe, but it's what is comfortable to me. The are placed so I am grabbing for the left end on either side I'm working on because I am left handed.  
Now let's talk about those tools.
Someone told me once that the lathe was the cheapest part of wood turning. I did not, at the time, understand what they meant by that. They were correct though. To me, a three hundred dollar investment in a lathe is a huge deal. I just don't have that kind of money lying around. I have all these other tools though. They cost fifteen dollars here, twenty dollars there, and then you throw in those forty and fifty dollar accessories. Don't even get me to talking about some of the more expensive things. Let's just put it like this. I sat down one day and started figuring up what I had invested in accessories, not counting the lathe, and I swear I felt a heart attack coming on, or at least quite a bit of anxiety if I dared let my wife see those figures.
Anyway, I am always looking for ways to save on tools. The problem is, with a lot of lathe tools, you get what you pay for. Cheap tools are just that, cheap tools. Sure, you may get the job done, but be prepared to spend a lot of time at the grinder touching up the cutting edge. Yes, I learned this one the hard way. So I have found that the only other alternative is to make your own tools as much as possible.
With all this rambling, let me explain. I have several nice scrapers and gouges. The problem is that I often find myself in a position where I would love to have a different cutting profile on the tool I have in my hand. However, because of the cost, I just cannot start grinding a different profile on a tool each time I find myself in this predicament.
Then I read this article about the Oland Tool. This little dandy seemed like the answer to my prayers. So I started to look around to see what I had to work with.
Now, to make this tools, you can get pretty much any steel, drill a hole into the end of it, drill and tap for set screws, and stick a piece of tool steel in it. Really the only parameter you have to make sure on is that the holder part is big enough to hold the cutting part. So what would I use for the cutting part?
Then I remembered this tool. I ordered this from Penn State some time ago. I used it several times, hated it, stuck it in my tool rack, and it has collected dust and cobwebs there ever since. This tool is meant to hold quarter inch shank router bits and you use them on the lathe. I think it was a good idea in theory, but just doesn't work well, in my opinion, in practice.
Anyway, all I needed was some good steel to make cutting bits out of that would fit into the quarter inch hole in the end of this tool. So off to town I went. You know what I found? It is hard to find a clear answer in town what exactly good tool steel is, much less actually find any. So in frustration, I found myself at Tractor Supply Company just in hopes of finding something that would work, since they seem to have everything else. Then the brain fart hit me and I thought of drill bits. On the shelf, for less than six bucks a bit, was some very long shank, quarter inch, high speed tool steel, drill bits. I wondered if this would work. There was only one way to find out. So I bought the two bits they had left.
After grinding and cutting, I can get four bits off of each long shank drill bit. So after taxes, for less than fifteen bucks, I made eight different profiled bits to use in the bar of the tool.
Some of you are already asking the important question. How well does it work?
Normally, I would use more than just the oland tool. For example, most of my hollowing would be done with a bowl gouge. However, for testing purposes, I decided to turn this rosewood bowl entirely with the oland tool, using nothing more but different tip profiles. I am happy to say that I am absolutely thrilled with how it performs and would even venture as to say to it is my new favorite tool simply for it's versatility. I've already thought of some other tip profiles I'd like to have once Tractor Supply stocks some more of those quarter inch bits.
Something I love more than turning wood is fishing. Well I went fishing a few nights ago. Since I've been down in my back a lot lately, I let one of my younger sons do something I would never normally allow, carry my tackle box. He hit is on the steps leading down to the water and the flimsy factory handle came right off, with a broken plastic tab that used to hold it on. So I spent some time online looking for a tackle box and could not find one I was happy with. Then finally, at a local sports store, I found one I like a lot. The funny thing is, it was the exact box I have now that has a broken handle. What can I say? I got used to it and just really like the box. The problem is, there is no way I was going to pay over fifty dollars for the same box I already have, that has already proven to have a weak handle support on it. It just did not make sense to me.
So I decided the better alternative to this dilemma would be to fix the box I had. I wanted something better than what came from the factory though. I wanted something that would not tear off just because one of my sons hit it on a concrete step.
So I turned a handle from a solid piece of pecan. I ran strong enough rope through the handle and attached it to the bottom section of the box. In my opinion, this is better anyway because it also take undue stress off of the plastic latches that holds the lid shut, which I was sure by this point would be the next part of the box to fail otherwise.
Here you can see how the handle holds the box up while being carried. Not only do I think this will outlast the factory handle on a new box, in my opinion it is now more comfortable to carry. The handle having the ability to slip on the rope from side to side allows the weight to shift comfortably without the box hitting against your leg as you walk like it used to.
That's all I have to show today. Looking at things I've fixed using the lathe though, I guess I should have named this post, if it's broke, fix it.
Till next time, happy turnings.

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