Some time ago, I wrote about purchasing a full size lathe that was an upgrade from my mini bench top lathe. You can see this post here.
The only lathe tools that I had were the little ones meant for pen turning on the mini lathe. I started to look online for a set of lathe tools that would be more suitable for larger turning. Now, I’m no turner, and I’m fairly new to it, so I decided that replaceable carbide lathe tools were the right tools for me. I know, I know, pro turners will tell you that these are all just scrapers, but I’m ok with that. I liked the look of the full-sized EZWood tools, but, wow are they expensive.
One day, I was browsing on the woodnet.net forums and saw that one of the members was listing for sale lathe tools that he made to order. A little further digging revealed that he had his own website where he offers the tools for sale. You can see his website here: https://www.ncwoodturningtools.com. I contacted John to enquire about having a set made to my specifications.
The prices looked good, so I decided to order a complete set and make my own handles. I asked John to make the tools with an 8” projection, and a 3” shank to mount into the tool handle for an overall length of 11”. I noticed on his website that he offered the roughers with either a square/straight carbide cutter or a radiused one. I wanted one of each as I felt they would both be useful.
As for the diamond detailer, the only one offered had a very small rounded tip at the end of the carbide cutter. I asked John if he had any of the kind that come to a fine point, but he did not. I asked him to make me a second diamond detailer tool, but omit the cutter and I would provide my own. I suspect that the slightly rounded carbide cutter will be a little more durable and will last longer. The fine point diamond detailer will be great for really sharp fine detail, but I think it will be very easy to break off the tip. I’ll have to use it with a light touch.
In summary, here’s what I ordered:
- ½” Finisher – Square Stainless Steel Bar – with 16mm Finisher Insert
- ½” Rougher – Square Stainless Steel Bar – with 15mm 2” Radius Insert
- ½” Rougher – Square Stainless Steel Bar – with 15mm Square Roughing Insert
- ½” Detailer – Square Stainless Steel Bar – with Diamond Insert
- ½” Detailer – Square Stainless Steel Bar – without Diamond Insert
- One replacement carbide insert for each tool.
John made them over the weekend and shipped them off to me. Here’s what arrived a few days later (I took out the carbide cutters in the photo below):
Time to make some handles.
I’m going to do something a bit unusual here. A couple of years ago, I wrote about some London Pattern chisel handles that I made for some socket chisels. You can see those posts Here, Here, and Here. I’ve never seen a lathe chisel handle made like this. To me this means one of two things, either my idea is incredibly stupid and shouldn’t be done for good reason, or I’ve come up with a new idea and I’m blazing a new trail. I guess time will tell.
I had a small log in my shop that a neighbor had given to me. At the time, he told me it was walnut and I stashed it away in my lumber pile.
I should have painted the end-grain as the wood has checked. There’s plenty of useable material in the middle of the log though. I started out on the jointer to get a flat face and followed this up with a rough cut (by eye) at the bandsaw. I then went back to the jointer to square the rough cut up to the first face.
At this stage, it was easy to process the log into boards.
This log was the oddest looking walnut that I’ve ever seen. Only a very small part of the log (basically right around the pith) looked anything like walnut to me.
One I had boards, I cut them into square billets at the table saw.
To make a London Pattern handle, you first have to make an octagon. Only then can you proceed to the lathe. I started this process with a chamfering bit at the router table.
To refine and even out the 8 facets, I continued the process on my drum sander. As a little aside here, I love the concept of this tool, but have never been able to get it to work as perfectly as I would like. Usually the wood ends up burning and left with scorch marks. Perhaps I need to buy better paper, or simply use a coarser grit.
At this point I took the five octagonal billets to my cross-cut sled and cut off the ends that were split and checked. The billets were much longer than I needed, so I had plenty of wood to work with. The ends were saved for stain testing, more on that later. As you can see below, the only part that looked like walnut ended up on one of the off-cuts.
The chisel handles will need to have a ferrule for added strength. I went to my local plumbing supply shop and found these:
I figured that I could cut off the smaller part and save it for later in case I ever need a small ferrule for another project. I wanted to file off the barbs and the stamped lettering on the fitting before cutting it. I thought that the lathe was the best place to do this, so I made a jam chuck out of one of the scrap offcuts.
While the lathe is spinning, I took a file to the fitting.
Once the filing was done, I proceeded through several grits of sandpaper, ending somewhere around 400.
I used a hacksaw to separate the two ferrules.
I cleaned up the freshly cut ends with files and sandpaper. Here’s what I was left with:
Time to mount one of the billets in the lathe and make a handle. I first reduced the diameter of one end until the ferrule would just tap on tightly.
The next part was the most difficult. Boring the ½” hole in the end of the handle for the tang to fit into. I think this would have been a lot easier if I had a steady rest that I could have installed around the ferrule. It would have kept things perfectly centered. Since I don’t own a steady rest, I bored a ¼” hole first and then the ½” bit would follow the pilot hole without wandering. I don’t think there are any commercially available steady rests for my lathe as it has a very high depth over bed. I think I’ll have to make one someday. Another project to add to the To-Do-List.
With the tang hole drilled, I could finally turn the design.
Here’s how it looked in the end:
A couple of years ago, my local hardware store was having a clear-out and was selling Watco Danish Oil for about $2 a can. I bought one of each color, but it was a bit of a waste, as I really only like the plain and the Red Mahogany. The others have just sat in the cupboard.
I didn’t like the look of this weird white walnut, so I decided to get out the various colors and do some experiments.
From left to right:
Golden Oak, Fruitwood, Red Mahogany, Medium Walnut, Dark Walnut, and Black Walnut. Also, there’s a tin of Mahogany gelatin at the end.
I wasn’t in love with any of the finishes, so I had the idea of trying the gel stain applied on top of the Danish Oil. There were two combinations that I liked.
Since these are supposed to be walnut, I decided to go with the darker combination. Black Walnut with a little red added over the top. I took some scrap from the firewood pile and made a quick drying stand for applying the finishes.
Here you can see the Black Walnut Danish Oil going on. I’ve written plenty in the past about applying Danish Oil so I won’t go over it in-depth. In short, it is applied liberally and left to soak in, adding more as needed. An hour or so later, all the excess is thoroughly wiped off and the finish is left to cure for at least a day (a week is better).
Gel stain is interesting. You wipe it on, let it sit for a while and then wipe off as much as is appealing to you. If you wipe really hard, just about all of it will come off. If you hardly wipe at all, the part will looked painted and most of the grain will be obscured. In the below image, the first handle (on the right) had gel stain applied and wiped off. You can see how it adds a reddish warmth to the piece.
I left the gel stain to dry for a few days and then applied two coats of gloss wipe on poly. I’m not thrilled with how this turned out and think it would have been better sprayed. But, as I don’t have a sprayer, this will do. After two coats, I lightly sanded with 320 grit. I sanded a little too much in a couple of places, but nothing too noticeable.
For the final coat, I used satin wipe on poly. You only want to use this on your final coat and gloss for the earlier coats. The flatteners in the satin will muddy the look of the grain if you use it for all three coats.
I just realized that in some of these images, the handles look drastically longer or shorter than each other. They’re not, they’re just leaning away from the camera at wildly varying angles.
With this done, it was time to install the tools in their handles. I had planed to do this with epoxy, but three of the five handles were so tight that I didn’t need it. I added a little epoxy to the other two. I then reinstalled the carbide cutters that I had removed for safety while making the handles.
Summary and Lessons Learned:
I’m really happy with these lathe tools. The best part is that all of this cost less that a single full-sized EZ Wood Tool would have set me back. John at NC Woodturning Tools did a great job and you can’t beat the price. Sorry if this sounds like an advert, it’s not, I’m just really happy with my purchase.
That said, they’re not perfect. The thing that I struggled with the most was turning the sweep on the handle. They’re not as curvy or as aggressive as I would have liked. Look at my socket chisel ones, they’re much prettier. The design flaw (if you can call it that) was that the metal tang runs through the thinnest part of the handle. On a socket chisel this isn’t an issue. If I would have made the sweep narrower at is thinnest point, as I would have liked to do for aesthetics, then I would have risked making the wood around the tang so thin that it could break.
If I had it to do all over again, I’d change one important thing. I would have ordered the tools with 6″ tangs. I know that sounds extreme, but it would have buried the tang way back into the solid octagonal part of the handle and I could have made the neck thinner.
I’m not likely to ever make these again, but I figured that I’d include this little tip incase you decide to have a go at making them.
In the next post, I’ll make a box for storing the lathe chisels.
– Jonathan White