Lathe Projects #1: Woodturning - Slim Vase

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Blog entry by David Craig posted 07-20-2010 02:33 PM 3561 reads 0 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Lathe Projects series Part 2: Natural Edge Ash Bowl #1 »

Been awhile since I had shop time. The last three weeks have been pretty much on call and vacation with the kids so it feels good to get back to work on some things.

As I progress on the lathe, I have been wanting to experiment with more delicate turnings. Much of my work has been more heavy handed so far and I wanted to work with curves, thinner walls, and trickier hollowing. I had a small log I discovered that had been sitting in the basement since the beginning of time so I mounted it and went to work.

Here is the log mounted after roughing the bark and working some of the knots down.

Log with bark removed and knots worked off

For those new to turning or not familiar with lathe operation, a piece such as this is out of round. Care has to be taken when moving the chisel into the piece because the chisel will connect to solid mass, then air, then solid mass again. One way of determining how far to move your chisel in, without jamming the chisel in too far, is to watch the blur of the piece while it is spinning.

log spinning on lathe

The blur lets you know the largest diameter of where the log will have some solid mass. If you move in slowly, you can touch the edge against the piece and your chisel work will go much smoother. In the beginning, large knots and bark can play havoc if you slide the chisel in too fast. Watching the blur helps you determine the safest point in which to make contact.

Since the piece is to be hollowed, I needed to eventually mount the log on my 4 jaw chuck. The idea is for the chuck to hold the piece solid and remove the tailstock to gain access for hollowing. Rather than trying to constantly measure the thickness of the log in various places, I used a set of outside calipers to determine the max width allowed to chuck the piece and would check and recheck the log until the log was slim enough to chuck.

Outside calipers measuring jaw chuck

Calipers measuring log

Couple items I learned with this project -

1. When moving a piece from headstock to jaw chuck, it is easiest to re-establish centering by keeping the jaw chuck loose and sliding the head piece into the chuck, then moving the tailstock into position and inserting the tail stock into the same entry point already established, then tightening the jaw chuck. If you mount the piece jaw chuck first, the tail portion will be out of alignment.

2. I need a spindle steady :) The log was too long for the jaw chuck to maintain a steady spin alone so I had to work on making the piece shorter. The way I approached this was to part the piece out so that the part was made in front of the piece and remounting it, rather than parting at the end of the piece.

parting line on piece after chucked

The logic behind this is that when the log is on the spindle, I can’t make a good even surface on the end. By parting the piece towards the front, the edge will be perfectly flat for re-chucking. This will give the jaws a better grip on the piece.

I roughed out the shape using the roughing gouges, followed by scrapers and the skew chisel. The skew chisel is probably the trickiest to learn on the lathe because it can catch on the piece very easily, but they produce a very fine surface and they cut down on sanding time dramatically. I used a 3/8 bowl gouge to shape the lip and hollow it. The lip was the most delicate feature as its thickness was almost as slim as a dime. Any catch on the chisel and the lip would break off. I could only hollow about half the depth with the bowl gouge. I had no wiggle room after that. I will have to invest in some hollowing tools in the near future.

This is the piece on the lathe, shaped and partially parted -

Piece shaped and sanded

I have read that applying a finish while the piece is in motion works well in creating an even finish. I found this to be true but learned that spraying a polyurethane is not the brightest move. The spinning causes the poly to be slothed off. On a good note, I do have a shirt now that is resistant to stains :)

This is the finished piece. I have my own personal critiques of it that I will work to correct in future turnings but I am happy with the overall design. It should make a decent weed pot or something of that nature.

Finished Vase

Thanks for looking,


-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

6 comments so far

View lew's profile


11265 posts in 3176 days

#1 posted 07-20-2010 03:34 PM

Great looking vase!

Very well done tutorial, too.

-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

View Rustic's profile


3220 posts in 3017 days

#2 posted 07-20-2010 03:50 PM

lookin good

--, Rick Kruse, Grand Rapids, MI

View jockmike2's profile


10635 posts in 3668 days

#3 posted 07-20-2010 08:21 PM

You managed not to praise the hell out of me for once, thank you very much since I had nothing to do with your creation. Those books you borrowed were not in vane either, I see you’ve been reading them. That’s basically how I learned, little as it is. I do see a similarity though between you and another fellow that joined Lumberjocks, he had a passion and ability much like you. He took a real class with Trent Bosch I believe was his name, Joe Landon (Trifern) was already making some great pieces when he took the class, but afterwards he became a superstar. His ability skyrocketed. Maybe in the future that’s something you may want to do. Just a suggestion. Might mean a difference between mediocrity, my skill level, and Joe’s skill level, very high. Happy turning buddy.

-- (You just have to please the man in the Mirror) Mike from Michigan -

View stefang's profile


15512 posts in 2755 days

#4 posted 07-20-2010 08:34 PM

Hi David, I’m glad you are enjoying turning. Your blog is well done. Your lathe looks pretty beefy too, and your vase looks nice. I hope you don’t mind me venturing little advice which I hope will make things a little easier for you:

I also have a good 4 jaw chuck, but I have found that with the type of turning you are doing there, where you want to hollow a long end grain piece like that, it is generally far better to use a good steel faceplate with long screws the maximum diameter the holes in the faceplate will allow and using every hole. I have hollowed out many bottles with a diameter of about 7” and a length of about 15” to a wall thickness of about 1/8”, and I only have a 3/4” spindle on my lathe. You do have to waste the wood with the screws in it, but this isn’t usually an issue when you are using logs. Another point is that I always turn end grain logs while they are wet. I think they run more stable that way, and they can be finish turned in one go without cracking provided the walls and bottom are turned to a uniform thickness.

All this doesn’t mean a spindle steady isn’t a useful lathe accessory even in the situation I mentioned above, but it is a hindrance to shaping the outside in smooth sweeps with your chisels and that can make it difficult to get fair curves. I always shape the outside first of course with the tailstock in place. Once that’s done the piece is running very stable and it’s ready for hollowing. I assume you do the same. That said, the really long pieces do need a spindle steady.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View David Craig's profile

David Craig

2136 posts in 2530 days

#5 posted 07-20-2010 09:12 PM

Thanks for the kind comments Lew and Rick.

Mike – jockmike2 – My momma always taught me to give credit where credit is due. When I am working with a gent who teaches me to hold the chisel right side up, I am going to give him credit :) Good idea on the class. Once I get my chisels understood and experiment with what I can with with books, I will definitely look into the class (if they have one in Michigan). I have a ways to go yet, hopefully time will open up. I do find lathing quite relaxing during my lunch break.

Mike – stefang – Constructive comments are always welcome in my world and I appreciate the bits of wisdom. I have a decent faceplate and I will give it a whirl next time. I mostly use the wood that I have access to but will keep an eye out for green logs in the future (jockmike2 is always turning up his firewood). Makes sense. If I have a need to re-chuck to touch up some sanding or smooth an edge I didn’t see before, I can always use the jaw chuck then and put a makeshift jam chuck on the tailstock to keep it balanced. Really wouldn’t be much more wood wasted using the screws since I have to part the piece either way.

And, just for clarification, the books give me great info, but neither design nor provided tutorial is lifted from anything I read.

Thanks for the comments folks!


-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10850 posts in 2536 days

#6 posted 07-21-2010 01:37 PM

it´s good to see you have fun in the shop David
thank´s for the toturial I have a new freind who just get in to this spinning thing
with the lathe I will show it to her , she has only a very slow wireless connection to the net
so she maybee don´t see this , even thow I have showed her Lumber Jocks and I know
she is on from time to time

niice little vase you have made

take care

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