As The Lathe Turns #53: The Lathe

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Blog entry by William posted 10-21-2013 12:44 AM 2171 reads 0 times favorited 19 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 52: Shooting Straight Part 53 of As The Lathe Turns series Part 54: More Home Brews »

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.


19 comments so far

View Dave's profile


11429 posts in 3039 days

#1 posted 10-21-2013 01:38 AM

Good to see you posting. You had a brain fart?
{insert joke here}
Any way, great work William. elevating the lathe was a brilliant idea.
And the tool bits were cool too.
Keep them coming!

-- Superdav "No matter where you go - there you are."

View gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 2889 days

#2 posted 10-21-2013 02:02 AM

William, I have raised my workbench and every tool in my shop except the big bandsaw. My back thanks me every day.

You could always have Dave custom make all your lathe tools and swap him some of your handiwork (or some fish!)

I know that 1/4” drillstock is available but can’t remember where. I’ll keep thinking and let you know. How would 1/4” chainsaw files work for tool stock?

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

View JL7's profile


8690 posts in 3164 days

#3 posted 10-21-2013 02:07 AM

Cool ideas William….the bit holder should be a real money saver in the long run….....

-- Jeff .... Minnesota, USA

View William's profile


9950 posts in 3042 days

#4 posted 10-21-2013 02:35 AM

Thanks Dave.
Elevating the lathe is working out great.
Now I just need to build a taller stool for when I’m having trouble standing.
Or add a riser under the old one.

Andy, I haven’t tried files yet. I have several old ones around. I guess one day I’ll just have to find out. I am for the time being sticking with my current source because I know it’s good steele though. It seems to be holding up. I am learning quickly that all high speed steel is definately not created equal. If I could get some good quality quarter inch tool steel rod though, it would probably save some money over buying the drill bits.

Thanks Jeff. I think it’ll save me a bundle before I’m through. The site where I got the idea from has all kinds of things you can make for it too. I am thinking of trying hook tools in the future as well.


View DIYaholic's profile


19706 posts in 2874 days

#5 posted 10-21-2013 02:41 AM

You are one innovative cheap “mother&$^%@#”....
I mean that in the nicest of ways!!! ;^)

Great job on….
the lathe….
The Oland Tool cutters….
Tackling the tackle box repair….
And just being in the shop, DOING!!!

-- Randy-- I may not be good...but I am slow! If good things come to those who wait.... Why is procrastination a bad thing?

View Bearpie's profile


2601 posts in 3217 days

#6 posted 10-21-2013 03:25 AM

I elevated my lathe by 5 inches more than year and half ago and now stand up straight when working there. Much more comfortable now!

-- Erwin, Jacksonville, FL

View Woodknack's profile


12430 posts in 2579 days

#7 posted 10-21-2013 03:33 AM

I was up looking at my lathe awhile ago thinking of raising it a tad. It’s fine for spindles but on bowls I find myself hunching.

Great job on the Oland style tool I might have to give that a try.

-- Rick M,

View stefang's profile


16130 posts in 3534 days

#8 posted 10-21-2013 08:55 AM

All good ideas William. You can also use the HSS drill bit shanks for hollowing out closed forms like bottles, etc. You just need a mild steel bar with a hole drilled at an angle on the side at the end where you can insert the sharpened drill shank. You can split the bar at the hole end down to the hole and run a bolt through so you can tighten the bit in place. This requires a 2nd hole across for the nut and bolt. Clear as mud?

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Roger's profile


20952 posts in 3003 days

#9 posted 10-21-2013 10:53 AM

You’ve just added many more years of turning to your back by raising up your lathe. I do like your tool holder carousel also.

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed.

View William's profile


9950 posts in 3042 days

#10 posted 10-21-2013 10:58 AM

Thank you all for the kind words.

Mike, the idea you describe is very clear actually. I had a similar idea but was debating on how to get the set screw holes drilled and tapped precise enough to hold round stock without turning. With set screws I always prefer two screws to one. I will definitely be giving that one a try as soon as I have the money for some stock. I can use the same cutter bits that I already have. Would that still be an oland tool or is there another name for t?


View clieb91's profile


3521 posts in 4134 days

#11 posted 10-21-2013 04:00 PM

William, Some more great information from you. Thanks. I like the idea of raising the lathe and perhaps with my next purchase I am going to make sure to get it at a good height. I am looking at scaling back due to shop space and getting a midi-lathe. So I will build the stand myself.

Thanks again for the the thoughts.


-- Chris L. "Don't Dream it, Be it."- (Purveyors of Portable Fun and Fidgets)

View William's profile


9950 posts in 3042 days

#12 posted 10-21-2013 11:32 PM

I’ve used the lathe some since raising it Chris and never knew how much a difference the height would make. It is much more pleasurable to turn now.

I’ve been working on some more shop made tools today as per mike’s suggestions. I’ll be sure to post them when I’m done.


View Jim Baldwin's profile

Jim Baldwin

56 posts in 2558 days

#13 posted 10-22-2013 02:16 AM

I’ve been a professional post and spindle turner for many years and was trained by my long-gone Dutch Grandpa who spent his youth from age 12 through old age, standing and swaying in front of a lathe. It’s called the “turners’ sway” and it’s the unmistakable mark of a production hand wood turner. The motion is the result of the ergonomic position and manipulations of the hands and body. It’s all about comfort, economy and production and there are guidelines…

One hand is on the tool, near the tool rest, while the other is at the waist holding the handle. The slight motions of the turning tool is in the wrist of the hand at your waist. The cut is mostly performed and controlled by the sway and motions of the body. It’s a natural motion performed by shifting body weight from one foot to the other. It’s a dance or waltz that can be performed hour after hour, year after year. There’s no easier way.

Therefore the height of your lathe (more particularly the tool rest) should be set-up for dancing. Your partner and life-time companion, is your lathe. If you have to physically and habitually hold up your hand away from your waist, then you are wasting energy and compromising control.

Obviously short little turning tools are almost useless in my estimation (none of Grandpas’ home made tools would fit in your box). The angle of the tool I’m describing is for shear cutting but the same is true for scraping where the tool is held perpendicular to the turning axis. Outboard faceplate turning was often performed from a raised floor platform. This elevated the body, allowing the turner to keep is hand at his side. If you’re scrape-cutting then you’d typically need a very low level lathe or platform.

Your turning tool rotisserie is a cute idea but has no place in the production process. The 3 or 4 tools required are set out in front of you on the bed of the lathe. You should be able to draw them out without really looking at them. You need a backboard support for your lathe

I admire your enthusiasm but I suspect that your lathe is too high. Of course each turner has his own methods or style but I learned this stuff from a man who spent two years of his teenage life turning the same style stair balusters everyday, all day as the belt-driven lathes ran continuously without stopping. Grandpa at work

-- Jim Baldwin/

View lew's profile


12428 posts in 3955 days

#14 posted 10-22-2013 03:13 AM

Great post, William!

Like you, I had to raise my lathe to help eliminate aches and pains. Especially my neck. I took mine off of the stand and bolted it to the top of a cabinet.

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

View William's profile


9950 posts in 3042 days

#15 posted 10-22-2013 11:54 AM

Thanks lew.
It seems that I definitely haven’t thought I something that others haven’t done already.
I guess raising the lathe has come to a lot of us eventually.

Jim, thank you for the advice.
Funny thing is, according to your advice, I am doing several things right.
I hate scraping. Let get that out of the way. I like cutting with my edge high on my work. This may be the wrong technique, but works for me. Of course if I’m doing bowl hollowing or faceplate work my tool has to come lower, near or at center. I hope I’m explaining this right but what I’m getting at is, with my lathe where it is now, it puts my handle holding hand (left hand in my case) comfortably on my waist like you show in the photo. And you are correct in that this is the most comfortable. I’ve found out that to do otherwise gets my left arm tired quickly. Of course my right hand is helped by being guided by the tool rest most times.
The tool carousels are handy. Like you say though, they have no practical use during a project. That is why I added the side holders to my lathe that I talked about in this blog entry. I can now reach for a given tool quickly and easily. I just put what I’m using on there as I’m working. This eliminates the carousels for anything except storage of tools not being used at the time.
Thank you for telling me about your grandpa. I love hearing about the way things were done way back. We can all learn from these true craftsmen from days gone by. I’ll but he could have taught all of us wanna be wood turners a thing or twenty. I couldn’t imagine turning on one of those belt driven lathes you describe. I have to stop and check my work often or I’ll wind up turning tooth picks.


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