Largest piece of wood I've ever turned... Part 1

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Project by Evangogh posted 08-30-2016 02:52 AM 1614 views 0 times favorited 18 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I’m turning an elm log that’s about 11” in diameter (longest measurement) into an urn.

Does anyone have any pointers for rounding it out? I centered it pretty well but decided to give it some time before diving in. I rested the log on a 2×4 to take some of the weight off of my lathe, so no rush there. I assume it’s just going to take a whole lot of very slow turning for a while?

-- Turn on, brothers and sisters!!!

18 comments so far

View monkeyman83's profile


26 posts in 1659 days

#1 posted 08-30-2016 11:53 AM

Take the bark off first using a chisel. Dirt, sand, and other stuff gets into the bark and will quickly dull your tools. Additionally, the flying bark hurts so be sure to wear the proper protection. Bark comes off in chunks. Be careful in the hollowing process. Remember the grain orientation. Above all else, wear the proper protection, take your time, and have fun.

-- It may not be pretty...but it's functional.

View bushmaster's profile


1251 posts in 1700 days

#2 posted 08-30-2016 02:05 PM

I would take a axe to it and remove most of the bark. Hope your lathe has enough power to lathe that diameter, Stand to one side as you hit the start button. Make sure the live center is drilled well in so there is no chance of it tearing out.

-- Brian - Hazelton, British Columbia

View gargey's profile


393 posts in 193 days

#3 posted 08-30-2016 04:40 PM

He has a good point about power. I have no lathe experience, but that looks like a bad idea.

View helluvawreck's profile


22669 posts in 2284 days

#4 posted 08-30-2016 05:56 PM

To me that seems like a big piece of wood for that small of a lathe. IMHO, At the very least it will definitely give that lathe some wear and tear. You will be doing the lathe a lot of good if you try to get it balanced as well as possible. If it were me I wouldn’t want to turn it on that lathe. I have some experience on a lathe but am certainly not an advanced turner, nor am I a bowl turner. Best of luck to you and don’t get in a hurry.

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. Henry David Thoreau

View bushmaster's profile


1251 posts in 1700 days

#5 posted 08-30-2016 07:39 PM

I have turned a number of large pieces on my scrap iron lathe that I recently posted and even with it there is allot of shaking going on. I have a 1 hp motor and with the larger diameters it easy to stall it out. But if its well bolted down and you have a slow enough speed one can always try to start it and turn it off quickly if it wants to jump off the table. The heavy part turns to the bottom so you can trim some of it off before you flip the switch. Will be interested to know how you make out.

-- Brian - Hazelton, British Columbia

View Underdog's profile


878 posts in 1453 days

#6 posted 08-30-2016 07:41 PM

I’d just sharpen my spindle roughing gouge or bowl gouge, clamp or bolt that lathe to the bench, turn the speed ALL the way down, put a face shield on, make sure the tool rest and tailstock clamps were tight and secure.

Then, I’d rough that baby out. It’s not so much that it doesn’t have power, although that’s probably a factor here, it’s that you have a large out of balance piece of wood on a small lightweight lathe, and quite possibly a lack of experience.

The biggest factor is whether you know the difference between a scraping cut and a shearing cut. Scrape it and you’ll beat yourself to death.

-- "woodworker with an asterisk"

View Lazyman's profile (online now)


595 posts in 805 days

#7 posted 08-31-2016 02:17 PM

It looks relatively round at a glance but with that much mass it is still likely to jump all over the place until it is perfectly balanced so you’ll obviously have to start at your lowest speed, which at that diameter might still be too fast since the lathe is probably not intended for something that massive. Since you may not be able to get your tool rest under the piece until it is smaller in diameter, it may be pretty tough getting it balanced. Wear a face mask because chunks are going to fly everywhere.

Just looking at the chisels you have in your pictures, it doesn’t look like you have the right tools for the the job either. I have the same set of cheap spindle turning tools you have leaning up against the wall and I tried to use the roughing gouge once to strip the bark and round a fairly large log. While doing that, I got a catch on a knot hidden under the bark and it bent the heck out of it—scared me straight. The tang is just too wimpy for this sort of work. A large bowl gouge is probably the tool I would use to rough and round it. Also, you should never use spindle gouges for bowls and hollow forms—very dangerous. You’ll need some pretty substantial bowl gouges or some long handled carbide gouges or hollowing tools to get in there safely. If you have never used a bowl gouge before, I don’t recommend you try this for the first time on this piece.

Your tool rest is probably too short too. You need to be able to have the tools supported as close to the end as possible which is going to be tough while hollowing such a long piece on such a small lathe and tool rest. I would also use a face plate to mount this sucker. You will need that or a big chuck to hold it while hollowing since you can’t have the tail stock in place for a significant part of the hollowing process.

I recommend that you experiment on some smaller pieces first. Just be careful.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

View Wildwood's profile


1848 posts in 1552 days

#8 posted 08-31-2016 03:19 PM

I would avoid setting lathe speed to; L for leap, D for drag, R for race, or P for pass! That’s all I know.

Good luck with it!

-- Bill

View GR8HUNTER's profile


974 posts in 130 days

#9 posted 08-31-2016 03:47 PM

I wouldn’t be bragging …..until it is turned into something …........LOL


View Evangogh's profile


126 posts in 748 days

#10 posted 08-31-2016 04:10 PM

Thanks everyone for all your tips and info!

I think it should be pointed out that the chisels in that picture are super cheap and I don’t use them anymore. The stand in the picture was one of the first things I’ve made many moons ago so I like to keep it close by. I have a much better set that I use for turning.

I centered it fairly well I think, it doesn’t wobble if I keep it at a slower speed, and if I just give it a little push it spins on its own for quite some time without the lathe being on. My current attack plan is to have my lathe set on about 140-60 rpm and use my big bowl gouge and just go as slow as possible. My longer tool rest is still packed up somewhere, so that will be rectified soon :). I haven’t bothered with it yet since I can’t fit the rest underneath the log anyway. When I get enough cleaned up I’m going to make my tenon, flip the log and continue truing up the rest of the log.

If the size becomes more of a problem I will probably take an axe or chisel to it to try and take some outside volume off. It only has one knot spot that really worries me (seen in the first pic), I’m hoping slow and steady will win the race.

Side question: Is there a better way to hold the log in place than with a tenon? I’ve seen jigs where people screw directly into the wood but I don’t have one. Any recommendations would be appreciated!

-- Turn on, brothers and sisters!!!

View Wildwood's profile


1848 posts in 1552 days

#11 posted 08-31-2016 08:12 PM

You can use the screw that came with chuck and tailstock support. If log too long for using chuck & screw just use faceplate & screws with tailstock support. Just don’t use wood or dryway screws, sheet metal screws work the best.

If were me would use a forstner bit to drill a hole/recess in one end so log to fit my chuck. I would mount my chuck into the log off the lathe, then mount log/chuck on the lathe then bring up the tailstock.

You could trim the log lot better with an electric chain saw so toolrest will work. I bought this one last year to replace one that I wore out for triming blanks. This is first electric I have that doesn’t have a plastic socket. They also have cordless version but have no info on that one. You can find a lot of inexpensive electric chain saws for less than $50 designed for light duty work. Take your time and will find pretty safe verus high powered gas models.

I prefer to use my two prong drive center with tailstock support for roughing out logs. Reason being once get the bark & high spots turned away can decide whether want a recess or tenon, and some Idea on design look at what the wood is telling me!

-- Bill

View Scott Oldre's profile

Scott Oldre

742 posts in 2849 days

#12 posted 08-31-2016 11:18 PM

Go for it, but set up the video camera first ;) Honestly? I would do it. I’ve done a lot of things on my 10” Shop Fox I probably shouldn’t have, but if you take it slow, small cuts, it’ll get there. I’ve also done things on the Nova that’s made it walk around the garage, but no risk, no reward. Wear the shield.

-- Scott, Irmo SC

View Evangogh's profile


126 posts in 748 days

#13 posted 09-01-2016 01:30 AM

DRAT! I encountered my first potential game-stopper… The log is a bit wetter than I had thought :/.

I’m planning on continuing to make the basic shapes/hollowing it out, but leaving a good inch/half-inch to play with on all sides… Then I guess letting it sit for a month :/... I have heard of a few ways of accelerating the drying process, but one in particular stood out to me. What are your thoughts?

The process I heard of is putting the piece in boiling water for a few minutes, then submerging the piece in alcohol. The theory, as I understand it, is that the alcohol would force the water from the wood. After that, the alcohol dries on its own fairly quickly?...

-- Turn on, brothers and sisters!!!

View Wildwood's profile


1848 posts in 1552 days

#14 posted 09-01-2016 10:38 AM

Think you might want to do some reading on both alcohol and boiling procedures as well as other drying methods. Both boiling & alcohol procedures as well as other methods require rough turning first.

You don’t say whether end sealed your logs and may well be to late to do it now don’t know but I always end seal as I process a log. Remember water leaves end of a log twelve time faster from the end than sides! Wood drying to fast creates an imbalance which leads to checking & splitting.

Well go luck with it!

-- Bill

View Evangogh's profile


126 posts in 748 days

#15 posted 09-01-2016 01:25 PM

Oh yes, tons to read up on for that method. I’ve only seen it done once in a video and it was a pretty basic example w/out specifics.

Thanks for the link, I’ll dive into it right now!
I’ll seal the ends right now – not too late by a long shot :)

-- Turn on, brothers and sisters!!!

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