Making Octagonal Stock from Square Stock

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Blog entry by swirt posted 09-23-2010 11:34 PM 6720 reads 6 times favorited 16 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Many of the tips I have read regarding starting to round a spindle on a lathe recommend starting with octagonal stock. Many of the tool handles on tools I like, have octagonal handles. So I thought I would define the simplest method I have found for making octagonal stock from square stock.

Be sure you have square to begin with.
Find the center of the square.

Take the length from corner to center and transfer it to the side face.

Set your marking gauge to that length and drag it down each face.

Flip the stock end for end and repeat the marking gauge down each face.

You should now have two guidelines on each face. These guidelines are where you will plane down to as you remove the corners of the square.

Secure the stock on its corner either in a vice or using a long V-block

Use your ripping plane (a course set plane of almost any type will work. (I use my scrub plane)
Stop ripping when you get down to the line (you might want to switch to a finer set plane when you get close)

Rotate 90 degrees, repeat, repeat, repeat the ripping


For more details on this method and 4 other less fast methods of laying out an octagon on larger stock can be found on making stock octagonal.

-- Galootish log blog,

16 comments so far

View docholladay's profile


1287 posts in 3084 days

#1 posted 09-23-2010 11:43 PM

I was trying to figure out how to do this acurately a while back and what I ended up doing was to make a square piece the same size as my stock and then turn it 45 degrees so that the intersections made an octagon. All said, it worked, but it wasn’t as easy, nor acurate as it sounds like it might have been. Your idea looks like it would actually work.

-- Hey, woodworking ain't brain surgery. Just do something and keep trying till you get it. Doc

View TheGravedigger's profile


963 posts in 4049 days

#2 posted 09-24-2010 12:03 AM

Neat technique when you need an octagon. I really like the idea for tool handles. However, I gotta tell ya – for turning stock round, square stock and a roughing gouge does just fine and is much faster. A piece like you’ve got there would take about 30 seconds to a minute for an experienced turner.

I think the octagon idea came out of the old textbooks (I remember seeing it in Feirer), from the days when the modern deep-fluted and roughing gouges didn’t exist. Trying to take down square stock with a shallow gouge is asking for trouble.

-- Robert - Visit my woodworking blog:

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 3140 days

#3 posted 09-24-2010 12:18 AM

thanks for the tip Swirt
that is a fast way of doing it when you need the accuratess work

before I wuold have used a centerfinder and then half´d it from there with a pencil
or simply eyeball´d it with a pencil after calculation and make some marks as carpenters do
if its for lathe work that shuold bee enoff
and if you can´t do it with a pencil and finger tip , then a pencil and a ruler

take care

View lanwater's profile


3111 posts in 2959 days

#4 posted 09-24-2010 12:55 AM

I learn something new and probably usefull although I do not turn yet.

Thanks you!

-- Abbas, Castro Valley, CA

View jeffl's profile


288 posts in 3335 days

#5 posted 09-24-2010 01:02 AM

Thats very accurate but to just knock the corners off you’ll never beat the drawknife for speed.

-- Jeff,

View swirt's profile


2780 posts in 2997 days

#6 posted 09-24-2010 05:05 AM

@Gravedigger, you might be right about the history of the octagon recommendation coming from old books. it might be no problem on a powered lathe. I’m using a spring lathe and what I find is that knocking off the corners with a a roughing gouge works, but the abrupt nature of it, puts a lot of stress on the dead centers which in turn really enlarges the holes in the end of the wood that the dead centers create. That leads to more wobble which makes finer tools later on less smooth. i find starting with octagonal stock makes the initial rounding smoother resulting in less enlarging of the holes for the centers. Of course it is completely possible that my roughing technique just sucks and can be improved .. and maybe then I won’t need the octagon.

@Ianwater, Not only needed for turning. Octagonal handles are great for tools and this way gives you nice smooth surface octagons that are nearly ready for putting right on a tool. So this can be handy whether you turn or not.

@Jeffl I agree about the drawknife. By itself it is faster. But it take me longer to set up my non-dedicated shaving mule and even then, my mule doesn’t work too well with shorter handles. So I find the plane a little faster … but I do like my drawknife.

@Dennis …. I’ve come to learn that my “eyeballing” things just sucks … the results … well lets just say they look like I eyeballed it LOL Glad that you can make that work. I know I can’t.

-- Galootish log blog,

View TheGravedigger's profile


963 posts in 4049 days

#7 posted 09-24-2010 01:41 PM

Hmm, I hadn’t thought about a manual lathe. That would absolutely make more sense there. I was thinking power all the way. I’ve done a bit of greenwood work, but never turned that way. I have no problem with shavehorse and drawknife, but I’ve just power-turned for so long, I don’t know if I could change my stripes that much.

-- Robert - Visit my woodworking blog:

View Mary Anne's profile

Mary Anne

1058 posts in 3233 days

#8 posted 09-24-2010 02:37 PM

Thanks! That’s a real handy-dandy way to lay it out an octagon. Very useful knowledge.

View swirt's profile


2780 posts in 2997 days

#9 posted 09-24-2010 06:31 PM

Thanks Mary Anne. It goes even faster if you skip the dividers and just use set your marking gauge directly from the center to the corner. The whole process can be done in three minutes (if you’re not stopping to take photos).

@Gravedigger I can’t compare the fun to a powered lathe, never used one, but I am having a lot of fun with the spring lathe and really like the purring sound it makes when you get the rhythm right.

-- Galootish log blog,

View PurpLev's profile


8536 posts in 3673 days

#10 posted 09-24-2010 06:38 PM

nicely done. now, if you keep on going- you can make round stock from square stock without a lathe – that’s how I made my workbench vise handles.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View Mary Anne's profile

Mary Anne

1058 posts in 3233 days

#11 posted 09-24-2010 06:46 PM

One of the things I really enjoy about LJs is all the knowledge that is so freely shared.
I love learning different ways to accomplish similar tasks. Did you see Hairy's recent cane project ? Part of the shaft includes a hexagonal shape that he made from a round shape on his lathe. Kind of funny how you both did what we used to call “the same thing only different” for just about opposite reasons. I’ll probably eventually find a use for both techniques. Thanks again.

View swirt's profile


2780 posts in 2997 days

#12 posted 09-24-2010 07:43 PM

I hadn’t seen that cane Mary Anne. Thanks for pointing it out. The cone shaped octagon (I’m sure there’s a name for it but I don’t know what it is) looks great on Hairy’s cane.

-- Galootish log blog,

View Div's profile


1653 posts in 2965 days

#13 posted 09-24-2010 10:30 PM

Hey swirt! That is a cool trick, used it a lot when we were building masts and booms for boats. The sparmakers of old took it one step further and came up with a spar gauge. You familiar with it?

-- Div @ the bottom end of Africa. "A woodworker's sharpest tool should be his mind."

View swirt's profile


2780 posts in 2997 days

#14 posted 09-24-2010 11:00 PM

Hi Div, Familiar with it a bit. I put a description/plans of making one on the longer version of this post on my site.
Scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page to see the gauge, and let me know if I left anything out.

-- Galootish log blog,

View mafe's profile


11730 posts in 3114 days

#15 posted 09-24-2010 11:13 PM

I missed this post! Have you blocked me? Am I really that bad?
Really clever and useful for the lathe work, thank you.
Best thoughts,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect. Democraticwoodworking.

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