Turning Ironwood on a lathe

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Forum topic by tooldad posted 09-10-2010 06:51 PM 4508 views 0 times favorited 3 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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659 posts in 3132 days

09-10-2010 06:51 PM

Topic tags/keywords: lathe pen

I have a student that has some iron wood at home and wants to do his pen project using iron wood. I have not worked with it or even familiar with that type of wood. Any suggestions or tips would be appreciated.

3 replies so far

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 2492 days

#1 posted 09-10-2010 08:42 PM

The term “iron wood” is used to describe at least 3 completely different woods. However, the one thing they all have in common is that they are very hard woods.

Lignum Vitae is sometimes called “iron wood” and it is probably the hardest wood of all. I have turned at least one pen with it. Turning it is not very hard if you have a sharp edge on your tools.

I remember cutting off the corners before I started with the table saw. I don’t think that is necessary, but it make the early going quicker and easier.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View John Gray's profile

John Gray

2370 posts in 3303 days

#2 posted 09-10-2010 10:17 PM

Great question!!!! I’ll be looking at the answers.

-- Only the Shadow knows....................

View Stonekettle's profile


135 posts in 2322 days

#3 posted 09-14-2010 01:17 AM

like richgreer said, the term ironwood describes a number of different species – but the one thing they all have in common is that they are like turning steel instead of wood. I find that when making small spindle type turnings from extremely hard wood such as ironwood or brazilian rosewood, etc – that a very sharp spindle gouge works much better than a skew (the traditional pen turning tool). I use a small fingernail ground spindle gouge, that is sharpened in two steps: 1) shape and initial sharpening on the white fine grinding wheel (I do mine freehand, but you can use any of the usual guide systems), and then 2) finished scalpel sharp using the Worksharp 3000 micromesh see-through wheel and underneath method, and then stropped using the leather wheel/green buffing compound on a Worksharp 2000. Once sharpened, the gouge can be retouched periodically using just the stropping wheel. The worksharp will put a scary sharp edge on your tools without breaking your bank. I love those machines and use them as much as I use my grinding wheels, and a hell of a lot more than I use my Tormek.

I get very good results using this method with ironwood.

For hardwood spindle turnings that require complex shapes (such a finials) where a spindle gouge won’t work and only a skew will do, I use the Beechem Skewchigouge. I find that I get much better results in extremely hard wood than with a traditional skew. However, the Skewchigouge takes some practice to get used to and it takes some real practice to sharpening correctly – but in my opinion is worth it, and you can do things with it that you just can’t do with a traditional skew.

-- Jim Wright, Stonekettle Station

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