Al Mather     -     Woodturner

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Index for "Rambling Comments".

Rambling comments.

Thompson Lathe Tools

Recently I purchased a 1 1/4 inch skew and a 16 inch handle.   With my Tormek Wet wheel it has taken a couple of hours to get the shape that I like.   I’ve put a sharper point on it than I have on my other skews because I am thinking that the edge will hold up.   Time will tell.   So far I have I turned about 10 dozen buoys.   (After turning 70 or so buoys I bump the heel against some metal, so I took the opportunity to refine the grind, but the edge was still in good condition.   Now I have turned another 50 or so.   Though, upon close inspect the edge is a little ragged, it is still holding up well without any roll over of the edge.)   I am liking the handle, though the extra weight has taken a bit to get use to.   More comments to come.

The other day I turned 125 buoys.   These are made of pine, 5/4x5/4x4 inches.   Previously, I have had to touch up the edge of my skew every 40 buoys or so.   Today I used the Thompson skew to rough them out and to rough out the handle area.   I used the smaller (5/8 inch) Alan Lacer skew for the finish turning, and some wrenches to size the buoy and handle.   I touched up the cutting edge of the wrenches after turning 100 buoys.   The Lacer skew I felt was dragging some on the cuts as I concluded each set of 50, and it’s performance did improved greatly with a little fresh metal showing.   However, I did not do anything to the Thompson skew for the whole 125 buoys.   Again, I was not doing a finish cut with it, but it was still cutting fine at the end.   The cutting edge did have a just barely detectable bur.   If the cutting edge continues to hold up this well for future tunings this will mean I’ll save money using this skew as I will be able to work longer without having to stop for sharpening as often, and that I will grind the tool away less frequently.   So far I am please.

Update: November 12, 2012, I have taken my two small skew chisels out of their wood handles and purchased a Thompson handle for each of them.   This enables me to sharpen these two skews in my Tormek jig at my desired angle.   Each had become too short to extend all the way through the jig as the handle was now causing it to bottom out on the back of the jig.   Now I can simple remove the blade from the handle.   This should give me several more years on these skews before they become too short to sharpen.   By the way, I like the 16 inch Thompson handles for all my skews.

Scandinavian Ale Bowls

I first saw these bowls in an issue of the American Woodturner Journal.   As I viewed his pictures and read his word several things that I have tried in the past or had thought about just clicked.   I just had to try turning these.   Jim Sannerud, I thank you for writing these articles regarding once turned pieces with Scandinavian roots.   Several weeks have now passed since I first started this note.   I’ve had opportunities to turner a few more of these.   Several shapes have caught my eye and I feel like I can refine them.   More pictures will be posted on the portfolio page.   The turning process seems to be becoming more efficient, and for that I rejoice.


I am an experienced turner, with 10 plus years of turning under my belt.   Yet within a period of two weeks I had two avoidable incidents.   The first, - I was turning some rough blanks for biscuit cutters out of green (wet, that is not dried) ash.   The stock was 5.5 inches by about 4x4 inches square.   The Bedan tool I was using to rough out the handle part was getting dull.   I had only two more blanks left to turn, so against my better judgment, which was telling me to stop and sharpen the tool, I pressed on.   In conjunction with the dullness of the tool I was pushing hard on the tool to continue to remove a good enough of wood.   The next thing I knew was that a large piece of wood had just bounced off of my forehead.   I was not seriously hurt, but consequently have pledged to use my face shield for more ordinary projects and to sharpen as needed, regardless of how close to the completion of a project.

The second incident was not scary at the time, it happened to quickly for that.   However, upon reflection, it is the scariest thing that has happened yet.   My workshop is a borrowed end of a friend’s heated workshop.   Thoughout the winter the interior temperature is around 52 F, therefore, my winter turning outfit is two sweatshirt, a vest and an apron, topped off with a stocking cap.   To this day I am not sure what caused this - the left sleeve of my outer sweatshirt got pulled into my work or into the chuck.   My first awareness of trouble was of being aware that I was being held against the lathe and tool rest.   The lathe also shut off automatically.   Other than a bit of a scrape on my upper arm, and two sweat shirts fit only to be thrown away, I did not suffer.   The cause: I had turned a square shoulder on my piece.   I think this shoulder caught my sleeve as I reached over the work to steady it for a final parting cut.   I thank the Lord Jesus for my safety

Dust Collector

November 12, 2014.   Here at my dad‘s I am moving into the smallest workshop space I have had so far.   Also, I do not want dust being found in other parts of the basement or house.   So, a dust collector.   My relatively inexpensive solution was to get a 2 horse power Harbor Freight one-stage dust collector (Central Machinery).   Following some online tips I upgraded the cloth bag filter to a Wynn woodworking filter.   (Explore the links on the left side of the linked page.)   This does two things:   first, it greatly increases the surface area of the exhaust and, secondly, it traps material much smaller than the standard bag.   Additionally I inserted a homemade separator in the intake line before the impeller.   The key element is a Thien Baffle.   This simple device allows the separator to capture most, if not, all, of the shaving, chips and dust.   I still need to come up with a simple, and efficient hood for the lathe (Still thinking).

March 21, 2018. I am happy to report that this system is working well.   I have emptied the lower Harbor Freight bag once so far, and even at that it was mostly empty.   Most dust seem to settle in the first container.  I use the dust collector frequently, and have found that taking the filter off once a month so that it can be blown out with compressed air and then vacuumed from the inside yields a consistant, good air flow.   Further, a tie down is much easier to release and tighten for holding the filter in place than the turn-buckles that came with the filter.   I did have to drill two holes in the frame to hold the tie down which goes over the top of the filter.

Well worth the money and time, in my opinion.

I should add, the dust collector is not put together according to the instructions in the booklet.

Waxing the bed!

A tip for turners. As a production turner I may end up moving both tailstock and banjo around often throughout the day. One or two or even a dozen pushes or pulls may not be too hard but, and maybe this is my age, but these things get heavy after a while. Yesterday I applied a new coat of wax to the bed and to the bottom of the tailstock and banjo, to the parts I could reach. This morning everything slides pretty nicely. The tailstock did not get any lighter. It just moves so much smoother, as does the banjo. The tip: waxing the bed, just a little, saves a lot of wear and tear on the turner.

One simple mark on the speed control dial.

I turn on a PowerMatic Lathe.   The face of the knob for the speed adjustment control has no markings of any kind to indicate which speed is where.   I seldom use the slow speed belt, so I do not have a lot of variables to think about.   I marked a vertical line on the face at the speed I have chosen to use as a speed for sanding certain products.   (400-500 rpms is generally the speed I end up with if the mark is near vertical.)   With that one mark I now know the approximate lathe speed if the mark is vertical up or horizontal to the right, or down, etc.   Over the day this saves time, as I can turn the dial with confidence to a certain spot and know the rpms are going to be (kind of) close to a certain speed.   I rate this to be a very simple and helpful improvement.

Dust collector not sucking lots of dust?

If you would like to have your dust collector sucking as much air and dust as possible, the filter needs to be clean.   In order for air to come into the collection system the air that is already in the system needs to be able to exit the system quickly and easily.   I have a hard, cartridge filter, not a bag filter.   I have found that the system works best if I regularly, at least once a week for my turning schedule, bang (not hard enough to damage anything) on the outside of the filter and blow compressed air in through the filter pleats.   This removes the fine dust that builds up on the inside of the filter allowing air to easily pass through the filter.