Gye Greene's Thoughts

Gye Greene's Thoughts (w/ apologies to The Smithereens and their similarly-titled album!)

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Now have a lathe

I've wanted a woodworking lathe for about thirteen years -- but there was always something else that I wanted to do with the money.  And I was always busy with other projects -- and there wasn't a specific need.

But then.

I wanted to make some stools, and therefore wanted to make some cylindrical stool legs.  There are a variety of work-arounds, such as using a drawknife or spokeshave -- but having a lathe seemed like the most straightforward solution.

My wife's family, as well as my parents, gave me some money for Christmas -- so I decided that now was a good time to get a lathe.

I browsed the local online classifieds (Gumtree -- kind of like an Australian Craigslist), but nothing really jumped out at me.

Finally I found two contenders -- both at a reasonable price -- but both about an hour's drive away.  I considered doing the one that was an hour west -- but even thought it came with a few lathe tools, I was suspicious of the grungy nature of the lathe (rust?  or just "needed a good wipe-down"?).  Plus -- and this sounds silly -- I just didn't like the color.

The other one was an hour south.  This one didn't come with any tools -- but I liked the look of it better.  So I drove down this last Saturday.  I was careful to not make any commitment to buy:  I told the seller I wanted to come take a look.

Unfortunately, when I got there and took a look, I noticed that it was missing the drive spindle (?):  the piece that jams into the end of the wood being turned.  This absence wasn't clear in the ad's photo -- and I didn't think to ask.  (It's a little like buying a used car, and verifying that it has all four wheels:  kind of important; and you'd think that the seller would point this out up front.)

The seller said that it was a standard size, and that I could pick one up online. Uh -- no.  It would be a nuisance; it would be an extra cost; and I'm a newbie enough that I wasn't confident that I'd purchase the right type.

So, I left it.

But, I got to see a part of Queensland that I hadn't seen before:  a farming area; reminded me like the farming bits around where I'm from -- but with different trees.  So, just mostly a wasted trip.

I considered trying out the other item out west -- but by now I was turned off the idea of a possible second wasted trip.

So, I went back online.  As it turns out, someone else had, just that morning, posted an ad for a lathe.  And, it was good-looking; cheaper; and closer (about a half hour away).

I e-mailed the seller, and arranged to go take a look the next day.

So, Sunday afternoon (Feb 12th) I drove out.   I had a lovely chat with the seller (a retired mechanical engineer; used to work in the timber industry; an Australian, but had spent some time in Canada).  He was moving to a smaller place, so was downsizing:  fair enough.

I liked the lathe -- and the modifications he had done (more on this below) -- so I bought it.

I didn't get home until right around dark, so I didn't have a chance to use it.  So I had to wait a few days.

Here's a brief tour of the lathe:

I like that the previous owner personalized it.  The mods are consistent with what a mechanical engineer would do.  They also remind me of what my late paternal grandfather would've done.

For example, here's a closer look at the tool tray that's under the stand.  To the left is a red oilcan.  Then the wrench that loosens and locks down the nuts under the tailpiece and the tail handle; then some dividers and callipers, and a folding rule.

When he was using the lathe, he had noticed that there was a little "play" in the tailpiece when it was slid into position, which meant that the bracket was not necessarily perpendicular to the rails.  So he made a wooden jig -- again, very much like what my grandfather would've done -- to square it up before tightening the bolt.  (I added the black arrow.)

I also liked the lamp that he installed.  As it turned [pun!] out, I used this a lot, since I ended up using it after dark -- and my workspace doesn't have electricity running to it.  (When I need power, I just run an extension cord.  So far the lack of electricity hasn't hindered me in doing what I need to do -- partly because I tend to use hand tools, not power tools.)

And, here's an over-all view.  Note the yellow arrow that indicates the little hook where the wooden "alignment" jig is stored.

As with user-made toolboxes and such that I get from garage sales, I asked the seller to sign the back of the lathe -- which he did.  Just as a permanent record.

Anyhow:  I got home near dark, and I had other things I needed to do -- so I didn't get to use the lathe for a few days.

But, tonight (Thursday the 16th) I managed to get home earlier than usual.  So I had some fun -- including working past dark (thanks to the lamp!).

On the way home that afternoon, I salvaged a fallen branch from a mango tree, which I'd noticed for the last few days lying on a neighbor's front footpath.  Or rather:  I always keep a small handsaw in the trunk -- so I cut off the thicker end of two branches, rather than take the whole darn thing.

I was curious about how mango "worked" as a wood.  Plus, as someone from Seattle, using mango just seemed exotic and interesting.

So, the above is basically the "before" photo.

Here are the tools I used:  because I knew that someday I would buy a lathe, whenever I saw a lathe tool at a reasonable price, I'd pick it up.  The three long ones on the left are from a garage sale/estate sale nearby, about a year ago.  I don't remember where I got the three middle ones -- although I've logged the purchase, so I could go look it up if I wanted to.

The final item -- a round-nosed gouge? -- is from the guy who sold me the lathe.

When I did the turning (below), out of principle I used each tool for at least a little bit -- just so I could say "Yeah, I used it".

Here's two photos of the "in progress" portion.  As you can see, the lamp is demonstrating its usefulness.

In addition to a pile of wood chips on the ground -- my arm hairs collected a lot of wood shavings.  Pretty cool.

And: here's the "Getting there" photo:  I still have a way to go -- but you can see what I'm intending.  (The fork is in there just for scale.)  As is traditional, I thought it would be nice -- and somewhat symbolic -- for my first lathe project to be handles for lathe tools. 

There are three bug holes in the lower piece (the yellow circles).  Once I do some more roughing in, I'll make them a more uniform size, then plug them with dowels.  There's enough wood around the holes that it shouldn't affect the strength of the handles.

If you look closely at the handles, you can see that the wood surface is torn rather than smooth:  that's because I'm using the tools as scrapers, rather than as chisels; and because the tools are dull, and are thus tearing the fibers rather than cutting them cleanly.

Once I get closer to the final shape I'll sharpen everything.  But I was eager to have a go at lathe work, so I wanted to just get right into it, rather than spend the evening sharpening.

The last time I'd used a lathe was about twenty years ago, under the guidance of my late grandfather, who did a lot of woodturning.  So I knew that I could "do it", once I had a lathe:  I just needed a lathe.  ;)

Don't know when I'll get back to it:  I have a lot of competing projects.  But hopefully maybe this weekend. 


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