Help for an absolute beginner in the tropics

discussion of the niceties of turning on a bow, bungee or pole lathe.

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Help for an absolute beginner in the tropics

Postby seyturner » Thu Aug 16, 2012 3:00 pm

Gentlemen (and ladies if there are any on this great forum; I have only scratched the surface), I need some advice to save me time in getting going with the lathe I am about to make using Hugh's excellent plans. I am based in the Seychelles, a group of islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean. I've been here four years, and have reached the end of my commitments to an eco project, with the future yawning ahead of me and a great idea slowly coalescing as to how I will fill it. I'm from Sussex originally, and once tried my hand on a pole lathe at an Earth Spirit forest festival just south of Tunbridge Wells and proved a natural (that's not arrogance, just a statement of fact, honest!). All these years later, surrounded by the most amazing tropical hardwoods, and needing to earn some cash (not too much; I have humble tastes) I want to make walking sticks that tourists can buy to remind them of this special place. The idea is to keep them simple, but to embed a particular shell I have in mind, flush into the top of the knob to make it typically Seychellois. Phew, sorry for the long intro.

To my questions:

1) Is there a major drawback to making a lathe with a fixed bed length (the length of a standard walking stick; I know, not everyone is the same height but if I have to forego sales to giants and little folk, I don't mind). It would save me having to make moveable stocks. If all goes well, I can make more lathes with moveable stocks in due course - I want to try and develop a cottage industry, teaching some of the unskilled local boys here who are desperate for work. As for clamping the piece of timber, I could have one of the centres on a thread to tighten.

2) I would appreciate any advice on the pros and cons of having a tool rest running the full length of the bed. That would avoid the hassle of having to move the rest along the length of the stick as I work.

3) I have read the thread on using seasoned wood rather than green. I know from my brief experience on a pole lathe that green would be easier, but I suspect I will have to use seasoned to ensure the sticks do not warp as they dry out. My plan was to get a local carpentry workshop to cut me blanks of say 2 inches square, to get me going. Any observations?

I am sure there will be more questions as I go along, but in the meantime any tips or suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Many thanks
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Re: Help for an absolute beginner in the tropics

Postby woodness sake » Thu Aug 16, 2012 4:43 pm

1. Make the lathe bed long enough to handle the longest walking stick. you can always cut them off to suit.
2. If you are only making walking sticks, you will definitely appreciate a full length tool rest.
3. Much of the wood grown in the tropics becomes extremely hard to work when it dries and seasons. A further caution: a lot of tropical woods have a tendency to draw up dirt into the grain structure which in turn dulls tools, a condition made worse by seasoning although not good in any case. If you are making walking sticks, you should split the wood and so maintain the grain structure/strength of the wood. When wood is rip-sawn, the grain structure is usually disrupted which compromises the very strength needed for a walking stick. Splitting requires more tools and skills to get to the roundness needed for a pole lathe but the results will be worth it. You will need the same to deal with 2X2 wood anyway. The corners will wear out the drive cord and cause a great deal of un-comforting vibration.
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Re: Help for an absolute beginner in the tropics

Postby gavin » Thu Aug 16, 2012 5:41 pm

Rather than have your cutting edge stationary and the work rotating ( i.e. a lathe) why not have a stail engine where the blade rotates around the stationary work? This would be a great deal simpler to implement and allow for stock that is not perfectly straight. You may need engines of progressively reducing diameters.
You could also use dowel plates of progressive reducing diameters, or a combination of dowel plate and stail engine.
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Re: Help for an absolute beginner in the tropics

Postby jrccaim » Sat Aug 18, 2012 4:56 am

No matter what you do, your lathe will have a fixed bed length, unless you have a way around the laws of physics! It may be a meter, or six meters, it will still be fixed.

I see you want to make walking sticks. On a lathe these will be symmetrical. A lathe turns, you see. But to my mind the most interesting walking sticks are those created by nature. To turn these into walking sticks you need but a knife. A Swedish Slojd job, say 6 cm long, will do the business. Finns please forgive me, I am sure a Puuko will do the job too! Just my opinion. Peel them. Let 'em dry out. Attach a ferrule and spike at the end. Might want to turn the very last 25mm or so round; for this, as Gavin said, a stail engine (rounder plane) is the ticket. If you are selling to the suburban crowd, might want a rubber tip. No big on spikes, those suburbanites. Might want to shape the upper end, and for this once again, the knife.

I suspect I am ranting. A pole lathe (or any other lathe) turns symmetrical objects; to be precise, figures of revolution. Draw any old figure; rotate it abuut the long axis; that's what a lathe does. Pole lathe or 16" toolrom lathe built to the nearest micron. So they are very good on objects such as billiard cues, or policeman's billies, for which you want absolute symmetry. For a walking stick I'd rather have Nature. I am not trying to discourage you from making a pole lathe; on the contrary. You will find it very useful. But if walking sticks are your thing, maybe a pole lathe is not what you want.
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Re: Help for an absolute beginner in the tropics

Postby Bob_Fleet » Sat Aug 18, 2012 6:01 pm

seyturner wrote: My plan was to get a local carpentry workshop to cut me blanks of say 2 inches square
I'm with JRC and wonder if you really want a fully turned walking stick or just part of it.
If you do then ask the carpenter to cut the wood to an octagonal cross section so it is easier to turn.
If he can also cut it so it tapers towards one end then so much the better.
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Re: Help for an absolute beginner in the tropics

Postby woodness sake » Sun Aug 19, 2012 12:42 am

Oh, I was assuming you meant that the poppets would not be movable, as in the photo in the foxfire books.
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Re: Help for an absolute beginner in the tropics

Postby seyturner » Sun Aug 19, 2012 6:02 am

Excellent advice from all of you pros. I will definitely split the blanks. And make the bed longer so I can cut the sticks shorter to size. Will keep you posted as I progress. Many thanks
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Re: Help for an absolute beginner in the tropics

Postby gavin » Mon Aug 20, 2012 8:26 am

seyturner wrote:Excellent advice from all of you pros. I will definitely split the blanks. And make the bed longer so I can cut the sticks shorter to size. Will keep you posted as I progress. Many thanks

Err.
Hmm.
Pls take note:

I think you miss the point of the advice above of informed persons. It is quite clear. If you want to make walking sticks, a lathe is NOT the way to do it.

Correct me if I am wrong, but I understand you are still determined to make the [lathe] bed longer to make [walking] sticks.

Advice is very freely given on this forum and with no expectation of return. There is an expectation it will be listened to and accepted or rejected, along with reasons for doing so.

If you do not listen and respond either way to advice offered, you will pretty soon be ignored by anyone whose opinion does count.
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Re: Help for an absolute beginner in the tropics

Postby seyturner » Mon Aug 20, 2012 7:23 pm

Wow, I'm listening up, Gavin!

I really am grateful for all the advice.

While I can appreciate the beauty and organic simplicity of cutting a stick from the forest (possibly stripping the bark, or not), attaching a spike or rubber tip, that's not what I had in mind. In fact I want the sticks I make to be obviously "worked". I didn't mention this in my initial post but I have taken my inspiration from a hardwood stick that I bought many years ago from a Qhoi or "Bushman" tracker I worked with on the border of Namibia and Angola. It is tapered and has a few barley twists just below the knob (pictured here - forgive the poor quality grab from my laptop camera).
stick.jpg
The stick I bought from a Bushman in Namibia
stick.jpg (102.37 KiB) Viewed 6939 times


He made it using a bow lathe, and I like the fact you can discern the grooves left by the (probably crude/blunt) chisel. So jrccalm, you can forget any idea of billiard cue or police billie perfection, which I agree would be boring and look too machine made.

The advice from woodenness sake to split the blanks rather than rip them with a saw, is very sound, and I will follow it. And he's right, I was referring to fixed poppets, not the bed length - that would always be fixed, doh!

I had to google "stall engine" as I have never come across one. Cool tool and I am sure very useful, but not for what I have in mind. Would love to get one some day as I can appreciate it would come in handy in any workshop.

Hope my response satisfies you, Gavin. If I am silent for a while, it's because I am building my lathe. When I have made a couple of sticks, I will be back to show them if they're good enough!
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Re: Help for an absolute beginner in the tropics

Postby gavin » Mon Aug 20, 2012 8:35 pm

We look forward to seeing your results. Whatever happens on a human-powered lathe will be of interest to this forum.

Since your stated aim is to produce marketable ware, have you ascertained if your preference for a turned stick is one shared by prospective consumers?

I doubt they will prefer the symmetrical look of the turned stick. And I acknowledge I am not in your market and not selling for you, so your hunch may be correct i.e. that a turned stick will sell.

To test the presumption that a turned stick would out-sell a natural one, you could ask tourists which stick they'd prefer: your existing turned one, or a natural grown one. You should be able to source a natural grown one somewhere, and even if you cannot, you could whittle one well enough with a knife. I would be stunned if someone is not already producing natural grown ones in your market. So your market research could be done by the end of this week easily.

If I my doubts are correct, then you are about to spend time and some money making something that has little market and could reduce your credibility with your group of would-be makers.

But if you are just interested in seeing how to turn a long stick on a lathe simply because the idea appeals, then I am all for it and supportive.
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Re: Help for an absolute beginner in the tropics

Postby davestovell » Tue Aug 21, 2012 10:41 am

I am coming in late here but why don't you just rive the wood when green and then use a flat and curved spokeshave?
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Re: Help for an absolute beginner in the tropics

Postby Robin Fawcett » Tue Aug 21, 2012 10:50 am

As an accomplished pole lathe spindle turner of some years experience I can tell you that it's a difficult job turning long thin things. The wood bends and flexes and tries to 'climb up' your cutting edge causing a 'chatter' effect. You'll need very good technique, really sharp tools and some kind of 'lathe steady' (google it).
Best of luck! Look forward to hearing of your experience...
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Re: Help for an absolute beginner in the tropics

Postby jrccaim » Wed Aug 22, 2012 4:13 am

Oh, Robin,
Robin Fawcett wrote:As an accomplished pole lathe spindle turner of some years experience I can tell you that it's a difficult job turning long thin things. The wood bends and flexes and tries to 'climb up' your cutting edge causing a 'chatter' effect. You'll need very good technique, really sharp tools and some kind of 'lathe steady' (google it).
Best of luck! Look forward to hearing of your experience...


Stole the post right out of my keyboard, Robin! :). On any lathe a long thin object is a problem. When you try to turn such a thing, the pressure of the tool makes the turning deflect, like a bow. A stick is what, 1.5m long? 1 cm wide? So deflection is a a major problem. I have encountered it on steel with my powered Taig lathe! I was making a "pin punch" out of mild steel. It deflected maybe .1mm but I was trying to turn it to within .01mm. Wood is much worse. A steady is mandatory. It can be done. People turn billiard cues on a lathe after all. If you will search Donald Todd's posts on this forum you will find several designs for steadies. There are two kinds of steadies, travelling and fixed. On a pole lathe you will have to use a fixed steady; travelling is out of the question because you don't have a "saddle". You must move the steady as you go along, by hand. The steady can be as simple as a V shaped piece or as complex as an adjustable thing with "fingers." A walking stick is tapered. This makes an adjustable rest almost mandatory. Or maybe you could devise a series of rests to accomodate your taper. But whatever you do make sure you can accomodate a steady (US readers please read "steady rest").
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