After reading a ton of stories about lathe accidents, horror stories of amateur woodtuners’ disfigurement, and the “reassurance” from friends and family, it’s easy to think of lathe work as the devil’s own. After working my first project on one I can say it’s not that way at all. Turning is both pretty easy to get started with and simple to understand once a few basics are clear.
Since all the pen-making paraphernalia hadn’t arrived yet, I was determined to do something on the lathe. All the books and how-to articles recommended I start with a cylinder; this seemed pretty boring but I thought I’d try it out. The cylinder plan didn’t last very long. Turning fever sunk in quickly and then things started to get interesting.
I opted to begin with a project that involved the tail stock for no other reason than I wanted two points of connection with the piece instead of just one side, as a cup or bowl would be. So in went the live center.
On the head stock end, the center spur was tapped into the sleeve and I was ready to go.
Conventional wisdom says that when you’re just starting out, you need a turning blank. That seemed like a lot of work making everything perfectly square and balanced, so I shortcutted that and started from a piece of a pine branch. It was sort of round already, and because it was all one piece there was less chance of flying apart because of bad gluing. After scraping most of the bark off and finding the center, the little log was ready to spin.
A quick hand turning checked the clearance and tracking. Once I set it at the lowest RPM (250) to check wobble and if I’d set the rig up right, I found the lathe itself makes almost no noise whatsoever. Somehow, after years of working with a Shop Smith whose racket makes large aircraft engines hang their head in shame, I was shocked how quiet the Delta is. Plus I thought the legs on the stand would be a pain to trip over; instead they were well placed and not difficult to navigate around at all.
A few minutes with a large gouge and the piece was basically roundish and no longer wobbled at all.
Once the piece was round, I increased the RPM some. It was then time to break out the excellent tools Delta sent along with the lathe for us to play with. I began by making a few beads and soft curves into the piece to see what everything did and how the shaping process worked.
After practicing a bit on the shapes, I found that the shape started to resemble a lightsaber just a little bit. This had to be enhanced in any way possible.
The parting tool is excellent for making a few lines in rows.
A stop and check revealed the rough form before final tweaks, and sanding was looking pretty good for the first time trying to make an object that looked like something.
After some lathe sanding and a bit of shaping, the end result was close to what I was aiming for. I routed out a hole at the top for a candle, and the lightsaber candlestick was now ready for some finishing.
Don’t panic when putting amber or any other shaded shellac on pine. It always looks horrible with the first coat.
Three coats of shellac later, and you get something that looks pretty clean.
There are about a hundred things I could have done better with this project, the first of which is having some idea of what I wanted to do before I began and then making a workable plan beforehand. Starting with a squared up blank should have also been on the to-do list, but all that aside, I’m pretty pleased with the lightsaber(ish) candlestick that resulted.
Roughly the same risks exist with lathe work as any other power tool in the shop. It’s a spinning tool with a great deal of power behind it; this can’t be denied. There will always be inherent dangers with an activity like that, but there are ways to mitigate those risks — keeping the speed down if possible, making sure you check for large wobble once you start turning, and checking that the stock is held tightly and mounted correctly on the lathe. Feel it out and don’t push too hard — the results will be worth the time.