Benchtop Spring Pole Lathe – Uses and limitations

The idea and use of the lathe goes back thousands of years to at least the time of the ancient Egyptians. These days of course the lathe is very different to how it was then, replacing a simple machine manually operated by one or two people to the motor powered powerhouses of the modern era. Being a simple tool woodworker however, I decided to try and recreate a bit of a blast from the past.

You can see the YouTube video documenting the build here – Benchtop Spring Pole Lathe

 

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A few of the pieces that make up the lathe

I went for the idea of a spring pole lathe, the spring in this case being an elastic bungee cord to save space in my little shed. Needing a way to make the lathe fit into my shed without it getting in the way I also made it so it could be clamped to my bench when in use and pulled apart easily and stowed away under my bench when not needed. The whole lathe being made from pallet wood also posed the problem of having to glue pieces together to make the stocks, this problem was soon overcome though.

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Sharpened bolts to act as the centres

For the lathe centres I just sharpened the ends of a couple of bolts and bolted them firmly to the stocks. These bolts were 8mm in thickness and I think probably that’s the slimmest you’d want them, they maybe could’ve done with being thicker.

 

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Test assembly

When I had inserted a bolt into the moving stock I did a test assembly. This allowed me to move the movable stock towards the fixed stock and push the point of the centre into it. This gave an accurate marking where I could drill the hole for the corresponding bolt to attach. After that was all done I just glued and screwed.

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Attaching the posts to hold the bungee cord

I made the two posts that held the bungee cord removable so I could easily pack it away. The bottom of the posts simply slot into holes made with a wooden surround, they can sit in there firmly whilst being used and just slid out when packed away.

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The lathe ready for use

After making a very simple pedal and clamping the lathe to my bench it was ready to use. I’m not very good at turning and I also don’t have the correct tools, so you’ll have to forgive my attempts! After failing with a piece of pallet wood I found more success with a small cherry branch, it was however still pretty awful but I would call it progress.

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Attempt at turning

This build was so much fun and to do it all with recycled wood was incredibly satisfying. There are some limitations to this build however. I think to turn anything like a bowl would be very difficult as the side rails are quite high on the stocks, so if a bowl was to be turned it would be a rather small bowl. With it being made from pallet wood it will perhaps not be as sturdy or as long lived as its more robust, hardwood counterparts. It did however only take a few days to build and so far it seems to perform very well. I would encourage anyone at all to give it a go, nothing quite like seeing a machine you’ve made come to life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Salvaged Wood Wood Store that Stores Salvaged Wood

When you first start woodworking you spend your time scrounging around for any kind of wood you can find, when people are kind enough to keep donating to you however you have to find a way to store it! I wanted to keep my wood store near to my shed and so couldn’t have anything that took up too much space. I came up with a simple design which allows air flow to drift through the wood piles. It’s not the most ideal storage seeing as its outside but its better than just laying the wood on the dirt.

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Making grooves for the pallet wood slats.

Since I already had the shed and wanted the storage close to the shed, a simple lean to seemed like the perfect solution. I started with some old roofing batten, glued a few lengths together to make posts and then sawed and chiselled out some angled sections. These rebates would have pallet wood lengths screwed into them, acting as a barrier against the rain but also allowing air flow through the gaps.

 

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All the slats screwed on.

Once this part was finished it was just a case of making a simple frame to attach to the side of the shed and an angled roof to help it shed water easily.

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The frame taking shape.

In the small area below the wood storage I laid some slabs down just to stop too much moisture coming from the dirt below. I also fully cladded the back of the shelves to stop the wood hitting the less than sturdy fence behind it!

My experience in drying wood is still rather minimal but I did buy a book recently which I shall be studying soon. It has good reviews and if you want to check it out you can find it here:

Wood and How to Dry It – Fine Woodworking – Amazon

All I knew at the time of building my wood store was that it was a good idea to keep rain off the wood but also create air flow. This is why you see big piles of wood with little spacers in between each plank called “stickers”. This creates air flow between the planks to allow for more surface area to be dried.

Since I mostly store pallet wood in this area I didn’t feel the need to get too technical with it. Of course when it comes to the time of actually using the wood I have to let it acclimatise in a temperature similar to its final environment. So for example if I was making a little pallet wood box to go in a home, I would have to have the pallet wood planks sit in an environment similar to that home. So I could keep them in a warmed shed or garage for a few weeks and then make the box. This makes for minimal movement of the wood after the piece is finished.

 

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The lean to complete with shelving.

I wanted to give myself enough space in the shelves but also lots of options for different kinds of wood. This led to me making the top section open wide. I also made the lowest shelf come a little off the ground to help air flow under it. After all the shelving was complete I concentrated on the roof. This was simply some marine ply or exterior ply from a rubbish pile and some felt leftover from the building of another shed.

 

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The first load of wood in storage.

When it was all done I painted it with some fence paint we had left over, waited for it to dry and placed all the wood inside (except for my good stuff, that goes in the shed). It’s not the prettiest structure in the world nor it is the most ideal for drying wood but for my little shed it works. I’ve built many things from the wood stored here and I hope to build many more. It’s a salvaged wood wood store that stores salvaged wood. Say that fast three times.

 

 

 

 

 

Workbench from recycled wood; sturdy, satisfying but sometimes substandard?

Almost everything I’ve made since taking up woodwork has been with material I’ve been given or dismantled from previous projects. There’s an enormous satisfaction rewarded with bringing old and discarded wood to life. Whether it be breaking a pallet apart to make a jewellery box, cleaving a piece of cedar previously destined for the fire into shingles or ripping out some old shelves to create a planter for the garden; it’s always gratifying to repurpose timber.

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Showing the scars of use.

Making a workbench out of recycled timber though? maybe not always the best idea.

I didn’t really have much of a choice at the time; I was low on funds so I used what I already had. I would’ve killed for some maple but instead had to go with some old trusses from a shed and some half rotten fence posts, all pine. I’m grateful that I had any wood at all to be honest and I knew I could make a bench from it, it was just a question of how long it would last.

Gathering all the pieces of various lengths and thicknesses I realised that I wouldn’t be able to determine the length, width or thickness of my bench top. That alone would be down to the material I had. “Luckily” I have a pretty small shed as my workspace, so a small bench would be perfect, and a small bench it would be.

So I went about planing down the old trusses and cutting the rotten parts off the fence posts. The more I cut away at the wood, the better it looked and the more confident I was that this bench may not turn out too bad after all. I glued the bench top up, made from the old shed trusses, planed it down and stood back with a smidge of a smile. It was the middle of the British winter so this was a welcome pick me up!

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Thick with paint and residue I wasn’t going to chance using my handplanes on the old trusses before they were cleaned up.

The bench still wasn’t wide enough for my liking, all I had left was fence posts. They became a robust frame around the old trusses, connected at the corners by finger joints and joined to the old trusses by breadboard ends; this would ensure to decrease the amount of curvature in the bench top as the wood acclimatised and moved throughout the seasons.

2 books in particular helped me with setting out my joints and figuring out just what those joints had to be:

Firstly there’s “Success With Joints” by Ralph Laughton which you can check out at amazon.co.uk and amazon.com with the following links:

Amazon.co.uk – Success with Joints, Ralph Laughton

Amazon.com – Success with Joints, Ralph Laughton

Secondly, and this is one of my favourite books, “Building the Timber Frame House” by Tedd Benson documents the history and all the facets of timber framing, not essential for bench building but for me it helped a lot with various joints. You can find it at the following links for amazon.co.uk and amazon.com:

Amazon.co.uk – Building the Timber Frame House, Tedd Benson

Amazon.com – Building the Timber Frame House, Tedd Benson

 

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Oversized finger joints gave me plenty of leeway when finishing off the corners. Getting the breadboard ends as straight and crisp as possible was important.

Legs; where to position them, with what joint and how tall? After plenty of research I came to the conclusion that the top of my bench should be around wrist height, I tested this out and found it to be comfortable, so that was my answer. One thing I had to keep in the back of my mind was that I wanted to be able to disassemble my bench, my future is uncertain and there may be a move coming up soon so to make the bench easily transportable would be fantastic (as well as adding more complications; or as some people call it, a challenge).

With that in mind I came to the decision that instead of having 4 removable legs, I would have 2 sets of 2 removable legs to not only improve sturdiness but reduce the amount of pieces. At the time I had recently learnt of a technique called drawboring, an idea so simple and yet so incredibly effective I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of it previously. It involves making a pegged mortise and tenon joint, but instead of attaching the joint and boring a hole straight through for the peg one would make a hole through the mortise part of the wood and then offset the hole in the tenon part ever so slightly in the direction of the shoulder. The principle is simply detailed at the following website WoodCentral Drawboring Explained

Drawboring gave the 2 sets of legs an incredibly tight and almost immovable joint, bashing that peg through the offset hole and seeing the shoulder tighten so ridiculously close to the legs was one of the most satisfying moments I’ve had in my workshop.

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The fence post legs connected to their stretchers with ash pegs.

The legs were done and I was relieved and filled with a sense of growth, creating a joint I had never previously attempted. The final issue was to connect the 2 sets of legs together but in a way in which they could be disassembled. Once I looked at the bench it didn’t take long to connect the dots and figure out that my answer could be a long stretcher connected to each set of legs with removable pegs and 2 leg braces going from the stretcher to the legs.

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The long stretcher would fit into the lower mortise and be pegged in, the leg braces would come from the centre of the long stretcher to the upper mortise.

In order to work out the angles for the angled braces I had to remember Pythagoras’ theorem from middle school in order to work out the side opposite the right angle (hypotenuse) of the triangle formed by the angle. After I had made my calculations and measured my available wood it became a rather simple procedure. Detailed in this website Carpentry Pro Framer Pythagoras Theorem

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Once the angles were figured out the rest just slotted into place.

Mass is a quality any woodworking bench will benefit from, thankfully mine is rather heavy and so heavy in fact that I needed assistance to place the top onto the legs. The mortises all lined up, I slotted the long stretcher into the sets of legs and inserted the braces with them. Tapping the chunky ash pegs into the stretcher just solidified the structure even more. Then came the time to lift the top onto the legs; with a grunt and a groan we placed it on the mortises but it needed a little persuasion. Rubber mallet in hand I gave the top a few solid strikes over the mortises until it sat tightly in position. I gave the bench a couple of big slaps; it replied by being completely unshakeable, solid and sturdy.

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Am I glad my workbench is made from pine? My brain tells me that maybe it isn’t ideal but then, it is a workbench isn’t it? It’s meant to be bashed up and cut and scraped. I look at the beautiful and finely crafted workbenches so many seem to have today and I am in awe of their skills, but really, I think what I have is more than enough and certainly does the job its supposed to do.

Standing back and looking at it, well it was one of the proudest moments of my life. Perhaps that seems a little overstated but I had created the bench with no plans, little woodworking experience and completely out of recycled timber. Anyone who has worked so hard at something and had to think about it day and night to solve all its problems will tell you that when they actually achieve it, when it’s there in front of them, it’s emotional and memorable.

It’s chunky, it’s tough, it’s heavy and rough and maybe having seen what it can be, pine is fine after all.

 

 

 

 

 

From construction necessity to woodworking passion [Introduction]

Woodworking is an odd practice; one day you’ll read that it’s best to cut the pins for dovetails first, the next day you’ll be told the opposite. Some say its best to air dry wood, others say it’s better to kiln dry it. To use a finish or not to use a finish? Screw joints, glue joints, complex woodworking joints? There’s a multitude of methods and theories and people who lend you their informed opinion, it was all very confusing at first and sometimes still is.

The cool thing about it though, is that for a lot of methods, there’s no universal correct answer. Different methods suit different goals and different people.

That’s one of the main things I love about woodwork and what drove me to pursue it. No matter who you are, where you’re from, your ability, your income…woodworking in one form or another can be pursued, it’s universal and it’s utterly fascinating. Don’t have a table saw? Use a jigsaw. Can’t afford a jigsaw? Use a saw. No saw? Use a knife and carve away to your heart’s content.

arch editedFor me it all started when I was asked to make an archway by a neighbour, this archway would go in the hedge between our gardens to allow my mum and the lady next door easy access to each others houses. This was an idea devised by the neighbour to help my mum overcome her agoraphobia.

I remember wanting to make the arch to help but really not knowing where to start. I looked at the hedge, then at the wood and at the hedge again. My brothers and dad, who are all very practical, were offering ideas. I took them on board and set the wood down, marked out angles and within a few hours I had made it. My first solo wooden creation. I only did it out of necessity and yet it brought out my need to create with wood at a time when I was otherwise directionless.

The arch is still there now, helping my mum day by day to improve her confidence and as a side effect, improving mine too.

I’d love if you could join me on my journey into woodworking; my successes, my mistakes, my lessons learnt and lessons to come. Thank you for reading.