Turning Archive 2006
Bill Grumbine (Kutztown PA)
This is a reposting of an article I wrote way back in 2003. As it happens, I was able to use my old personal site, which still has the pics on it, and did not have to do any hunting for them. Mary M, I hope this helps you out some.
One of the turning questions that seems to come up regularly in the various fora I frequent is how to make a shoulder cut into end grain on a spindle turning. Along with that question is how to turn a bead or a bulb for various types of furniture parts. I recently had opportunity to turn some replacement legs for a friend of mine (for his chair, not him!), so during the process I had some pictures taken to detail how I do it. There are other ways, but this is the way I think gives the best results, at least for me.
The shoulder cut is called a pommel cut. I do not know the origination of that nomenclature, but that is what we call it around here. There are several ways to accomplish this cut, but since I am lazy and hate to sand end grain, I have learned to use my skew to do it. This cut works just as well on square stock as it does for round stock. In the case of square stock, one needs to be careful of blowing out the corners. A sharp tool is essential. I find that right off the grinding wheel is plenty sharp enough. "Sneaking up" on the cut also helps prevent tearing out the corners of square stock as well. More on that in a minute.
To begin this cut, the skew is placed at the point where the turner wants the shoulder to be. Again, if you have not practiced, this cut, are not sure of your tool, or have wood prone to chip out on a corner, start a little bit down from the mark on the wood. You can always fine tune the cut later on. The beginning of this cut is a pivoting cut, levering the tool into the wood just enough to make a small groove. It is essential for a clean shoulder that both the bevel and the edge of the tool line up square to the long axis of the turning. The line in this case is a slight bump between the finished diamter of the square bead on the left and what will become a bulb on the right.
Perspective reversal! I took the first pictures, and my assistant took the rest from the opposite side of the lathe. Here you can see a small groove being formed. This is just a start. The groove will be enlarged as you go, but pushing too far too fast will cause the skew to burn the wood, and will cause loss of control as well. It will also destroy the clean edge for which you are striving.
Once the initial groove is established, it is time to start removing waste. Lay the skew flat on the wood with the bevel rubbing the wood and the long point facing in the direction you want to cut, but do not start cutting yet. To make the cut, lift the tool handle while simultaneously rotating the tool so that the long point is pivoted into the wood in an arc. Do not try to take off all the wood at once. That is how big catches happen. At this point all you are trying to do is remove enough wood to make a clearance for the tool when you go back to repeat the first cut you made. Very little edge of the tool should be in the wood - most of this cut is done with the very point of the tool.
The picture above shows this cut removing wood to enlarge the clearance. Once you have a bit of wood removed, it will look like a small lopsided vee groove, with one side 90 degrees to the long axis of the turning. Repeat the first cut you made, making sure to keep the bevel and edge perpendicular to the long axis, and cutting a bit deeper this time. Then repeat the second cut, removing a bit more of the wood to the waste side of the cut. As you remove more wood, you can start to shape the profile as to how you want it to end up, as seen in the example below.
Repeat these two basic cuts until you reach the diameter of the pommel, or the sharp point where the transition is made. The cuts used on the waste side are dependent on the profile desired on the finished piece. If it is a bulb or a bead, continue with the skew as described above. If it is a tapered or straight section, you can use a peeling cut with the skew, a gouge, or even a parting tool to remove the waste wood.
Here I am using a spindle gouge to remove wood and shape the bottom part of the bulb.
Finally, here is the finished product before sanding. Sandpaper is a valuable tool and works well for removing small facets and rough spots. Additionally, while many turners like to brag about the burnished surface they can get with their skew, it is all for naught if they want the finished piece to take stain or clearcoating evenly. All parts of the turning must be sanded to the same grit to keep the wood from having sections that stand out across the room from taking finish differently.
This skew technique works well for rolling beads, turning bulbs, bun feet, or any shape where there is a sharp transition from one shape to another. A skew can even be used to turn coves, but I'll save that for a different article.