Furniture Making Techniques: Creating Projects on a Spindle Lathe
posted on August 1, 2010 by Rob Johnstone
Turning a chair leg on a lathe For table and chair leg construction, proper spindle turning is an extremely useful skill have so you can have well constructed attractive pieces.

From candlesticks to baseball bats, long, slender spindles are often one of the first projects attempted by new turners.

On the other hand, if you’re a furniture maker, turned legs may well become the project that gets you hooked on the lathe. For my Shaker Table reproduction project, I had eight chances to get it right, since I built two of the tables. These were very basic legs, but when it comes to turning, my past experience has been limited to bowls and other small projects. So they were a first for me. Here’s what I learned from my first go-round.

Turning Takeaways

First, use a good quality spur center and live center. I upgraded to a new Oneway live center for this task (replacing the factory live center that came with my six-year-old lathe).

Using a steady rest to help with turning Use a steady rest will help you keep the piece centered as well as reducing the amount of harmonic chatter in your project.

Next, prepare your turning blanks carefully and mark the mounting points dead center.

Lay out your legs before you begin turning. Mark your transitions, tapers, etc.

Using calipers to check diameter of turned table leg Maintaining diameter while you're turning long, thin items is important, so keep a calipers on hand to regularly check your piece.

Use calipers to check your diameters. (My bowl-based look-see method didn’t work!)

Make a “test leg” from well prepared scrap lumber. This allows you to discover any potential problems in advance. For example, on my test run I learned that my technique with a skew was not sufficient to accomplish the task of making a uniform cylindrical leg. So I switched to a 1" flat scraper and got the job done.

Reducing harmonic chatter on a lathe To reduce harmonic chatter in your turning, use your free hand behind your cutter to gently brace the piece as it's turning.

Also, on this project I experienced what expert Ernie Conover calls “harmonic chatter” — the vibrations that occur when a spindle becomes thin enough to flex as it is being shaped. Mine was mild enough that I could dampen it with my hand held lightly against the turning leg.

The main lesson I learned? Don’t let your inexperience get in the way of completing a project.

posted on August 1, 2010 by Rob Johnstone
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- Orval - 08/07/2012
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