Thursday, February 24, 2011

Choosing A Wood Lathe: Remember The Budget

Buying a wood lathe sounds like a simple proposition. Check the budget, look at the lathes in the budget category, choose the one that seems good and away we go. However, like most things in life, it is not that simple. One of the more difficult things for the beginner or first time buyer, is knowing how to gauge the budget in the first place.
Wood lathes are more individual than many other woodworking tools. While there are certainly many models of tools such as table saws, for example, there are certain features expected in particular price ranges and the saws will be fairly uniform in that range. It is expected that one may purchase one, put it in the work shop, and go to work. The wood lathe is a different proposition.
While most wood lathes in a given price range will generally be similar in quality this is not always so. A mini lathe will usually be better quality than a full size lathe in the same cost bracket, for instance. Two lathes of the same price may have different mechanisms for controlling speeds and overall quality of the lathe with the more expensive speed controller will likely be less than that of the other machine. It is necessary in the budget to question what is wanted in the lathe for weight, quality of construction, type of speed control and size among other things.
All other things being equal among lathes, there is the extra strain on the budget to consider. That table saw will be ready to work right out of the box, but not so for most lathes. The typical wood lathe comes with the basic machine ready to run and with centers and a faceplate to hold the wood, but without tools to cut the wood nor any means to keep them sharp. Again in contrast to the table saw that came with a blade that rarely needs sharpening and then by a professional shop, the lathe comes with no tools and no means to sharpen them even though they will need frequent sharpening. It often comes as a surprise to a beginning wood turner that in some circumstances tools need to be sharpened every couple of minutes.
So the budget will need to stretch to a set of woodturning tools, a grinder and a set of aluminium oxide wheels at the very least, not to mention sundries like sandpaper and finishes. All of these should be allowed for in the budget before shopping for the wood lathe. It should be noted that a decent set of woodturning tools or a four jaw chuck may each be more expensive than a beginner's wood lathe.
It is possible to get started turning wood on a modest budget. Some reasonable planning is necessary but many woodturners have begun on light lathes and used them for many years.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Sharpening Woodturning Tools: Making Sense Of Grinder Wheels For Sharp Wood Lathe Tools

Getting a good edge on a wood lathe tool is one of the great difficulties for a beginning woodturner and an ongoing concern for intermediates and experts. While the grinder is the tool of choice for woodworkers sharpening tools for wood lathes, getting it set up with the correct wheels can be a confusing challenge. It need not be with a couple of simple steps.

First it is necessary to move in thinking of the grinder as a sharpener. Many people come to woodturning from general woodworking where the grinder is used to remove lots of metal in a hurry so as to grind away nicks and breaks in chisels, plane irons and the like. Water stones and honing implements are used for final edges. Woodturners move from the grinder to the wood. Most shop grinders are not set up for this and the problem is largely the wheels.

Thus the second consideration is to replace the grinder wheels. While it is agreed that since woodturners generally use high speed steel tools they should have aluminium oxide wheels, there is a lot of confusion in the catalogues as to what color wheel to get and what bond to have. The color reflects individual manufacturers attempts to make choosing between grades of their particular wheels and has little to do with other wheels on the market. Consideration then should be given to grit and bond.

The bond of a wheel refers to how friable the material is that holds the aluminium oxide together. More friable bonds allow the material to break away quickly thus leaving a sharp cutting and cooler grinding surface. Unfortunately, the most friable bonds manufacturers recommend for woodturners groove, pit and wear quickly requiring a lot of wheel dressing and expensive replacement. Thankfully, almost any aluminium oxide wheel generally available to the home market is sufficiently friable for good sharpening with good wear so making sense of the friable numbers of bonds is not necessary. Just get a good wheel.

Third is consideration of the grit. While it may encourage argument, a good setup is a fast cutting wheel of about 46 grit on one side of the grinder and a sharpening wheel of eighty to one hundred on the other. With a good jig especially, this will meet all the shaping and sharpening needs of the woodturning shop.

Simply put, a couple of inexpensive aluminium oxide wheels of appropriate grit will give a lot of sharpening satisfaction and help to make a lot of shavings for a long time to come. Keep it simple and keep it fun.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Beginning Woodturning: Four Tips Before You Get Started

As you look at a bewildering display of turned wood objects and an even more bewildering display of woodturning tools, it can quickly get discouraging to consider getting started turning wood at all. However if you look at the wide array of people who turn wood you quickly realizes that woodturning is an accessible hobby for just about anyone. The real question is how to get started. Here are four quick and easy ways to begin the entry into the world of wood turning and working on the wood lathe.

  1.  First take your time. Do not rush out and buy the first lathe you come to just to find out it is not suited for the objects that you would like to make. Read a few books on woodturning. Most libraries have one or two and maybe even a video to watch. It may be for a more advanced turner but will certainly give you some ideas of what you are getting into. Look for the basics such as what tools are needed and what kinds of wood lathes are available. Remember that you are starting out and all the bells that whistles that the pros like are probably not necessary for you.
  2.  Once you get a feel for the basics, consider what you might like to make for your own purposes, be they gifts, table legs for other projects, pens or whatever. Think of what accessories you might need other than the lathe or turning tools. Budgets start to come into play here. You might be able to find specialized books on your choices or even classes at the local community college or school dealing with this particular interest.
  3.  Consider taking a class in woodturning. Many woodworking classes in night school will have a lathe available and may have an instructor that knows how to use the machine. In addition look for a woodturning club in your area. A lot of communities have them and most have a fair number of watchers and even members who do not turn but are considering getting started. As a rule, woodturners like to demonstrate their skills and introduce others to the art and craft.
  4.  Stay safe as you start. Get a face shield and dust mask and use them. Hearing protectors are great too. While most lathes are fairly quiet wood shop tools, most wood turners will use chainsaws, band saws, planers, drills and the like with all the noise they provide. Safe woodworking is by far the most enjoyable.

These simple tips will get you started as you begin the interesting and compelling art and craft of woodturning. Soon you will be giving tips to someone else with the same interest.