Thursday, September 20, 2012

Turning Kiln Dried Hard Maple - Solution

If you are like me, one of the biggest challenges to making some windsor styles is acquiring the right materials, such as hard maple. Heck even in lots of places that you can get all the other woods you need then hard maple is still not there. You have to be in a cold enough climate to get this stuff to grow. Then again just acquiring it green is another matter all together.

So, what to do? Well you can change your turnings to suit other woods but I just have that drive to make those baluster turnings with those really nice thicks and thins. Hard maple is really the only wood you can count to hold up to the stresses. Don't try a half inch cove on soft maple for an arm post turning. Some big guy is sure to break it in a short time.

So here is where I started thinking... I was working on a settee design that will be in the Texas furniture makers show and I just didn't want to do the double bobbin turnings. So, I set out to turn the baluster turnings in kiln dried hard maple. I hit the same old problems of heat build up and dulling my tools quickly. As you know a dull skew chisel will catch in a second. The additional problem is that a less that super sharp chisel will make a turning bounce off the cutting edge rather than slicing, leaving chatter marks, thus making a clean bead very difficult to turn. Sanding is not what we want to have to do if we want to keep those clean crisp features. Now add the final irritant is that supporting the turning with your off hand under those circumstances is just asking for blistered fingers.

Ok enough about the gripes of kiln dried hard maple. This is what I did that seems to just about fix all my complaints. I filled a spray bottle with some water. After roughing down a section to the point where I would move on to the finishing tool, such as the skew, I spayed the surface and let it soak in for a bit. Once absorbed then I could make that final pass and voila! it turns almost as good as the green stuff. Sure not entirely as good but I was able to get an acceptable turning the first go. After a little practice judging the right amount and how much time to wait then they really started to shine. I was so excited at the results that I snapped a pic on my phone.

Above is the first arm post I turned after trying out my idea. The rear turning is the dried stuff and the front turning is a green turing I had on hand. Of course, neither one is sanded but is straight off the tool. As you can see there are some little issues but once I knew that it was working and tweaked my approach a little those seemed to be very minimal. I hope that gets you to thinking about doing some more difficult turnings now. Try it out. Let me know if it works for you too.


  1. Caleb - Your approach to wetting the turnings intrigues me. How wet and how long do allow it to absorb before doing the final turning? By the way, very nice turnings.

    1. Ray,

      Well, I have to say that I don't have it down to an exact science yet but it is probably only about 20-30 seconds to absorb. Try it out and you will see pretty quickly what seem to be right.

      By the way, I spray the water on with the broad spray setting, not the stream and of course with the lathe spinning to get an even coverage. I do avoid spraying anything that will be a tenon so that it won't shrink later. I haven't noticed any warping from doing this but I would say that using just enough water to get the job done is the way to approach it.

      Let me know if it works well for you.