Friday, December 14, 2012

Custom Sized Lathe Bed Tool Rest

Learning to turn chair parts, especially the baluster turnings of windsor chairs, is a huge challenge to the beginning chairmaker. I clearly recall this process. Maybe you do too or maybe you are just now attempting this. Don't be discouraged, you will get there. Here are two things that will definitely help you on your way.

One of the two things that frustrated me when I began turning was; first there was so little proper instruction on how to turn chair parts. The turning world is dominated by vessels. Second, the lathes on the market were designed with features to suit those needs. Where was a tool rest that was longer than 12" to be found? None of the manufactures even offered an optional one to purchase.

Fortunately the first complaint is being addressed. My chair making mentor and buddy, Peter Galbert, is doing a series of articles with Fine Woodworking that specifically gives proper instruction on how to turn spindle type furniture parts. Such as those found on chairs. See the first one of three here. You need to be a member to access it. Before this article I learned to turn by watching his Youtube videos on how to turn a baluster leg and it is totally free. A must see.

Now the second complaint had to be settled by me. I, like most, struggled with that short tool rest and it really seemed to slow down my focus on learning how to turn by forcing me to stop and move the rest to address the other end of the turning. Nothing worst in slowing the presses to learning than an interruption. After I visited Pete's shop and used his 24" tool rest and then working with Curtis Buchanan and seeing his custom shop made tool rest I realized i had to get serious.

So I want to encourage you to get serious and make a long tool rest. I probably made this in about two hours and it has been well worth every minute. I didn't progress until I made this, really. It is worth it, do it, and don't look back.

Here are some photos of the inner workings. As alway, follow the rule of that, any shop apparatus should be of 10 parts or less, otherwise you are probably making it to complex.

First the part you actually rest the tool on would do well to be made of steel. Mine is 1/8 mild flat bar steel inset into the top edge of 8/4 hard maple, glued and screwed.

The tool rest is attached to shop made handscrew clamps that are used to fix the assembly to the bed of the lathe. I think a similar set up would work for most lathes despite the differences in bed dimension. I purchase only one handscrew clamp kit made by Jorgensen and split them up. The inside screw is just a threaded rod with nuts on both ends. They don't need to move once they are set to the bed thickness. Only the rear screw needs to open to adjust the rest.

I set the tool rest at about 20˚ to get the top close to the work while leaving me some room at the bottom from striking the bed. This also keeps the front edge of the body of the tool rest a bit back from the turning blank.

The rest attaches to the handscrew clamps via a bolt that passed through a slot in the rest and is treaded into a square nut housed within the end of the clamps. A square nut prevents it from turning in the mortis when tightening. I used a 3/8" bolt. The only improvement would be to make this function a quick release cam which I may eventually do.

There are some other things that will help you turn but this is a definite must have. Now get to turning! :)


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  2. Caleb,
    Thanks so much for your tool rest, I build one based on your design for my really old shop smith and it works great. I was thinking about how to make a longer tool rest when I came across this, what a great solution.

    Thanks you,
    Andy Gil

  3. Glad to know it was helpful.

    Happy turning!

  4. Hi Caleb,
    How long did you make your jig? 24"? I'm taking a class with Elia soon and am schooling myself on chair making. Right now I'm emphasizing the elements of the turning skills.

    Thanks for your article,