turning joined stool parts

marking the centers
marking the centers

The next step in the joined stools I am making is turning the stiles’ decoration. Here I am using a miter gauge to mark the centers on the stock. Once I locate the centers, I define them with a center punch and apply a bit of beeswax. Then they go on the pole lathe for turning.

 I wrap the cord twice around the midst of the stock, then line the stile up with the centers, & tighten the wedge that secures the tailstock.


wrap the cord
wrap the cord
Once I’m satisfied that the turning is mounted properly, then I check the toolrest, adjust it so it is as close to the turning as possible, and made tight. That can require some fumbling around with wedges & such, but only takes a minute.
Then I get the largest gouge I have, and begin to very lightly remove the corners off the stock. I have marked out the ends of the turned portion before it goes on the lathe – and at first the gouge is cutting well inside these marks. The idea is to get the stock roughed-out as quickly as possible. Once it’s round enough, it spins faster & easier on the lathe. My left hand moves the gouge laterally, my right hand rolls the gouge left & right, using the whole cutting edge in turn. Create the cylinder right up to the scribed lines, making a bevel up to these lines.
roughing cylinder with gouge
roughing cylinder with gouge

Now comes the hard part; cutting the transition from the square mortised blocks to the turned cylinder. Use a very sharp skew chisel, and with some practice it will come. First, I cut into the turned portion right up to the line of transition with the skew. Then I define the corners. I use the “long” point of the skew, and aim the tool just about directly in line with the mark I want to cut. My right hand is low, and the tool is aimed high at the stock. As it enters the wood, my right hand comes up, bringing the point of the tool down into the wood. Light cuts are key.

starting the skew cut
starting the skew cut
the skew cutting into the square
right hand comes up, tool begins cut in square

In general making this cut is a difficult one, but with practice it is manageable. There are a few movements that make it more predictable, and effective. Angling the handle left & right changes the relationship between the bevel and the wood, and this is useful as well.

After defining these transitions, I cut the rest of the pattern with a gouge and the skew.

shaping some of the details
shaping some of the details

The best thing to do is to turn the whole set in one session. That way you develop some consistency within the stool. I burnish the finished turning with a fistful of shavings when I am done.

turning stiles
turning stiles

4 thoughts on “turning joined stool parts

  1. Can you do a better picture/diagram of the mitre gauge stage please.
    And show what the mitre gauge looks like.

  2. Peter: Thanks for the nifty turning illustrations. I believe the tool you used to mark the centers of the stock was called the mitre square in the period.See Moxon and Frances Eaton, Plymouth Colony Inventories. Moxon describes the mitre square as a tongue permanently glued and pinned into a mortised handle like the joiner’s square except at an angle of 45 instead of 90 degrees. As you described earlier, only a stile’s two exterior surfaces and three corners are true. The mitre square is the perfect tool to find its center. Without four true corners, a straight edge will not do.
    Jennie Alexander

  3. Peter, you certainly makes it look easy in the pictures. I also built a spring pole lathe similar to your, but I just can’t seem to make it work well. So, I was wondering what type of wood works best with this tool. My thought is that if I use a wood that is easy to turn, it might be easier for me to learn how to use the lathe.

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