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Newbie woodworking questions: dovetails versus dowels, and lathe substitutes  RSS feed

 
M D Scott
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Hello everyone!

I’ve been into permaculture for a moderate amount of time, though still very much a novice. I would really like to move to the next stage and become a little more self-sufficient across the board and my interest has more and more turned towards woodworking.

I’ve recently been renovating my first home and my father, quite crafty himself, has been doing some marvellous flooring and ‘bodging’ with old pallets which got me to thinking about the things I could do with pallets, I would love to get into making furniture and household items but really don’t want to have to use glues or nails, all wood or found material as far as possible.
I therefore think I have two options, becoming skilled with dovetails or using wooden dowels along with a drill to make holes and ‘pin’ things together, what do you woodworking buffs out there think?

I’d also really like to get a lathe and make bowls and polished items from wood however lathes seem fiendishly expensive, however some people seem to have success making them from drills fixed in place, any advice in regards to that?

I am, unfortunately, a university-educated office worker and so have no experience working wood whatsoever, my interest is mainly academic, I’d love some advice in getting started from the experts.
 
Ralf Siepmann
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Location: Northern Germany
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Hi,

I can recommend the Website of Mathias Wandel.
I find it´s kinda porn for woodworkers (and also has valuable content for beginners).
It contains a lot of very practical tips, recently there was an article on how to self-build a low-tech lathe.
All documented very well on video.
He got famous for selling plans on how to build band saws made entirely out of wood... now you can DIY almost all known woodworking machines as wooden versions from his plans.

Concering dovetails, I´d go for fine box joints, much easier to make and there´s also a video on this site where he compares the strength of both, and the box joint wins.

Have a good start !
Ralf
 
Troy Rhodes
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If you shop craig's list and ebay for a couple weeks, you can find a moderately capable lathe for under $200. 

For somebody who is just learning the craft, you don't want a big powerful lathe (that could tear your arm off in a second) to start with anyway.

Here's one I found in under a minute:

http://www.ebay.com/itm/1-2HP-40-INCH-INDUSTRIAL-POWER-WOOD-TURNING-LATHE-14-x-40-1000MM-40-NEW-/162023686764?hash=item25b95d426c:g:2o0AAOSweWVTb~Mz



Get a few basic turning tools, watch 50 youtube videos on how to turn, watch 10 on lathe injuries, and then start learning your craft.


Don't fall for the idea that you have to have a $2,000 lathe to do good work.  Just to prove the point, here's a guy making a living on a piece of junk human powered lathe, using his feet no less.


http://www.wimp.com/just-a-guy-making-chess-pieces/




Go make 100 things on a cheap lathe.  The last 50 should be good enough to sell.  By then, you'll have an idea of what you would want to move up to in lathe.
 
Guy Marknes
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Troy Rhodes wrote:If you shop craig's list and ebay for a couple weeks, you can find a moderately capable lathe for under $200. 

For somebody who is just learning the craft, you don't want a big powerful lathe (that could tear your arm off in a second) to start with anyway.

Here's one I found in under a minute:

http://www.ebay.com/itm/1-2HP-40-INCH-INDUSTRIAL-POWER-WOOD-TURNING-LATHE-14-x-40-1000MM-40-NEW-/162023686764?hash=item25b95d426c:g:2o0AAOSweWVTb~Mz



Get a few basic turning tools, watch 50 youtube videos on how to turn, watch 10 on lathe injuries, and then start learning your craft.


Don't fall for the idea that you have to have a $2,000 lathe to do good work.  Just to prove the point, here's a guy making a living on a piece of junk human powered lathe, using his feet no less.


http://www.wimp.com/just-a-guy-making-chess-pieces/




Go make 100 things on a cheap lathe.  The last 50 should be good enough to sell.  By then, you'll have an idea of what you would want to move up to in lathe.


I agree Troy, I bought that very same lathe off eBay for $119 with free shipping, and a $19 set of tools from Harbor Freight Tools.  I'm a retired master builder, my wife a burgeoning luthier, us both subscribing to Jack White's approach to playing guitar; It's not the tool, it's the artisan.  He plays amazing music with what his contemporaries would consider garage sale garbage.  I in turn take old fence posts I find around Detroit and turn them into table legs I either sell as matched sets for others to make tables from, or for my own tables I then sell at great profit.  The true skill lay in the artist not the instrument. 

But keep a patient eye on craigslist...somsone's uncle or father is always shuffling off this mortal coil and a shopsmith can always be had for $100...

Happy hunting!
 
M D Scott
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I love the Mathias Wandel website, some great stuff on there, I really liked the machine that could cut things based off a template (the Pantorouter) I would have thought it'd work lose from the frame though?

The chap making the items using a hand-powered lathe was impressive, i'm sort of not sure how that works though, surely if I took a piece of a wood and a sharp chisel and got the wood up to a speed as soon as I took a chisel to it wouldn't it throw the chisel away from the wood or simply turn the wood into a crazy pile of splinters, it amazes me that people seem to get such a smooth result out of something so low tech, are hand-powered lathes a good starting point?

I have been trawling craigslist and ebay for a while and seen a few lathes for around the £200 mark, just worried i'd get one and find I either have no aptitude or that I hate it, would a lathe made using a drill, firmly secured, to spin the wood, be a good starting point for an experiment or two or would it be highly inadvisable?
 
Troy Rhodes
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Everyone finds their own path.  There is no wrong answer.

The best answer is to do SOMETHING.


Most quick and dirty expedient lathes using a drill are difficult to produce decent work.

There are exceptions...if you go watch Mathias Wandel's home built lathe, and you're interested in the process as much as the finished bowl, rock on.

If you want to start making bowls next week, and you're just not that interested in building the machine, just buy one.  When you have learned everything you can learn from the cheap lathe, you can sell it and get most of your money back to use toward the next lathe. 


Did I mention, watch a bunch of youtube videos on how to run a wood lathe?   And watch a bunch more on wood lathe safety?


Go now.


Do something fun and creative.

 
Peter Kalokerinos
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Location: Hunter Valley, NSW, Australia
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As a newbie, I'd start with reading Ernest Joyce's book - its a bit old now, but is an excellent resource/starting point

https://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Furniture-Making-Ernest-Joyce/dp/0806971428

+ youtube, whenever I am stuck on a joint or a technique you can just about guarantee there will be at least a hundred youtube vids on it....but you need to know where to start.

I like the wood whispers's channel as well

http://www.thewoodwhisperer.com/

Edit: and like most things the German's do it better.....

http://www.holzwerken.net/
 
M D Scott
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Thanks for the great advice, I might have to invest in a lathe once I have the money, experimenting a bit with some tools in the meantime seems the way to go too!
 
Sam White
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I can't comment on the wooden dowels and dovetails. However, in regards to obtaining a lathe I do have a suggestion which is in a similar vein to the video that Troy linked.

Have you heard of green woodworking? One of the principle pieces of apparatus that practitioners use is a pole lathe, a foot powered lathe usually made out of wood, that has been used by wood workers of various kinds for centuries (including 'bodgers' who manufactured chair legs). Traditionally, pole lathes are made from wood that has been felled and shaped for the purpose. However, I did come across an instructional video (Harry Rogers on Youtube   - the only thing he doesn't show is the 'pole' of the lathe) on making such a lathe from milled timber such as from B&Q or whatever.

Like a powered lathe, you can make most any turned wooden item you wish to. To see a pole lathe in use check this video out and there's loads more videos on Youtube.


I'm a novice green wood worker so I've not even progressed to a pole lathe yet; my tool set is limited to a couple of knives, an axe and a saw! It is possible to make beautiful items with just a few tools and a bit of knowledge and practice. I'm not quite there yet but if you check out this group on Facebook you'll find plenty of inspiration. I think that starting with carving spoons, hair forks, small bowls, etc gives a good understanding of many of the tools and techniques that are transferable throughout all forms of green woodworking. Axes are used throughout for example, and knowledge of wood, grain, different species is all obviously transferable. Starting with just a few tools also has the advantage of being comparatively cheap. That Robin Wood bloke sells a spoon carving set for about £75 I think which includes an axe, knife and spoon (or 'crook') knife. I bought a Mora 106 (£15-£20), a Ben Orford small crook knife (£35) and I use an old Kent pattern axe bought from a tool restoration charity for £12 (TFSR) or a more expensive side axe that I received as a gift.
 
Peter Ellis
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On the idea of using an electric drill as a substitute for a lathe, I would simply say don't do it.  For someone with lots of experience who was putting together a field expedient solution for turning a couple of small pieces in an emergency, it might be a best possible option.

For someone that does not understand how lathes, or wood, work, it would be extremely inadvisable.  You could, quite literally, build a functional pole lathe for less effort than it would take to produce a reasonably safe power drill version.  And remember, those old hand made foot powered lathes have been in use for much longer than motorized lathes. The old style lathes work, and work well.
 
M D Scott
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The pole lathe looks interesting, I take the advice on board regarding the risks so it looks like a pole lathe would be a good starting point. Am I right in thinking you can do just the same on a pole lathe (turning bowls for instance) as you could on a powered one? That the difference is simply one of speed?
 
Troy Rhodes
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Yup.  A modest electric lathe will outproduce a human powered lathe 5:1 in the short term (one bowl) and maybe 10:1 on a days production.


That doesn't mean one is better or worse, just different.  What is the goal?  More production/more money?  A foot powered lathe that draws a crowd at the farmer's market, where your bowls sell for 5x the cost because it's truly made by hand?



 
Sam White
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Location: Caerphilly, Wales, UK
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You can definitely do the same stuff on either an electric- or foot-powered lathe. The electric lathe might well be quicker but it also costs more and requires electricity and presumably maintenance/spare parts whereas a pole lathe made from timber is relatively cheap, easy to maintain, can be dismantled and moved easily. You can take your pole lathe to the same woods where you fell your wood and make your bowls and chairs surrounded by nature with the experience undiminished by the sound of an electric lathe.
 
Peter Ellis
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M D Scott wrote:The pole lathe looks interesting, I take the advice on board regarding the risks so it looks like a pole lathe would be a good starting point. Am I right in thinking you can do just the same on a pole lathe (turning bowls for instance) as you could on a powered one? That the difference is simply one of speed?


One very important difference to understand is that motorized lathes rotate in one direction, while the pole lathe rotates back and forth and you can only cut in one direction.
 
M D Scott
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I'm not sure I could take it to my woods without being glassed! Or falling down a disused mineshaft, but thats a rather charming image, maybe in the garden. I was more interested in using old pallets, really my interest in a lathe came at rather a tangent; I wanted to make something from wood that would last pretty much as long as the wood did; so I wanted to avoid using glues if possible. My idea was to combine dovetails with wooden dowels, which rather meant I had to have a way of making wood dowels of a fairly uniform size, which led on to lathes. The problem is lathes are fairly expensive and i'm not sure if i'd take to it or enjoy it. I would have loved to take a class or somesuch but i'm in a bit of an awkward position (far enough out of Nottingham and Derby that reaching a big city is slightly problematic) and the people of my fair locale aren't big on using lathes.

I had a go making dovetails however my skills and instruments are limited, it looks to me like i'd have to get a jigsaw to make a fair breast of it at the stage I am, but I take on board the points raised that using machine tools at the stage i'm in may not be a good idea. My intention is, as soon as I have my own space, to have a serious go at both things; making a pole lathe may be a good first project.

Forgive my ignorance but what does that mean? If a pole lathe causes a back and forth motion does that mean i'd have to start and stop, start and stop?

 
Troy Rhodes
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A pole lathe works with a treadle, or a power pedal if you will.

The pole works like a big spring above the lathe and the work piece.  A piece of rope goes from the pole, around the work and down to the treadle.  You push down on the pedal and work piece rotates toward you (the "correct" direction).  When you let up on the pedal, the pole springs back up, the workpiece rotates the other way, and then you do it again.  All the cutting happens on the down stroke, or power stroke.  There's a certain art to it...

And, not that there's anything wrong with traditional joinery, but with modern glues, a nicely made piece could easily last 100+++ years.



Carry on...
 
Tobias Ber
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m d scott,
if you want to make dowels, check this out:

 
M D Scott
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Ohhh thats a great video, thats pretty much exactly the sort of thing I was thinking of, its'd be quite easy to use that to make dowels to fit the same size hole, and the results look very regular. The other posters though have game me reason to mull it over a little, I think I might need to experiment with the basics of lathes first and indeed basic woodwork before I get further into this, however at least I know it *is* possible, and such an elegant solution too.

I think thats what I love about these forums, complex problems often have simple solutions which others are able to see that you are blind to, however hard you look.
 
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