Here is my Woodturning Shop!
by Dennis A. (stumpy) Purcell
Note: click any picture to see a larger version.
A few months ago I saw an ad on Craigslist in Houston for an "old" lathe. All of my shop tools are "old iron", most are Delta, and vary in age from 1930's to 1970's. My air compressor is a horizontal 1923 Gardner "Junior" . . . before the company became Gardner Denver! At any rate I love rebuilding and using solid, well made, steel (no plastic involved), repairable woodworking tools . . . . so, I bought the lathe. I thought at first, upon reading the brass nameplate, that this may have been a lathe used in the classrooms at the Manual Training School in St. Louis. However, after starting the tear down and rebuild process, I discovered no manufacturer markings of any kind and there were details of castings, mountings and fit that indicate this may actually have been a student made project! I still don't know for sure, but that is my strong impression of the machine. I was told by the seller that his father had had the tool stored in the loft of his barn in Missouri for over 50 years, but he had no other information about the machine.
Since it came to me without a motor, I built a cantilever shelf on back and mounted an (almost) equally old Wagner 1⁄4 horsepower motor. And yes, it is a little underpowered and I may be looking to change it out. I am a little concerned however that the Babbitt bearings will not hold up to turning heavy bowl blanks, and after all, the swing is only 9-1/2". In order to have the machine mobile (my wife still likes to park in "her" half of the garage) . . . I built a rolling cradle and then had to add a fold down work platform so that I actually stand tall enough to do work on the machine! I added a storage box between the legs for all of the accessories, jaws, face plates, and tools, etc. The tail stock is a typical #2 taper, but the head has an unusual 1 x 10 tpi thread. So far, I have found and can use an old Atlas (Craftsman) faceplate, a custom made aluminum faceplate and, with the use of a custom adapter, I can also use a
. My only real issue so far is the short length of the tool rest (banjo) base casting. That short length and the 7/8" post diameter make finding parts difficult. I will probably build a new longer banjo, perhaps even articulated for getting to the side of a blank more easily.
Among the many interesting things I found during the rebuild was that the hex head and tee bolts holding the tailstock, head stock and tool rest were 1⁄2 - 12 thread. I don't know when the current threading standard was set, but everything that I have used for the past 50 years has been 1⁄2 - 13. I was able to find and change out the 8" and 9" bolts and then re-tap (with the aid of HeliCoil) all of the cast pieces. It was a VERY interesting and rewarding experience. Even if I don't get a lot of use from it, this will be one of the cherished pieces in the new workshop that I am currently building at our cabin on the Dry Frio River (misnomer – it's wet) near Garner State Park, Concan, in the Hill Country, of central Texas!
My first turning on this "new" lathe (my first in many years and the one pictured here) utilized a blank I purchased on eBay from a gentleman in Ohio. It is curly maple and finished to about 8" in diameter. My daughter received it happily on her 29th birthday this past May. I was pleased!
I was educated as an architect, did some construction/renovation under my name until the 1980's bust, worked as an architectural model builder for 22 years and have been a steel fabrication CADD designer/facilities manager at a commercial roofing company for the past 12 years. Because I found the love of my life at 50 and then we married 11 years ago, I now live in Austin but still work in Houston, a 150 mile commute each week! Obviously, I don't get to utilize my garage workshop very much. The small apartment I use during the week frowns on my sawdust making hobby!
My workshop currently is, like many weekend woodworkers, confined to "the garage". I'm sure many readers will nod when they see the photos. There are many of us who can only wait and dream of "retirement" so we can really spend time on our second love . . . my wife says she better be viewed as my first love!! Yes, dear. You will notice dust on the machines in my photos. Unfortunately, even though I utilize the ceiling hung JDS air cleaner, more dust accumulates from sitting than its use!
I have taken photos of the tools that I have rebuilt and currently use. Still awaiting completion are 2 - 4" Delta jointers, a 6" Delta jointer, a Homecraft 16" scroll saw, a Sears "tombstone" 6" planer, the 1950's shop-made 12" thickness sander, and a Delta 40-440 scroll saw. Craiglist and eBay will be my ruin! I'm looking at an old Craftsman power hack saw tomorrow!
Available for use currently are a 1930's Delta 1/2" shaper, the 20-A Multiplex radial arm saw, the 9" table saw, a typical Delta 14" band saw with 6" riser, a Homecraft drill press, a 1940's Walker-Turner drill press, a Rockwell/Delta Uniplane from the 1970's, and my prize possession, a 1923 Gardner (before Gardner-Denver) two stage air compressor. The 1900 Sheldon quick acting woodworking vise comes in quite handy when using some of my antique Keen Kutter chisels.
Other than the bowl (recently done on my "new" 1887 lathe), my only other recent turning has been a "trueing" of the drum on a (shop-made?) thickness sander that I purchased from another woodworker in Oregon through the Vintage Machinery website. As the photos show, I had to devise a "unique" setup on the lathe.
Having used milling machines and lathes during my model making career, I developed a fondness for replaceable carbide insert tooling. Therefore, I am happy to see some of that technology being utilized by woodworkers, especially in turning. I recently purchased a Hurricane 18" handle and some of the
Easy Wood Tools Carbide Inserts
. Partly because of the tooling costs and partly because I wanted to customize to my needs, I bought 5/8", 3/8" and 1/4" stainless steel round bars to make into shafts. I grind a shelf for the inserts and tap a hole for the holder screw. I love the results that the carbide edge gives on the wood. And, since tool grinding is another art unto itself, how easy is it to turn an insert to a new sharp edge?
I know there are two schools of thought about gouges, inserts vs. shop ground blanks, and/or wood handles with tool steel vs. length adjustable rods. I love the availability of all of the options of tooling. Even as I still do some hand drafting though I have computer aided design available, I can use any gouge that feels right at the moment and whichever type gives me the best end result.
On Valentine's Day this year I gave my wife the first try at a band saw box and she loves it! She had also asked for "extra storage" when I rebuilt the master bathroom last year . . . she got plenty with slide out makeup containers and the drawers of the antique buffet I converted into a vanity.
Whatever you do, enjoy your craft and marvel at your craftsmanship!
You can email Dennis at
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