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Project: Making a Tapered Reamer

by Curtis Turner
Round Rock, TX

Note: Click on any picture to see a larger version.

Well, I admit it; I am smitten with the Windsor chair. It all started by watching Peter Galbert, Tim Manney and Claire Minihan work on Windsor chairs at various woodworking events. Then I tested a tapered reamer made by Tim. Then I tried out one of Claire's gorgeous travishers. The final straw was Pete's new book Chairmaker's Notebook . I understand now how they conspired to hook unsuspecting woodworkers. Now I want to make a chair! I have made several stools but never a chair. I am looking forward to this new challenge.

Where to Start?

I realized I needed a few tools prior to embarking on this project. I thought, being a turner, a tapered reamer would be something I could make. I had all the materials including an unused saw plate I could use for the blade.

What is a Reamer?

A taper reamer is a tool used by chairmakers to taper a pre-drilled hole into the chair seat. Once tapered, the mortise will receive a tapered tenon creating an extremely strong joint. This is a wooden body tool that holds a blade which is tapered to match the desired angle. The reamer is rotated in a pre-drilled hole thus widening the hole to the tapered angle.

Wood Selection

I selected a maple blank for the body of the reamer. I began by squaring up the stock using a No. 8 Lie-Nielsen Jointer. The blank ended up being just slightly over 2" square. This blank was about 18" long. In retrospect, I could have trimmed the blank down about 4".

I made a template to mark out a 6 degree taper. This is the angle that many chairmakers recommend.

I marked out the body, taper and sighting point (section nearest the headstock). The body should ultimately be a cylinder to help better visually line up the reamer against sliding bevels. For the time being, I left the body square. That will make sense later.

Next, I worked to turn a true taper that was 6 degrees and straight. You will notice that I did not carry the taper to point. I felt it would be helpful to leave the tip thick (near the tail stock). My thinking was this would help me start the saw cut. I felt that a thin fine point might make it difficult to start the saw cut.

Since I wanted to return the blank to the lathe, I needed as much support at the tail stock end as possible. Therefore, I did not part off the blank.

I then turned the tip (near the head stock) close to the final point but still left enough meat to allow for remounting.

Drilling the Hole

I left the blank square so it could be easily clamped to the drill press.

I pondered mounting the Drill Wizard , however, I did not want to apply too much pressure drilling into the hard maple so as to risk breaking the taper. The hole could have been drilled on the lathe if done prior to turning the blank. The drill press method worked perfectly. I drilled a 5/16" hole and fitted an oak dowel to serve as the handle.


Finally, I remounted the piece and completed turning the reamer.


I debated various ways to cut the slot. In the end, simple was better. I held the reamer in the vise and carefully sawed my way down the taper.

The Blade

I used a small section of a saw plate for the blade. I am lucky enough to have access to a machine shop, so I had someone rough cut my blank on a metal break. I then clamped the blade in a metal vise and filed down to my scribed line.


I sharpened a 45 degree bevel on both sides of the blade. I then honed a micro bevel on 1,000 grit water stone.


I am happy to report that the reamer works! However, I will need to refine my technique. I think the trick will be to keep the reamer centered in the hole while holding to the correct angle.

This would be a good project even for the beginning woodturner. However, it would be much easier to buy a reamer from one of the fine makers.

Curtis is a former President of Central Texas Woodturners , a member of the American Association of Woodturners , and a member of Fine Woodworkers of Austin . Curtis teaches and demonstrates nationally for Lie-Nielsen Toolworks. He also teaches for TechShop. He owns a studio where he teaches and works. Curtis lives in Central Texas with his wife and four young children. Take a look at his website at .

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