Turning the Corner focuses on using woodturning on the lathe as a way of enhancing cabinetry, furniture designs, and architectural installations. Each article also suggests an important woodworking book to read, reread or listen to, and a link to an appropriate article in The Highland Woodturner. Along the way, these articles seek to inspire woodworkers (cabinetmakers, carpenters, and housewrights) to extend their skills into basic, novice, and advanced woodturning while discovering for themselves this particularly sensual and spiritually rewarding dimension of working with wood.
At some point in the development of new woodturning students, they discover the ability to manipulate the centers during the turning process to create "off-center" turnings. Some of the young folks who study in my shop take this to an extreme by attempting to make full, designed, camshafts – often meeting with modest but recognizable success.
More often, and most recently, in the course of practicing spindle skills by making a shop mallet, a student will explore turning an oval mallet handle. The project offers an opportunity to mentally grapple with the ideas of creating a circle with two centers on the bottom end while sustaining a single-center circle (tenon) on the other end and figuring out how to blend the shadow-images of the oval bottom into the standard round top part of the handle evenly and attractively. The intrigue of this mental game corresponding in real-time with the actual activity of doing the turning; studying the changing ghost-shadows; smoothing and dressing the complexly-simple shape that makes a mallet being used feel so comfortable to the artisan’s hand.
The process of turning an oval handle is fairly simple. Beginning with a clear blank of wood – in this sample article case for a large, heavy mallet, 1-3/4" X 1-3/4" X 15." Reduce the sizes for a smaller and shorter handle, but remember that the major stress will be on the tenon joint between the handle and the head. This benefits from being slightly oversized.
Find the center and draw a clear, heavy line about 3/4 of the length on two opposing sides and on the end that will become oval. Mark the center point and add a mark 1/8" above and 1/8" below. The distance between these marks will determine the pronouncement of the oval by guiding the off-set (ghost-shadowing).
Mark the center of the other end which will become the tenon that will be inserted and glued into the mallet head.
Mount the blank with the tenon end centered on a drive center at the headstock. Mount the oval end toward the tailstock in one of the off-set marks.
As the blank rotates, the black lines on opposing faces reveal the widest point of the projected oval.
Be sure that this partially off-set blank is firmly seated between headstock and tailstock, and that the toolrest is close but not touching the off-center spinning blank.
Consider turning the headstock end to a rounded rough cylinder first.
Lightly round the off-set lower portion until the black line on one side almost, but-not-quite, disappears. This will help ensure the symmetry of the oval handle.
With the lathe stopped, shift the point of the live-center to the other off-set mark, again being sure the toolrest is as near as possible yet not engaging the spinning blank.
Similarly, turn the other side to almost erase the other black line.
Observe carefully the ghost-shadow of the turning. With practice on these, the turner can use the ghost-shadow to create a smooth-rounded handle that blends easily into the full circle of the other end.
Turn the desired tenon (in this case 7/8") on the headstock end, sand, and finish with "magic friction-polish" (1/3rd each of shellac, turpentine, boiled linseed oil—shake between every use) or wax of preference.
The next step will be to turn and shape an appropriately sized mallet head, drill the hole, and fit the handle glued in for use in the shop.
Occasionally, students become fascinated with changing the distance between the off-center marks to see how the differently sized ovals affect the grip in their hands as they turn different sized mallet handles. Too often they set the marks too far apart and end up with an unusably too-thin/too-long oval making an uncomfortable grip (wood-stove fodder), but the experimentation teaches them to explore further the boundaries of classical turning and to practice using the magic skew chisel in a variety of ways.
This month's book recommendation to read or inspiring re-read: Turning Wood by Stephen Hogbin.
Article link: Tuning a Mallet by Curtis Turner.
Click here to browse through Highland Woodworking's Woodturning department
Located in Castine, Maine, Highlands Woodturning gallery and shop offers woodturning classes and shop time, a gallery of woodturned art, custom woodturning for repairs, renovations, and architectural installations. You can email Temple at
firstname.lastname@example.org. Take a look at Temple's Website at http://www.highlandswoodturning.com/
Return to the Wood News Online front page