Highland Woodworking
Turning the Corner: Woodturning a Long, Thin Flag-Staff
By Temple Blackwood

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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.

My son, a boatbuilder at Brooklin Boatyard in Brooklin, Maine showed up in my shop late Friday afternoon with a broken flag-staff and a beautiful 2” X 2” X 60” piece of clear, straight-grained teak. His tale of woe was of a boat owner who had tried to use his flag-staff as a support and had broken it off. The owner did not want the broken one repaired; he wanted a new one made and needed it early Monday morning so it could be finished and installed prior to his impending departure. Although my son fully intended to do and could have done the turning, his young family often redirects his plans, and by afternoon on Sunday I texted him to find out if he wanted me to turn the new staff. His reluctant but appreciative affirmative text arrived promptly, and I set to work.

The first step was to examine and reassemble the broken staff to understand its specific lines of strength and taper.

Once reassembled and taped in place, measuring the length and points of diameter established the overall critical measurements, in this case 50.625” (50 5/8”) long X 1.625” largest diameter X 0.625” smallest diameter. The top bead measured 1.7” diameter X 1.625 long.

The 2” X 2” X 60” piece of teak (trimmed to a better working length of 54”) was well chosen for its color and absolutely tight, straight grain. Mounted between centers for rounding to the overall largest diameter began at the tailstock end which would ultimately become the long taper to the smallest diameter and the top bead.

After finding the critical point where the rounded cylinder begins to taper (just past the half-way point) I smoothed a larger-than-needed 2” section for the steadyrest to mount.

With the steadyrest in place, rollers firmly grip the prepared blank.

The rounding of the base of the staff goes quickly. Note that the original broken flag staff hangs in line just beyond the new turning to serve as a reference and handy story-stick.

The single most visible part of this staff, the top bead, offers a special challenge for its weighted profile, largest at the bottom and tapered to a not-quite-flat top. Because of the physics, it is important to get this profile close-to-right before turning that thinnest diameter at the end of the taper.

The next most challenging section is establishing the correct angle of the taper.

Define the almost transition diameter (not quite because a final step will be to turn away the steadyrest support, which is often slightly damaged, and feather that in smoothly to the staff and start the angle to the taper without a dip).

This creates a starting point for checking the measurements one more time before finalizing the taper with a well-sharpened skew, followed by a light sanding with 320 grit paper.

With the top taper complete, the toolrest moves to the other side of the steadyrest to finish rounding, precisely measure the bottom (butt) diameter that will fit snugly into the flag staff holder on the boat, then finish turn, and smooth the rest of the lower section.

The last turning challenge is to remove the steadyrest, trim the bearing section to size with light cuts from the skew that require a supporting hand around the staff in order to feather in the transition without embarrassing (ugly) vibration waves.

Once the staff is fully sanded – rough with 320, then with the lathe stopped along the grain with 320 followed by 400 and 600 – a few light cuts at the waste block above the top bead can reduce that to a minimum diameter for easy paring off with a hand chisel and hand sanding round.

The final staff should closely resemble the broken original.

And once the finishers do their work at the boatyard, my son will move the hardware from the original broken staff and install it on the new one. This will definitely be an improvement!

Many woodturned items are both beautiful and useful – flag staffs, spoons, chair parts, balusters, porch posts, mugs, mallets – which doubles the challenge as well as the pleasure for the artist/woodturner. For this project, the hour and a quarter I spent working on it (including photos) was pure pleasure at working this beautiful piece of wood. The irony in a project like this is that the owner is most likely to admire his boat and his flag and never really see the beauty of the well-turned staff of lovely, deeply colored teak … but we will know that it fits in and its practical supporting role makes all of those other things possible.

This month's book recommendation to read or inspiring re-read: The Art of fine Tools by Sandor Nagyszalanczy.

Article link: Turning Cherry Bed Posts by Temple Blackwood.

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 temple@highlandswoodturning.com. Take a look at Temple's Website at http://www.highlandswoodturning.com/

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