Highland Woodworking
Turning the Corner: Turning a Wooden Croquet Set
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.

This summer's challenges of enjoying the beautiful outdoor activities in a time of COVID-19 creates an opportunity for the novice-to-advanced woodturner to set the stage for creating the perfect unique gift, turning a complete croquet set. Having played croquet for years on the lawn at our farm using a small portable set that seemed better suited to people who are an average of three feet tall, I decided to turn an heirloom croquet set in a grown-up size that would reduce the bend-awkwardly effect that comes with a larger collection of birthdays.

My new set should work out well for the adults, but the sizes I scaled to can easily be reduced by others who might want to promote a less aggressive form of family croquet. We tend to play fairly seriously, and on the farm, we have a large flat lawn that promotes "sending" competitive sibling opponents unfortunate enough to be tagged in the course of play.

My upgrade began by resizing the ball from the 2-1/2" diameter to a full 4" diameter. This led to resizing the head of the mallet, then its handle, followed by the end-stakes, and finally the wickets. This worked well. Having made the decision to use different colored hardwoods to match mallet and ball rather than paint to identify different players on the field, I started with a richly figured 5" X 5" X 6" piece of black cherry burl (figuring out what to do with this beautiful piece of wood was actually the inspiration for this project) for the new 4" diameter ball, a 4" X 4" X 7" piece of black cherry for the head, a 2" X 2" X 34" piece of white ash for the handle (ultimately to have 2" of thread to screw into the ball), and two pieces of 2" X 2" X 24" white ash for the end stakes. Searching our local (and well-stocked) hardware store, I found affordable 3/16" X 6' plate steel rod to fashion into the wickets. Research done, and with an end-goal of a looming family visit, I started with the turning.

It seems appropriate to begin at the beginning. Drawing from my stockpile of white ash 2" X 2" assorted length blanks I first turned the two End-Stakes (1-1/2" X 24" pointed end). These will ultimately have the traditional order-of-play – Red (Black Cherry), White (Ash), Green (Black Locust), Black (Black Walnut) -- colors painted in the four vee-groves. This is an important thing to include to avoid the pointless "conversations" about whose turn it might be. It can also be helpful to have a printed set of rules (there are variations) handy and have all the players agree to abide by these before play begins.

The Mallet Shafts

Like the end-stakes, the Mallet Shafts are straightforward spindle turning. With all of my children now adult sized, I chose to keep the top of the handle a larger diameter, give some shape to the length of the handle, and properly size the last two inches for threading using a 1" Threading Kit. Because ash can be tricky with threading, I added to its tensile strength by adding Thin CA Glue to the male threads and later to the female threads in the ball. Personally, I prefer the Stick Fast CA glue series, and to enhance the threads after the first cutting, I soak in the standard thin, not the flexible, and then gently recut the threads.

The Mallet Heads

Sizing and turning the mallet heads again offers an opportunity to create either a more straightforward or an intricately detailed profile. From my own experience, I prefer a slight shoulder near each face to anticipate some misplaced shot (abuse) that would chip out the corner. That slight shoulder seems to stop splits and chips at the edge of the face. I regularly include these shoulder cuts in mallets made for the shop as well as ceremonial gavels for the same reason.

The most challenging part of preparing the head is to select the spot into which I drill the hole prior to threading. For a shop-mallet, I look for the most uninteresting section or a damaged section because usually no one sees that underside. For these croquet mallets, I selected the prime real estate because typically this is the most often seen section of the head. While seeming unimportant, decisions like this separate the technician from the artist.

The Balls

Turning a sphere on the lathe free-hand is a wonderful challenge, and last month's toy game article included my own description of how to do this in some detail. Since then, I stumbled on a YouTube video that uses the same techniques that I use.

The Wickets

With a ball diameter of 4" it seemed prudent to make the wicket 6" wide and 6" tall (fair play). By making the legs each 9" long (sharpened) and the cross top 6", the overall length is 24" before bending which yields three wickets from a 6' length of 3/13" steel rod. I used a bolt cutter to section these, sharpened them on the grinder, and used my metal vise to bend them.

With the first pair of end-posts turned, nine wickets sectioned and bent, and the ball and mallet ready for the red player, my challenge ahead is to find in my collection of wood similarly striking black walnut (black), black locust (green), and white ash (white) burls that will become the croquet balls. Already knowing where I have a large white ash burl, that will be my next ball, handle, and head.

My target date is two months away, and the new complete set plus a standing rack to hold all the pieces will become part of our farm's physical distancing recreational (stress-relief) equipment in time for my oldest son's September birthday. The gift honors him and includes the whole family in appropriate celebration.

More Woodturning Articles: The Highland Woodturner Archive includes a broad array of excellent articles dedicated to woodturning and woodturned projects that you might find interesting.

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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