Wood News
Turning the Corner: Carriage Seat Spindles
(Long and Thin)
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.

Contacted initially via email, one of my new customers explained he is in the process of rebuilding an antique horse carriage and needs to replace twenty-four white ash spindles that decorate and support the back of the seat. Following up on my affirmative reply, he sent the dimensioned white ash blanks he had prepared and his sketch of his design needs.

While I thought I understood his design - each end 1/4" and 2" in the middle at 1/2' – I did not correctly understand his desire to have a 2" long rounded bulb in the middle. In hindsight, I should have contacted him to ask about that transition before turning them all and sending the wrong profile back. Typically, I like a full profile drawing or even better, a full-size sample to work from.

His call of thanks for the relatively quick response included an expanded explanation of what he was expecting that clarified my error. I prepared a new set of white ash blanks for turning that would be 12" long with a prominent middle bulb 1/2" X 2" with 5" of 1/4" diameter dowels at each end.

True to form, my effort to figure out the order of cuts and an efficient manner of production with this new challenge helped me break the next two blanks. This rather long and thin turning includes a middle mass weight that can throw off the spinning balance, and the torque-twist under power can be challenging.

With the sequence of tools and cuts figured out, the 24 subsequent spindles turned fairly quickly without further mishap.

I marked the location of the center bulb and turned the blank round to the 1/2" diameter. I tested the accuracy with my "special 1/2" 'micrometer'" (others might recognize this as a one-half inch box wrench).

The rounded blank can be marked from its story-stick, and the end toward the tailstock can be roughly tapered to a diameter less than 1/2" (necessary for the next step).

At this point, the blank can be reversed. The rough taper can be slid through the opening in the chuck and into the headstock allowing the chuck to grip the 1/2" diameter middle firmly leaving only the 5" tapered end exposed.

With the shorter length, the quarter inch round can be readily turned and smoothed with the skew. The trick is that the chuck and headstock replace what would have been an awkward and time-consuming mid-blank steady.

With the tailstock end properly sized to 1/4" trimming the dowel to a consistent diameter can progress quickly, especially if the turner adds a supporting "steady" finger to the workpiece.

Checking the work for consistent diameter is critical before moving on.

With the dowel completed, the "bulb" needs to be shaped and blended into the dowel.

Sanding completes this side of the spindle.

A wrap of paper towel when the workpiece is reversed limits the damage to the finished bulb from the chuck jaws while the other side of the dowel is reduced to its final 1/4" dimension.

The other half of the middle bulb is shaped and sanded.

The finished piece is added to the growing collection of finished spindles to be returned and installed on the carraige.

Click here to visit the Woodturning department at Highland Woodworking

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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