Work continues on the home altar. I decided to do a post on making one of the decorations of the altar- one of the long columns for the upper section.
The column is made on a lathe. Turning on a lathe is about the most fun you can have in a shop. It was so popular, in fact,t hat years ago noble men had their own lathes made, and would do their own turning for their own enjoyment and relaxation. One of Tolstoy's noble characters is often found with his lathe, for instance. However, a nobleman would not be turning wood: their lathes would be used for ivory.
I have two lathes: an old beaver lathe I use for turning large pieces, and my treadle lathe, which I generally use for smaller pieces. At twenty four inches long, the blank for the column is the limit for a piece the treadle lathe can handle.
As can be seen, the blank is made from three pieces of wood laminated together. As I have said before, almost all the wood I use these days comes from whatever I can scavenge- old furniture, pallets, fallen trees. The main reason is that I am broke, however, I am a bit of an environmentalist, though I avoid that word. Let me say a word or two (or a paragraph) on that subject.
Let me begin with the case of Charles Dickens. Dickens was possibly the greatest social reformer in the Golden Age of Busybodi- I mean, the Golden Age of Social Reform., yet he eschewed the term and actually distanced himself from other reformers. His reason was that he disagreed with their methods, and believed they often brought discredit to otherwise righteous causes. Although I cannot pretend to be a Dickens, the principle is the same. I believe we should wisely use our resources and make a conscious effort to preserve them to the best of our abilities. In that I am like many environmentalists, but so many of the environmentalists are so obnoxious they push away more people than they convince, and bring discredit on anyone who even remotely mentions the environment. For myself, to put it bluntly, I do not believe we were meant to be Creation's Tyrants.
These days, there are quite a few woodworkers and cabinet makers who, like me, use scrap and found wood. Essentially, we go through the garbage, looking for something that may be useful. Many of them flaunt their source material, and their work is quite sought after in some quarters. To my eye, though, it still looks like garbage, and I suspect it will eventually be like 1960's art pottery: a fad, expensive in its day, now worth a few pennies at a garage sale. I do not try to flaunt my source material, but I do not hide it, either. I try and create beauty to the best of my ability. Perhaps I should emulate them: their sales are better.
The lathe is based upon a design by Roy Underhill published in Popular Woodworking some years back. It is a simple design. The tailstock, visible in the upper photo on the right side of the blank, is held in place by a wedge....
...which is tapped in place with my mallet. The whacking, unfortunately, knocks the headstock a little out of alignment, which must be tapped back into place with the mallet. The parts occasionally break from all this pounding, but, since I made this myself, I can rebuild any part of it whenever necessary
One of the modifications I made was the addition of an idler.
The idler moves up an down to adjust the tension on the rope, to keep it nice and taught. However, slippage is still a problem with the rope. Roy Underhill recommends using Maple Syrup, as it is nice and sticky. I, however, regard Maple Syrup as one of nature's most perfect bounties, and would never commit the sacrilege of pouring this precious liquid out upon a rope. I use a glue stick instead.
With the rope nice and sticky, the blank secured, and the lathe tapped into alignment, turning can begin. Turning is a rather delicately balanced affair on this lathe. I stand balanced on one foot, pumping like mad with the other, while holding sharp tools to a rapidly rotating piece of wood. It is good exercise. Interesting note, and often a bit of a surprise to first time users of a treadle lathe: The leg that gets tired is not the one you think. It's the leg you're standing one.
I begin by rounding the blank. I start near the tailstock, turn it round, and then move back to the headstock.
In the above photo, you can see a knot in the wood. If this blank were a single solid piece of wood, I would have to cut the wood short at the knot, as structurally unsound and unsuitable for turning, and found another blank for this piece. However, as this piece is laminated, the other boards will be strong enough for the column, and I will hide the knot by placing the column so the knot faces the back of the altar.
I continue rounding the piece until the entire blank is a rough cylinder.
Now that the blank is round, it is time to start adding the details, which I will discuss in the next post.