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Needle Case as a printer friendly 4 page pdf

This article was published in the June 2012 (#37) edition of  Woodturning Design.

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A needle case makes a nice first project for using a taper gauge.  The cap with a tapered tenon is easy to put in the case, easy to remove (unless you bang it in) and stays securely.  A 1/4" magnet in inlaid in the cap so the user doesn't have to turn it upside down to get a needle out−just give the case a slight shake with the cap on and all the needles will attach to the magnet.  The cap can then be withdrawn and the needles grasped with a couple of fingers holding the case.  If you make another smaller size taper gauge you can add a needle threader in the cap.  The case could also be used to hold toothpicks, pills, or any other small objects.


First the stock is prepared.  The pieces are cut to length.  The cap blank is drilled for the magnet on the lathe.  The case blank is drilled both to hollow out the case and rough out the mortise and then reamed to create a tapered mortise. A tapered tenon is turned between centers and then the tenon is held in a female drive to turn the knob on the cap.  The case is then mounted on a male drive and turned.

Stock Prep

First cut the blanks to size.  The cap blank should be at least 5/8" square and 1-3/4 long.  The case blank should be at least 3/4" square and 3-3/4 long.  In the photos I'll be using homemade laminated stock, glued up of maple, cherry, and rosewood veneer and then cut on a 15 degree bias, shown in Fig01.


Fig01:  The cap and case blanks.


The photos will follow drilling the blanks on the lathe.  You could drill them on the drill press if you prefer.  If you do choose the drill press, obtaining a taper length drill will be very helpful to avoid moving the drill press table up and down and thus risking misalignment.  Mount the cap blank using #1 jaws and a 4 jawed chuck.  Mount a 1/4" Forstner bit in your drill chuck and drill in about 1/4" in the end of the cap to create a recess for mounting a magnet as in Fig02.  Remove the cap blank from the chuck.


Fig02:  Drilling a 1/4" x 1/4" hole for mounting magnet in the cap.


Mount the case blank in the chuck.  Create a starting dimple for the drill, either by turning it with a skew laid on its side or with a combination drill and countersink as in Fig03.  Then insert a 13/32" drill in the drill chuck.  Mark a depth of 3-1/4 with masking tape and drill to that depth as in Fig04.  Retract the drill to clear chips as often as necessary as a clogged drill often veers off center.  Replace the drill with a #8 taper pin reamer.  Mark 1" depth on the reamer with tape and ream to that depth as in Fig05.  Remove the case blank from the chuck and the chuck from the lathe.


Fig03:  Creating a starting hole for the drill with a combined drill and countersink.


Fig04:  Roughing the mortise and hollowing the case with the drill.


Fig05:  Using a taper pin reamer to create the tapered mortise.

Making the Cap

Mount the cap blank between centers on the lathe as in Fig06, with the recess at the tailstock end.  Use a cone center so that the recess will be centered and so that you will be able to create the tapered tenon without hitting the tailstock center.  Rough the cap blank to round with a spindle roughing gouge and mark 1" from the tailstock to indicate the length of the tenon as in Fig07.


Fig06:  The cap blank mounted between centers.


Fig07:  After marking out the length of the tenon.


Use the starting diameter gauge of the tapered tenon gauge and a parting tool cut to the maximum tenon diameter at the mark as in Fig08.  Use a spindle roughing gouge to rough out the rest of the tenon. Then use the tapered tenon gauge and a skew (you could use a spindle gouge if you're skew paranoid) to turn the tapered tenon as in Fig09.  See my article Matching Tapers for more details on this process.  Sand and finish the tenon as in Fig10.


Fig08:  After using a parting tool at the left of the tenon length mark to turn to the maximum diameter of the tenon.


Fig09:  After turning the tapered tenon.


Fig10:  After sanding and applying friction polish to the tenon.


Remove the cap blank from between centers and mount a female tapered mortise drive in the headstock (see Matching Tapers for details on making the female drive).  Tap the drive in securely to compress the kerfs.  Insert the cap tenon into the female drive, using the tailstock ram to finish the insertion as in Fig11, so the cap seats well centered in the drive.  Turn a knob with a design of your choice on the end of the cap as in Fig12.  Turn away the nub, sand, and polish the knob as in Fig13.  Tap the female drive out of the Morse taper.  This will open the kerfs in the drive, allowing you to easily remove the cap.


Fig11:  The cap mounted on the lathe via the tenon in the tapered mortise drive.


Fig12:  After turning the knob.


Fig13:  After removing the nub and applying friction polish to the knob.

Making the Case

Insert the male drive in your lathe headstock.  Push the mortise of the case blank onto the male drive and bring up the tailstock for added support as in Fig14.  Use a spindle roughing gouge to bring the case to round as in Fig15.


Fig14:  The case blank mounted on the male drive.


Fig15:  After bringing the case to round.


Define the bottom of the case, leaving a nub for now for tailstock support.  If you undercut the bottom it will be stable standing upright. Now add whatever details to the case that you prefer.  The hollowing of the case limits design elements to small ones.  I added a small bead near each end of the case as in Fig16.  Do the majority of the sanding and finishing while you still have tailstock support as in Fig17.  Cut off the nub and then sand and finish the bottom of the case as in Fig18.


Fig16:  After defining the bottom and adding beads near each end.


Fig17:  After sanding and finishing all but the bottom of the case.


Fig18:  The finished bottom.


Check the fit of the cap in the case.  If you want the cap t fit in further you can ream the mortise a bit more by hand.  If all is well glue in a 1/4" rare earth magnet in the recess of the cap.  I used CA glue for this.  To avoid gluing the magnet to fingers use a small steel rod to hold the magnet.  Put a drop of CA glue on a piece of masking tape as in Fig19.  Dip and roll the magnet in the drop of CA glue and insert it into the cap recess.  If the fit isn't tight you may need to us a non-steel item, such as a pencil, to push the magnet back down to the bottom of the recess as you withdraw the steel rod over the rim.


Fig19:  The set-up for gluing the magnet into the cap recess.


Fig20 shows the completed Needle Case.  Fig 21 shows a Needle Case with a built in Needle threader.  The cap was left a little thicker to allow for partial hollowing of the cap.  The mortise for the Needle Threader was made using a #4 taper pin reamer.  The threading mechanism was made of 0.005" music wire.  If you only want to make a few it would be easiest to buy a few commercial plastic bodied threaders and remove the wire from them.


Fig20:  The completed Needle Case.


Fig21:  A Needle Case with Needle Threader in the cap.



4 jawed chuck with #1 jaws.

1/4" Forstner drill bit

Combined drill and countersink

13/32 drill−taper length parabolic preferred

#8 straight flute taper pin reamer

Spindle roughing gouge

Tapered Tenon gauge

Parting tool


Female Drive to fit either headstock Morse Taper or a chuck.

Male Drive to fit either headstock Morse Taper or a chuck.



Wood for Cap blank 5/8" x 5/8" x 3-3/4

Wood for Case blank 3/4" x 3/4" x 1-3/4

1/4" rare earth magnet

CA glue

Various grades of abrasive

Finish of choice


David Reed Smith is a tinker and turner living in Hampstead, Maryland.  He welcomes comments and questions via email at  This article, along with more than 50 others, will be available on his web site: