I think every serious Woodturner should have a notebook to record sketches, design ideas, and notes from symposiums. And shouldn’t that notebook look like it belongs to a Woodturner? Turning something the size and shape of a notebook would be rather daunting by traditional methods. But it is quite comfortable using a Backup Plate.
You can get quality book bound notebooks in a variety of sizes so you don’t need to let lack of a large lathe stand in your way. While comfort of carrying requires the design to be thin, there are still a large variety of decorative techniques you can use to personalize your effort. This article will show turning a relatively simple standard sized Notebook Cover with a single inlay surrounded by beads and coves. It makes a good introduction to using a Backup Plate so that you get comfortable with it before moving on to explore the more adventuresome parts of design space the technique can open up for you.
I ordered some Cachet Classic Sketchbooks online from DickBlick.com. I imagine most Art Supply stores would have something similar available. These sketchbooks have nice heavy plain white paper and are signature bound with hard covers, so they should stand up to heavy use. They come in various sizes, 4x6, 6x9 and 8x11 among them. For the pictures in this article I’ll turn a cover for the 8x11 sketchbook. The size you pick will depend on both the size you like and the size of your lathe.
Measure the cover dimensions excluding the hinge (mine was 8-1/8” x 11”). Starting with that side will probably leave a small border around the cover once you’ve cleaned up the edges. Select a piece of wood and trim it to that size. If you wish you can plane or resaw it to about ½” thickness, or you can turn it down to that thickness on the lathe. Plane or sand what will be the back of the notebook cover flat so that it will attach to the Backup Plate and to the notebook eventually. Draw a rough design right on the wood of what you intend to turn, especially the inlay diameter.
Select a contrasting piece of wood big enough for the inlay, and cut it roughly to round on your band saw. Now mount it between centers on your lathe and turn it to round. I did this by pinning it to a flat wooden faceplate with my tailstock, but you could pin it to a metal faceplate or just hold it in a four jaw chuck, turn half of it round, and then reverse it. Remove it from the lathe and plop it down on your notebook blank and make sure the size looks right before you go further.
I wanted to have my cover mounted quite eccentrically for turning, as I think it would look too static if the turning center was near the center of the notebook. So I used a Backup Plate that was about 20” in diameter. Put the notebook blank on your Backup Plate and move it around until you like the position. Trace this position and heat up your hot-melt glue gun. After your glue gun is hot, make sure you have extra glue sticks right at hand—the glue you’ve applied will harden before you find the next stick if it isn’t right there. Run a quick zigzag bead of glue on the notebook blank and quickly place it within the traced lines on the Backup Plate.
Now select some filler stock. I usually use ordinary pine. Again, you can use the thickness you have (as long as it’s thicker than your maximum finished thickness) or plane it to thickness. It really is easier, but not crucial, to use a thickness that’s the same as your notebook blank. Your filler stock should have a straight edge and a 90° corner. Hold the Backup Plate so that one side hangs over your workbench and place the 90° corner at a corner of your notebook blank. Draw a cutting line on the bottom of the filler piece by tracing the Backup Plate from below. Cut out the filler piece on the band saw and glue it in place. Repeat this three times until the whole Backup Plate is covered. The first time I did this I left off the smallest piece, thinking it was too small to matter. I found out differently when I sanded.
Mount the Backup Plate on your lathe. Position your tool rest across the face of the plate and turn the lathe by hand to make sure everything is clear. Turn your lathe on at a slow speed and start to flatten the face of the project. Take gentle cuts at first using the tip of your bowl gouge. Once the face is flattened you may be able to speed up the lathe some and cut somewhat more aggressively. Continue to reduce the thickness until the stock is about the maximum thickness you plan for your design. 3/8” to ½” is appropriate, as much more than that would be difficult to carry around. You should be able to tell that you’re reducing the thickness evenly by comparing it to your tool rest, but double-checking with calipers if you have a pair big enough would be a good idea.
After the surface is flattened to the desired thickness, it’s time to turn a recess for the inlay. I don’t have much luck (okay, I haven’t practiced enough) using a caliper for marking the diameter, so I just marked some circles by holding a pencil against the turning disk and picked the one that was closest. Start to turn the recess with your bowl gouge, staying a bit inside the line. Try to leave about 1/8” of material in the bottom of the recess. Drill a ~3/8” hole through the stock to the Backup Plate so you can easily see how much thickness is remaining. Once most of the wood is removed, switch to a scraper to flatten the recess. Then test the fit of the inlay and enlarge the recess, testing frequently, until it fits. Check that the bottom of the recess is flat with a short straight edge—I used an off-cut from my Backup Plate. Glue the inlay in place with wood glue, aligning the grain of both pieces in the same direction and let the glue cure.
Turn the inlay flush with the rest of the surface. Then use a pyramid point tool or pointed scraper to cut a V-Groove at the edge of the inlay and another to delineate a wide bead or collar around the inlay. Use your bowl gouge if you wish to round over the inlay and collar, then refine these shapes with the pyramid tool or other shear scraper.
Use your pencil to mark out some more beads. Their size and the spacing between them doesn’t have to be the same. The beads, or any rounded shape, will look best if they are deep rather than shallow in appearance, with sides that approach being perpendicular or even undercut a bit. A trip and look around at the beach, the gym, or some other place where spandex is popular, will convince you of this. Use your parting tool, held horizontally, to make a defining cut on both sides of the beads. This will help insure that the beads are rounded enough. It will also insure that your parting tool is dull, so sharpen it now before you forget.
Turn the background between the beads flat with your bowl gouge. The background should be around 1/8” thick. You can drill a hole through the filler wood to the Backup Plate so you can easily see how thick the background actually is. Begin to round the beads with a bowl gouge, and then refine their shape with a pyramid point tool or other shear scraper. To really set the beads off from the background you can undercut them a bit with a pyramid point tool (if your stock pyramid point tool cuts too obtuse an angle to do this, have a look on my website http://www.davidreedsmith.com/Articles/PyramidPointTool/PyramidPointTool.htm).
After turning and undercutting the beads clean up the background between them with a shear scraper. Then start sanding. Stop the lathe between each grit and remove the dust/spent abrasive trapped at the base of the beads. Pay particular attention to the end grain areas of the sides of the beads to make sure you’ve sanded adequately before moving on to a finer grit.
When you’ve sanded to your standards you can apply a finish on the lathe if it’s the kind you can blend in off the lathe on the edges. Most friction finishes will do this, as the finish can’t tell if it’s the wood or the applicator that’s moving. I used a homemade linseed oil/shellac/alcohol polish. When first applying a base coat you may need to apply finish with the lathe off to get finish into the bases of the beads.
Now it’s time to remove the Notebook Cover from the lathe. You don’t want to pry it off with a screwdriver, as the thin background will likely break. You need something wide and thin—I used a 6 inch putty knife whacked in with a mallet. I started by removing the filler pieces, then worked on the Notebook Cover from each side until it was free.
Sand the edges of the Notebook Cover either with a drum sander (pneumatic cushion is ideal) or by hand. Round over the edges slightly to make it more comfortable to carry. Then apply finish by hand to the edges.
Traditional Wood Glue
All that’s left is to attach the Notebook Cover to the Sketchbook. The first time I did this I used double stick tape. This lasted okay for a few years, but seems to be prone to shift a little now. I did a test, and ordinary wood glue will attach just fine to the Sketchbook. To avoid marring by glue squeeze out apply masking tape to the edges of the Notebook Cover and Sketchbook. Spread a thin coat of glue over the back of the Notebook Cover and put it in place on the Sketchbook. Clamp until the glue cures. Be sure to use protective pads under your clamps on the bottom of the sketchbook as well as the Notebook Cover to prevent denting.
This method looks to be more permanent than the double stick tape, but I was less than thrilled. The masking tape made it hard to see if the Cover was aligned properly. I had to dig out some telltale blue masking tape shards from under the cover. And if you must know, I didn’t quite follow my own advice about clamp pads, as a couple of my Quick Clamps are missing a slip-on pad.
I also turned a Notebook Cover for a smaller 4”x6” Sketchbook using a 10” Backup Plate to demonstrate this project was also applicable for smaller swing lathes. I decided to try adhesive that only needs hand pressure to bond and permits realignment. I did several trials of particle board on particle board, using both Construction Adhesive and Acrylic Tile Cement. Both worked, and the only problem was getting a thin even coat. The traditional way to do this is to spread the adhesive with a notched trowel. The trowels available at Home Depot left a coat that was much too thick. So I made my own.
Take one of those fake credit cards you get in the mail all the time (or one of your spouse’s real ones if there’s not enough excitement in your life) and clamp it in a vise so there’s about 1/16” sticking up. Lay a ruler along the card and make marks every 1/8”. Then take a triangular file and notch the card at every mark. The vise will act as a stop giving you uniform results. This spacing will give you flat topped teeth, which is okay because it results in a thinner adhesive layer. Take the card out of the vise and clean up the frayed edges of the teeth with the file or sandpaper.
Use masking tape to mask off a 3/8” or so border around the edges of the back of the Notebook Cover. This will avoid visible adhesive from squeeze out or minor realignment. Use your notched card to spread adhesive uniformly over the back of the Notebook Cover. Remove the masking tape and place the Notebook Cover on the Sketchbook. Check your alignment and push down with your hands. Leave it undisturbed until the adhesive sets.
That’s it. All you have to do now is actually use the Notebook. Try to get in the habit of sketching out any design ideas you get. Write a few words so you can remember what the drawing was two years from now. Take it with you when you go to a woodturning symposium or a museum or art gallery so you can take notes. Oh, this will also let you show it off. Enjoy.
The completed Notebook.
Tools and Materials
Blank Sketchbook (http://www.dickblick.com/zz103/21/), the 8-1/2x11 is $11.25
Hardwood, contrasting, for 3” inlay
Pine for filler wood.
Hot-melt Glue Gun
Pyramid Point Tool
Sandpaper, Finish, Glue or Adhesive of choice
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