This article was published in the Summer 2004 edition of Woodturning Design.
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If youíre a pen turner looking to escape from the ďpick one from column A and one from column BĒ approach of kits and materials, or simply want to explore a more dramatic source of spindle turning stock, try making your own laminated turning squares. Laminating your own stock from thin strips of various colored woods and then cutting out the turning squares on the bias will yield project with a distinctive and dramatic chevron pattern. The initial stock preparation is labor intensive, but the material cost is low and the results are stunning. And different from all the other guys getting the same catalogs.
Materials and Sources
In order to make your own laminated turning stock youíll need to have something to glue up. While it is possible to buy wood that is already resawn to thin dimensions, it tends to be very expensive and of limited selection. You can also buy veneer. Using nothing but veneer would turn out to be almost more glue than wood, but youíll find veneer to be a great way to add different colored accents. The cheapest way to obtain the widest variety of thin stock is to rip your own. Unless you want to glue something the size of rolling pin blanks, itís probably easiest to rip on a table saw. A table saw with a modern rip blade will yield glue ready strips of even thickness, neither of which you can get directly from a band saw.
Ripping thin wood on a table saw can get overly exciting if you try to do it with a stock rip fence and insert. Substituting a zero-clearance insert helps, but still tends to lead to a hold your breath and duck experience when you get under 1/8Ē. Iíve found that a Vacuum Rip Fence (see the side bar to build your own) designed to ride in a sled makes this a much safer and more dependable operation. I didnít loose a single strip ripping for the laminates in this article. My fingers were nowhere near the blade. There werenít even any jolts or funny noises. Iíve successfully ripped strips over 2-1/2Ē wide as thin as .025Ē.
Designing the Laminate
You can let your imagination (and your scrap bin) be your guide when picking woods for laminated stock. But Iíll offer some suggestions anyway. Thereís not much point in using stock thatís all the same thickness. It would be a lot less to just buy some color-ply. Try using a different thickness for each color for a more dramatic, less mechanistic look. By all means go for dramatic color differences, but fancy figure, such as curly maple, isnít going to have much room to show up. Birdseye Maple will end up looking about the same as plain maple. To get color youíll have to use some nice stock, but itís hard to justify using super-exotics. Itís not so much the individual wood you see but the differences. Iíve had good luck with Maple, Cherry, Walnut, Padouk and Purpleheart. The laminate used to illustrate this article is made from 1/16Ē thick maple, 1/8Ē thick Padouk, and 3/16Ē thick Purpleheart.
After youíve picked your wood types and thickness, you have to decide how deep and how wide to make your laminate. 1Ē is a convenient depth, as a lot of the wood youíve got lying around is about that thickness. But if youíre making standard pen blanks that ends up being very wasteful. If you first rip your stock to 1-3/8Ē wide, and make the laminate that deep, then that will allow for two generous 5/8Ē pen blanks and a kerf.
This lets you choose two different bias angles to cut at as well. How wide to make the stock is less obvious. The wider it is the less youíll waste on the ends sawing the laminate at an angle. But the wider it is the more youíll have to cut and the more youíll be stuck with if it doesnít look as good as you think it will. 3Ē seems a reasonable compromise.
To glue up the laminate besides wood youíll need glue, clamps, properly sized cauls, a glue spreader and waxed paper. I strongly suggest you use polyurethane glue for laminating. It has a long open time, which you need, and dries thoroughly overnight. Ordinary wood glue requires closer to 48 hours to dry when laminating. Iíve found the results to be stronger with polyurethane. You can use any clamps big enough. Bar clamps do seem to be overkill, but will work fine. Cut cauls from scrap wood that are the same size as your strips to spread the pressure of the clamps. A thin piece of cardboard works fine to spread polyurethane. You canít depend on your turning surviving if you use only clamping pressure to spread the glue. If you misguidedly insist on using ordinary white or yellow wood glue youíll need to use a thin plastic card to spread the glue. A credit card or piece of milk jug will work.
Youíre going to be spreading a lot of glue, so an orderly approach makes a lot of sense. I suggest that you order the strips in the order you want them so you can just pick up the next when it comes to spreading glue, rather than worry about which pile to pick from. While youíve got them stacked up, do a dry clamp up, including cauls, to make sure the clamps are adequate.
Polyurethane has a long open time, but not long enough to allow for a trip out to the hardware store to pick up a fresh bottle. So make sure you have enough glue. When youíre ready for the actual glue up, spread out a piece of waxed paper so you donít glue to your clamps. Use another piece of waxed paper or newsprint as a working surface. Lay the first strip on the working surface, run a bead of glue down the strip and spread the glue to a thin even coat with a card.
Transfer the strip to where youíre stacking them up, and continue with the next strip.
Once all the strips have been added to the stack, wrap the waxed paper around the stack, even things out, and apply clamps. Let it cure overnight.
After the laminate is cured you need to cut it up into turning squares. If youíve followed my advice to make it two pen blanks thick, the first thing to do is resaw the laminate on the band saw. Next you need to decide on a bias angle. The steeper the angle, the more dramatic the chevrons will be. But a steeper angle also means youíll need a longer piece to allow the whole pattern to display. 15į is a good place to start. Lay out the bias angle you like starting from one corner, and then cut on the band saw. Once the bias angle is established you can saw the rest using a rip fence on the band saw.
Drilling and Turning
You may find some tendency for the drill bit to wander when drilling. A sharp drill and frequent chip clearing should cure this. If not, Iíve found Bullet Point‘ drills to be the most resistant to wandering.
Youíll need to use a gentle hand when first roughing to round (particularly if you use white or yellow glue. Did I tell you that already?). Other than that you should find that the laminate turns more or less like solid stock. Keep your shapes simple, as complicated shapes compete for attention with the laminate.
More to Explore
Once youíve tried a couple of successful laminates, you may want to explore further. Some things I havenít found time to try yet: You could try making stepped-angled bias matching cauls to cut down on waste. Or substitute soft metal such as brass or pewter for some of the layers. Or include some synthetic materials such as Corian. Or use some fluorescent acrylic if you feel both gaudy and adventurous. Iíd love to hear from you if you try any of these things.
David Reed Smith lives in
A sled makes cross cutting on a table saw safer and more accurate. It can do the same for ripping, but itís not commonly used due to limitations on length. Laminated turning squares donít need to be very long, however, so we can use a sled to great advantage. The Vacuum Rip Fence described here supports the wood on four of the possible six sides and makes it possible to rip very thin stock in a dependable unexciting manner. When making the laminate featured in the article I ripped 16 maple strips 1/16 x 1-3/8Ē, and didnít lose any. Strips or fingers. Iíve used this fence to dependably rip as thin as .025Ē. At no time were my fingers anywhere near the blade. Iím able to bring the sled back to the starting position before turning off the saw and still not lose stock. I really like it.
Materials and Sources
The first step in making the VRF (Vacuum Rip Fence) is to determine how big to make it. A long base to clamp to your sled is required to insure accuracy; Iíve rather arbitrarily selected 12Ē. The length depends on how big your sled is. Make it about ĹĒ less than your sled. Cut the pieces, except the top fence, out of ĺĒ plywood (or other suitable sheet goods) according to the cutting diagram.
As all critical edges will be trued up on the table saw after glue up, the band saw can be used to cut out the parts. A common shop vacuum, rather than a vacuum pump, will be used, so we donít need an airtight assembly. So you can cut the slot on the lower fence parts by drilling 1Ē holes and sawing in from the upper right on the band saw.
Cut the top fence pieces out of ľĒ tempered hardboard to size on the table saw. Stack al the top fences together, and tape them together. Drill 3/8Ē holes for the top of the slots, and saw the slots out on the band saw. These should be regarded as disposable, as youíll chew up the bottom in use. Make several.
Glue the upper piece fence pieces together. Then glue the lower fence pieces to the base, matching the left hand edges, and closing the band sawn gap at the upper right.
You can use any glue and clamping method you choose, although I still recommend polyurethane for any large surface glue jobs. Youíll notice dots in the pictures of the fence. Thatís because I used a nail gun and 1-1/4Ē nails instead of clamps. Thereís a little of Norm in all of us.
After the glue has cured (overnight for polyurethane, 48 hours for yellow wood glue) you can assemble the VRF. Start by truing up the edges of the lower fence. First check and make sure your blade is set at 90į. Clamp the lower fence in your sled and trim the base true.
Then by the base in your sled and trim the lower fence edge true.
Now use the lower fence to trim both sides of the upper fence true.
Drill a 1-1/4Ē hole for the vacuum hose through the upper fence from the top. It doesnít matter a lot where you put it as long as it doesnít line up with the slots on the top fence. Look closely at the pictures and youíll see I violated this provision. Then drill 5/16Ē holes through the side of the upper fence to match the top of the slots in the top fence. Now glue the upper fence to the lower fence. Come close to lining up the edges, but make sure that the upper fence edge is a trifle back from the lower fence edge.
After the glue has cured, drill holes from the face of the lower fence into the recess inside. Three rows of ľĒ holes, with the holes about 2 inches apart, is sufficient. If you think youíll ever rip something less than ĺĒ high, make one row lower and angle up to the recess. Insert the 5/16Ē carriage bolts though the upper fence. Hammer the square shoulders in so they donít spin. Drop a top fence in place and add knobs and your VRF is ready to use.
There are a few options you can employ to make the VRF a little quicker to set and easier to use. You can installing tracks on the front and/or back of your sled. You can also make a back hold down, to keep the saw blade from picking up the far end of the fence. If you have a track , just make a slide for the track that keeps the fence base down. If you donít have a track, just clamp a piece of scrap stock to the back of the sled.
If you want to rip an exact thickness, youíll find it worthwhile to add a fine adjustment. Again, this can be track mounted or clamped to the sled. Just take a scrap of hardwood (maple, for instance) and drill and tap threads through it. I used 1/4x20 carriage bolt, and turned a knob for the bolt. There have been times when Iíve wished Iíd used a finer thread (for 1/4x20, one turn equals .05Ē), even if it doesnít come in a carriage bolt. To use, get the VRF close to the thickness you want, clamp, and make a test cut. Measure the resulting thickness with calipers, loosen the clamp a bit, turn the bolt the number or fraction of turns for the required change, and re-clamp.
To use the VRF, first make sure your blade is at 90į, and set the height of the blade so that it cuts just a little more than the thickness of your stock. Adjust the VRF for the desired thickness and clamp it securely to your sled. Connect the VRF to your shop vac with a 1-1/4Ē extension hose. Place your stock up against the lower fence, lower the top fence to contact the stock, and turn on the shop vac. Turn on the saw and push the sled through the blade.
Once the cut has been completed, return the sled to the starting position so youíre not reaching over a spinning blade, then turn off the saw and the shop vac. Loosen the top fence and remove the strip, and repeat the steps until youíve cut all the strips you want. Long about the fifth strip or so youíll be temped to leave the saw on. I work in an ER, and table saw cuts are gruesomely messy. Donít.
Laminated stock makes a striking pen. While you can use laminate with any pen kit, Iíve chosen to turn in the Greaves Style (American Woodturner, Winter 2003), as turning the center band lets me escape the straight barrel shape of many pen kits. The black enamel kit comes with a pen clip that is flexible enough to be adjusted to a non-standard barrel size, and either Ebony or African Blackwood matches the ferule and clip well.
Materials and Sources
Wrap masking tape around the center so you can match the
sections up when mounting it. Begin
by cutting the laminate slightly longer than the tubes.
If you want the chevrons to line up exactly, youíll have to cut off a
portion of the blank equal to the center band youíll use (minus a kerf) before
cutting the second section. Drill
with a 7 mm bit for the tubes and glue the tubes in place and allow to cure.
Cut a short piece of stock for the center band.
Drill the center band with a ľĒ drill.
To insure a true fit, use a barrel trimmer to true up the ends of both
blanks and the center band.
Mount both sections on your pen mandrel. Use the center band in place of the center bushing.
Turn the pen to the shape you like. Use a sharp tools and a gentle hand to avoid tear out when cutting against the biased grain. Then sand and finish.
Assemble the pen according to the instructions that came with your kit. I suggest you carefully align the pen clip centered in the downward pointing chevrons. Then find someone to show it off to.
Anyone who crochets using the small steel hooks would appreciate a crochet hook remounted in a wooden handle. Besides being more attractive and easier to find when laid down, they are easier to hold, especially for arthritic hands.
Materials and Sources
The laminate is such a strong design element that the shape of the hook must be fairly simple to avoid competing with it. You can, of course, use almost any shape that is comfortable to hold, but Iíll talk about my design anyway. Several years ago I made a set of crochet hooks. They had to each be a different design, but look like they belonged together. I did this using a common overall length of 5Ē and by dividing the handle into three zones: A tapered tip 1Ē long, a main body, and a tail 1-1/4Ē long. For this hook the main body is slightly convex and the tail is concave.
The steel hook must be carefully mounted. Itís amazing how easy it is to pick up the slightest deviation of the hook from being co-axial with the handle. You can turn the handle between centers and drill a mounting hole after removing from the lathe, but this approach is prone to co-axial errors. Itís better to drill the hole before mounting the blank and put the tail stock point in the hole. If you donít have a collet chuck this is the method to use. Just be careful. But if you donít hold the blank quite vertically when drilling, or engage the drive center slightly off center, youíll still have some co-axial error. The most accurate way is to mount the blank in a collet chuck and drill on the lathe. While it requires an extra mounting step, co-axial accuracy is virtually assured.
Begin by cutting a slightly oversize blank from laminate. 5Ē is a good size for the handle, so cut your blank long enough to allow for waste and trimming (about 5-1/2Ē) if youíre mounting directly between centers, or long enough for a mounting tenon and waste (6Ē) if youíre using a collet chuck.
If youíre not using a collet chuck, just mount the blank and turn to size, sand, and finish. Then cut off the waste at the end and finish the end off the lathe.
If youíre using a collet chuck, first mount the blank between centers, turn roughly to round, then turn a tenon on the tail stock end to fit your collet chuck. Then remount the blank in the collet chuck, using the tail stock for additional support. Turn the blank true, then mount the appropriate sized drill in a drill chuck (or pin chuck) and drill the mounting hole.
Remount the tail stock, turn the handle to shape, sand, and finish. Then part the handle from the lathe and finish the end off the lathe.
Attaching the Hook
Prepare the steel crochet hook for mounting by cutting it off just before the thinned area. Test the fit of the hook, then glue in with super glue. It only takes just a little glue. Instead of trying to put a small drop right on the hook, put a drop of glue on a disposable surface, then dip and roll the hook in the glue. Remove any excess glue with something other than your fingers.