Shaping on a Lathe

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The basis for the following article was written by Tyler Lane for his website, and is used by permission.

Turning briar on a wood lathe is a very fun process. Manipulating the chisel into the fast spinning wood, and watching and feeling the pipe take shape is wonderful. The process is very much like clay on a potters wheel. As the roughly shaped block spins, order seems to magically emerge from chaos as an asymmetrical block takes the form of a smooth cylinder. The pipe is being freed from the rugged shell it has been imprisoned in for many decades.

Turning with a wood lathe is a skill that must be acquired and honed. For this page, I will assume for my comments that the reader has minimal turning experience, but some knowledge of turning vocabulary.

Let me pause here, before we get into the how-to's of turning, and say that tools are VERY important. A good lathe, a very good chuck, and sharp chisels are key aspects of success. Because the briar block will be turned off balance essentially every time, the heavier your lathe, the better. A heavy lathe will allow you to stably turn the out-of-balance block at a high rpm, and higher rpm makes cleaner, nicer cuts. Likewise an excellent chuck allows for higher rpm's while remaining safe. Thrilling as it may be, it is not a lot of fun to have briar flying out of a chuck at 1400 rpm! Lastly sharp chisels allow for cleaner, smoother cuts. When it all comes together, turning the briar can be like carving butter. (Actually, carving butter doesn't sound all that pleasant...maybe it is more like carving soap. )

VIDEO: Here is a video of the turning of a bowl on the lathe. Unfortunately, this particular pipe was not a perfect shape for illustrating bowl turning. It is the turning of a hawkbill, and the shank shape minimizes the amount of the bowl that can be turned. I intend to video the next bowl that I turn and replace this one. In the meantime, this will give you an idea of the process.

VIDEO: Turning the Bowl