The Gadgets




Living way out here on the highlands without access to all the whizz-bang tool shops, and working on a budget like so many others, means you have to be a little resourceful when it comes to special tools. Anything I can make myself, I usually will, just for the pure satisfaction of it. I'm only showing the items here that are directly connected to my woodturning but there is heaps of other stuff like the tablesaw, spindle sander, disc sander, feed tables and sleds for the bandsaw etc etc etc. Nothing you see here is patented (or new) so if you like any of the ideas, you're welcome to copy them.

Longworth chucks

The Longworth chucks have to be one of the handiest items I've made for the shed - and having been invented by an aussie , they have to be good! There is no easier way to centre and hold an item to finish off the base. I used perspex to make them simply because I could get it cheap but it does make using them a little easier to use as you can see where the rubber feet are inside a closed form like the one pictured. I won't go into details on how I made them as there is already plenty on the internet covering that.

There are some modifications to the usual design I've found worthwhile though. Using 'connector bolts' is a big plus as they have no sharp edges or corners to hit your knuckles and with such a wide top, you don't need washers which allows the bolt to grip against the rubber foot, doing away with the need to hold the head while you tighten the wing nuts. I have also designed my chucks to be gripped in standard chuck jaws so I don't have to remove the chuck to finish the bottom of a piece. 

At left is the smaller of the two chucks I use. It is mounted on a spigot I machined to fit the standard chuck jaws which allows the wing-nuts to be moved in very close to centre so it can grip as small as 50mm diameter turnings. The larger version at right is mounted on a faceplate ring I machined from an old flange but a standard faceplate ring will do the trick too.

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Vacuum chucks

Pump mounted on shelf below motor.

Faceplate chuck

100mm chuck with seal from domestic vacuum

As good as the Longworth chucks are, they have their limitations, particularly when wanting to finish the bottom of a natural edged bowl/platter. I never used to like natural edged turnings but have taken a shine to them since getting the Stubby (just makes them easier to create than on a small lathe!). The Stubby lathes already have a vacuum adaptor built in to the headstock and I managed to score a vacuum pump for the right price ($0), so a vacuum chuck seemed a better way to hold very large bowls and platters and natural edged bowls and so on.

I mounted the pump on a shelf at the end of the lathe where I could access it easily without hoses and so on getting in my way. Material to use to seal the chucks proved difficult to find out here in the sticks. I eventually got some 6mm EVA foam to use on the faceplate chuck which turned out to be too thick, giving the mounted piece a 'cushioned' feeling. I've since changed it to a 3mm thick sheet which works much better and makes it easier to centre the work too. The seal on the cup chuck is from an old vacuum cleaner - I knew I'd find a use for it 'one day'! The faceplate the chuck is mounted on is just a washer welded to an M30 nut - doesn't have to be perfectly true for this as you 'true' the scrap wood that is permanently mounted to it.

140mm chuck with 3mm EVA foam for seal

Mounted on homemade faceplate. Used ply for the backing and underground electrical conduit for the tube.

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Power sander

I got sick of ruining batteries while power sanding items on the lathe using battery drills - they just aren't made for such a prolonged, constant load. A flexible drive shaft would be easier to manage and fit in narrow openings and could be driven by an el-cheapo, throw-away type electric drill. Mounted it all around the back of the lathe with a lever to set the speed using a cam like action on the drill trigger. Does the job nicely!

Update:- While the flexible shaft worked OK, I found controlling it difficult with the 'inline' handle and went looking for something with an angled grip. As I had compressed air on a skyhook above the lathe, I decided to try the 115° angle die grinder pictured - best move I ever made! Moved the compressor into the back shed to quell the noise and ran 1/8" line from the regulator to keep the speed down without having to alter the regulator every time I use it. Very controllable, works great on platters and bowls and even gets into smallish spaces as pictured. On top of that, if I up the air pressure it's great for carving and shaping with burrs and sanding attachments.

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I couldn't find any calipers big enough to reach the bottom of some of the hollow forms I turn and the commercial offerings are shaped symmetrically (like the commercial set in the picture) which I find restrictive - so I built my own! Played with the shape so they will work in most forms and reach to about 300mm deep. I also used rounded, polished tips so they don't mark the work if the outside is already finished.


Not of my own invention, these modified verniers were part of my Dads gear. They've turned out to be a very handy item for sizing spigots and getting a direct measurement of wall thickness on turnings. The extension wouldn't necessarily need to be welded on - bolts or rivets would do the job just as well.

I could never find a compass big enough for marking out turning blanks either so these were the next project off the line. The steel used for the shafts is reclaimed from old printers - very handy stuff - in fact most of the materials I use in my gadgets is recycled which is a benefit to both my budget and the environment.


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Chisel rack

I like to have everything I need at my fingertips when I'm at the lathe so I built this rack and mounted it on a swiveling arm so I can move it to suit what I'm doing. I've made it to hold 10 chisels but I could have got away with 8 because I really only use that many to do everything I do except hollowing. The rack slips off and can stand on it's own on a bench if need be. It also acts as a lamp stand for my extra light and thankfully, vibration hasn't been the problem I thought it would be - the Stubby just doesn't vibrate! (Can you tell I love my lathe?). Found the rack didn't swing away quite far enough for me working over the end of the lathe when hollowing steep undercuts so I made it extendable - all good now!

Extendable modification

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Sandpaper tree

Probably the easiest thing to make but the most used, and once you use one, you'll never go back! I very quickly got sick of having bits of sandpaper all over the place and having to unfold them to see what grade they were etc - yuk! The tree is just a length of threaded rod with some brass tube spacers (that could just as easily be made from wood) separating pieces of pallet strapping which of course, costs nothing. When you make yours, don't bend the strapping sharply as I did - a more rounded bend will let the paper slip in easier. Another idea a mate of mine had was to have the strapping out both sides with the hole in the middle so you can load a spare piece of paper in the back end.

 Load it up with the heaviest grade paper at the bottom (in case loose grit drops on to the next) and mount it up around the headstock somewhere. In use, just grab a fold from as near the bottom as required, use it, slip it back in the only empty clip (obviously!) and grab the next one up until you get the desired finish. I don't reckon they should able to sell a lathe without one!

Update:- Finally pulled the finger out and bought the tree up to my own recommendations! Scored some stainless steel strapping so now I've got the double-ended version with nice shiny clips!

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Depth gauge

This was my first attempt at making a tool look good as well as being functional - one outta two's not bad! I'm a bit of a hoarder and have pulled a lot of printers apart for the shafts and stuff and this particular type are calibrated in tenth's of an inch so it seemed a good idea to use it for the gauge. Drilled out a brass air fitting to suit the shaft and slotted one side so that the loop on the end of the tension screw pulls into the slot. A heavy spring keeps tension on the loop so that you only have to press the top of the screw to release the shaft. Maybe I should have used a better looking timber - a local one next time!

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Loaded live centre

I've never been happy with the standard live centres because the point is either too long which leaves too big a hole or so short that you can't see past the 'ring' to line it up on your mark. I wanted the point out where it's easy to line up with my mark but then out of the way to let the 'ring' hold the work. Having bought a live centre with a range of adaptors that are held in place magnetically, all I had to do was make another adaptor to drop in place and spring load the point so it can push out of the road when the tailstock is wound up. (Once again - easy if you have access to a metal lathe!).

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Finally got around to making a couple of extra toolrests for the Stubby. The first is just a half-length (150mm) job to use where the standard rest is too long. Nothing unusual except when I was looking for something to use for the top of the rest, I decided to try the steel from one of those el-cheapo quick-clamps that the handles break off of the first time you use them! - the $2 shop jobs. 20mm wide, case hardened and nicely rounded both edges - perfect!


The next toolrest I wanted was the gated type but the commercial ones look flimsy to me (and over-priced!). I made this one using 1" square steel so that even with the holes drilled through it, it's not going to flex. The curved 'gate' will hold any of my hollowers with round shafts while the 'gate' with rollers (salvaged from an old line-printer) is for 'Big Bertha' which has a 3/4" square shaft. Gave it a quick test run and cannot believe how much easier hollowing is using one of these - so much more control - beats the hell out of a pin in a hole on the standard toolrest!


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Dust port

Seeing what too many years of inhaling smoke and wood dust did to my old man convinced me to not only give up the smokes, but also to set up some dust extraction to use when I'm sanding on the lathe. Grabbed a 'Big Gulp' dust port and hooked it up to the 2HP dust extractor! In keeping with the 'at my fingertips' theme, I've arranged it so the port can be swung in when required and locked in place with a wing bolt at the mouth of the port. At the same time, when the chisel rack is swung away to make room for the port, the rack can be spun around for easier access to the power sander.

Turning mode

Sanding mode

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Stubby Lifter

Lifter in 'down' state

Lifter in 'raised' state

'Skewing' the Lifter into position

My shed is so small that my lathe has to sit in the middle of my only workspace when I'm using it and I can't really work on anything much else. I want to get back to some 'flat' woodwork occasionally so I put this lifting platform together so I can shuffle the lathe out of the way when necessary.

In designing the lifter, I didn't want wheels or other parts under the lathe to kick my toes on or hinder clean-ups so I went for a removable system. This meant it would have to fit under a workbench or somewhere out of the way when not in use so it would need to be less than 200mm high. I also needed at least 30mm of lift to clear obstacles between the shed and garage and with the lathe and cabinet weighing in at 1/2 ton, the lifting mechanism would have to have some real oomph! Keeping the castors far enough apart to provide stability was also a consideration.

You can see in the photo how I set it so that the lifter can be skewed in between the legs of the stand so I get the maximum width between the wheels that go through to support the 'light' end of the lathe. The jack lifts the lathe effortlessly, in fact you can do it with just half the handle in place and the whole thing can be pushed around around with surprising ease. This one cost a bit more than my usual projects - $80 for the 200kg rated castors and about $20 for bolts. The rest was free - swapped a drill chuck for the 2 ton jack and the 50x50x2.5mm RHS used to hold the neighbours pergola up.

Ready to start pumping


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Standard Lathe Lifter


Lifter folded up for storage.



Lifter expanded.

Our local club moves their lathe outside onto a concrete slab for demonstrations and there was too much toe crunching and gut-busting involved so I built this fold up gadget to make it a little easier (and safer!) next time.

It's made of 1.5" RHS with 1/16" walls so it's light to carry but strong enough for the job. A few extra holes at the pivot points allow some adjustment for height - in the photographs it's lifting much higher than need be at the expense of leverage for the initial lift but this can be altered according to your needs. Smaller wheels could be used if you have a good floor but we have to negotiate a couple of small steps so 8" wheels were in order.

Balance on this set up is achieved by sliding the headstock along the ways but it isn't absolutely necessary.

Ready to mobilise.



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Circle cutting guide

Circle cutting jig

Prototype mounted on Hafco saw

And it works!!!

I once built one of those circle cutting jigs for my bandsaw that slides on the saws table with a pin sticking up to swivel the blank on, used it 9 or 10 times and decided it was too much hassle. It's really difficult adjust the radius of the circle and to line the centre mark up when you can't see it on the underside of the blank. Worse still, whenever even a small piece of bark or rubbish got caught under the blank it would come off the centre pin and before you know it you've got a shape that is definitely not a circle. I have a mountain of half-logs I need to convert to blanks for easier storage so I came up with this alternative to try and speed things up. The criteria for the design were ....

A. Must be easily mounted on either of my bandsaws.

B. Needs easily variable radius adjustment.

C. Must be able to abort the circle and go freehand if necessary.

D. Rubbish under the blank should not affect the cutting operation.

E. It should have adjustment to compensate blade drift.

Pretty happy with the result! Even though I'll only be using it on the saw my Dad made, it still fits on the commercial saw if I want. Note that the picture at right is the 'prototype' mounted on my commercial saw before I prettied it up. Drift is managed by adjusting the stop screw to move the short arms final position in relation to the blade (fore or aft).

Using it....

In operation, the radius can be adjusted by loosening the clamping screw on the saws guide riser and sliding the circle guide to the required distance which is easily measured (or just eyeballed) between the blade and pivot point. The saw guides are then lowered with the pivot on the proposed centre of the blank, enough to put some pressure on the pivot spring. A tap on the pivot spike is then enough to create a viable pivot point. As you start cutting towards the edge of your circle, you swing the short arm in until the depth stop hits the main beam which sets the blade to the required radius, then just keep rotating the blank.

On harder woods, I did find I had to slow down as I hit the change of grain direction area or the blade deflection would cause some wandering but it generally worked well and the guide can be left in place on the saw without seriously hindering normal cutting. When the cut is finished, if the waste has not broken away, it's just a matter of raising the guides so the waste can be lifted from the disk.



NOTE: This guide is not for cutting 'perfect' circles - just turning blanks - there's a big difference!!!

1. Load blank with short arm out and pin centre of blank

2. Start cut by swinging short arm in

3. Rotate block once short-arm is fully closed

4. Lift waste from blank

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Chuck/carving clamp

Chuck clamp

After having problems working on a few pieces that needed to stay in the chuck, I decided it was about time to put a clamp together. They are available commercially but are way over-priced (in my opinion) for something I'll only use occasionally so I put this one together for the cost of a $14 M30 nut and bolt - the rest was scrap/scrounged.

Mounting it on the banjo of the lathe puts the work at a nice level when I'm sitting on my shed-stool. If I ever get serious about carving, I'll make a post/stool combination to mount it on like my old man used to have.


Loaded and ready to go.

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Concave scraper


Concave scraper

If you've ever had a go at hollowing timbers like Gidgee or Inland Rosewood you will know how difficult it is to get the inside of the form nice and even. One Gidgee form I finished a while back was causing me grief because it was so out of balance that I couldn't spin it fast enough to get the surface perfectly even - but then it didn't really need to be - just wanted it to look OK from the opening. Just being able to clean the toolmarks away with a cabinet scraper would do the trick so I came up with this rig. Just a piece of thin spring-steel like you would find on a paint scraper, a piece of rod with a thread on the end and you're in business. Did a great job cleaning up the inside of the Gidgee form as you can see.


Works a treat!

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