Turning Balls on a Lathe

Lathe work is so fun and exciting! If you're looking for a new woodworking project, consider turning some balls. It's fun to do and you can thoroughly entertain your children with this project. There are lots of things that you can do with turned balls. You can create decorative accents for vases, mobiles, a marble set for the kids, use them to create stems on handmade wineglasses, cabinet and drawer knobs, a working universe model, or create a handmade wine bottle stopper; the possibilities are really endless! Just use your imagination and think of all the crafty things you can do with wooden balls.

First you need to choose the type of wood that you will use. Basically, the harder the wood, the less indention you will see from the wood turning lathe attachment. The wood is held in place by a circular mechanism, so sometimes you will get a circular indention on one or both ends of the ball. Some lathe attachments do not mark up the balls as much as others, but really it depends on the type of wood that you use.

Start off with a center mounted block of wood. Use a gouge tool to get started and skew chisel to turn your block into a smooth cylinder. Be especially careful with the skew chisel, as it is considered to be very dangerous. If this is your first time using one, go very slowly and wear protective clothing and face protection. Skew chisels can easily dig into the wood and spring from your hand. Review the proper techniques for using a skew chisel before you begin. Practice before you turn on the lathe. The skew chisel should be very sharp and produce a long thin ribbon of wood when you're doing it correctly. You may have to attempt to create your cylinder several times until you really get the hang of the skew chisel.

Use a caliper to measure the diameter of the cylinder, making sure that it is the same all the way around. Then turn the caliper ninety degrees and mark the cylinder for the width of the ball making sure that it is exactly the same as the diameter. Measure for the center of the wood section that is to become your ball. Mark it with a pencil all the way around.

Measure half-way between the outside boundary marks and your center line. Use the pencil to mark this point so that the center of the cylinder is now divided into three sections. Use a gouge tool to cut from these new lines down to the boundaries, sloping out at forty-five degrees. Continue to work your way down so that the cylinder becomes more and more like a ball trapped between two blocks. You may need to remark your center line at this point.

Cut the ball loose and use a ball drive to hold the ball steady. Mount it with the center line vertical. Work your way around smoothing as you go. You can look for shadows to spot areas that are not perfectly round yet. Take the ball off, rotate it so that the center line is horizontal, and repeat the smoothing process. Use fine grit sandpaper, rotating the ball ninety degrees again and again until the ball is smooth.

This technique is used for making balls. You can use the cylinder technique to create cylinders, dowel rods, or dowels of custom diameter. Remember to be safe!