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Shaking it Up

Posted on January 5, 2018
by Angela Robins

Before I joined North House’s Artisan Development program, I primarily turned wooden bowls. However since starting the program this summer, I finally got a chance to explore spindle turning, which includes things like banisters, rolling pins, pens, tool handles and more.

I am told that a lot of people are drawn to woodturning because of the allure of making bowls, and that spindle turning is often overlooked. I initially fell into the same camp - but after taking a course with Swedish woodturner Stefan Nordgaard at North House, I became a fan of both.

In Stefan’s class, we made tool handles and candle stick holders. I had not given much thought to either prior to the class. He gave specific feedback on our form, down to the millimeter. I appreciated his eye for design and high standards.

After the class I decided to explore spindle turning more, and learn how to make rattles using captive rings, a technique where rings are made out of a single piece of wood.

First I had to make my own tool, a scraper with a pointy end. I used a blank of ¼” x ¼” x 4” high speed steel, and ground it on my slow speed grinder so it was curved and tapered. I then glued it into the birch handle I made in class. It fits great in my hand and enables me to create a narrow channel between the spindle and the ring. The only challenge I’ve encountered so far is that the point is so thin that the friction of the tool against the spinning wood has made it lose its temper, leaving the steel too soft to maintain its original shape. I’ll need to go back to the tool-design drawing board soon.

Once the tool was finished I enjoyed coming up with rattle shapes. I didn’t realize all of the design considerations until I started doing research and development with little tikes. I started out with dainty rattles, only to realize most sturdy walkers (aka toddlers) will put them straight into their mouth and run for it. So I increased the diameter of the handles, and have been playing with different shapes. From mushroom-shaped handles to cabinet knobs and teardrops, it’s interesting to see how kids (and adults) handle them and the variation in sounds they make. I’ve made about twenty so far and look forward to seeing how they continue to evolve!