How To – Spindle Duplication by Tom Boley
Turning spindles is a basic task which may be done on a lathe. I suspect early spring pole lathes were developed in order to make turned table legs and spindles for other furniture. This article is not about spindle turning but more about duplicating spindles so they all look alike. Table legs should look alike but differences become minimized the farther from each other they are. Candlesticks do need to be pretty darn alike or if they aren’t kept at opposite ends of a table, differences will be easily revealed. I have gotten in the habit of having the top of a table leg at the headstock end as it seems easier to me to turn the bottom round part toward the tailstock but that is just personal preference as either works just fine.
So this is about duplication and assumes you have already turned the first one, or have a scale drawing and just need to make more like the first. I realize that most of your spindle turning won’t be for table legs turned from a 6 x 6 which is 30” long but that particular job offered an opportunity to get progress photos on some big legs which may be easier to show throughout this How To guide. These are legs made for a customer from his antique pine posts which he cut to length before bringing them to the shop. So the first task in spindle duplication is to be sure your square stock is the same -- same square dimensions, same length, and same kind of wood.
Using a center finder, mark from each corner with a line across the center. Doing it from two corners isn’t good enough because the center cross may be off by as much as an eighth of an inch. I use the yellow plastic center finder.
Measure up from the bottom of the spindle toward the upper square end and mark the point where the round section begins. It is this point to which you will cut down into the square of the spindle in a vee cut to round. Using a skew is the best way to get a good cut but a spindle gouge will also work well. If you wish a sloping cut from square to round, angle each cut from one side, then the other, to cut a vee but round that vee cut a bit on the upper end so the cut itself curves down into the wood. This process, when finished with a curved slope from square to round is called cutting a pommel. Once you have cut down so the cut is completely around the piece, and you may have to stop part way and adjust the blank a bit so the depth of cut is even from all four sides, then use your spindle roughing gouge to round off the rest of the spindle which will be round.
The next step is to use calipers to determine the widest part of the round section on your original or on the drawing and then a parting tool at the top and bottom of the part you just rounded to cut in until the calipers just slip over the shaft of the spindle. Once you have that groove cut top and bottom, use your spindle roughing gouge once more to cut the entire round section down to that fattest dimension from top to bottom.
The easiest, fastest, most accurate method of marking where all the beads and coves go on the round part is to use a story board. Take a thin and not too wide strip of wood and lay it alongside your original or the drawing and make a pencil mark at each design element. If doing several copies, I recommend using a triangular file and filing a shallow groove in the edge of the story board to cradle your pencil when marking. It helps get the pencil mark in the right place each time. With the lathe running, lay your story board on the tool rest and close to the round section of the spinning wood. Lay a pencil in the grooves one by one and mark a circle around the spindle. With these legs, the upper round part was a bit fatter than the lower section so I marked the upper part down to where I had to cut it skinnier and then used my calipers once again with a parting tool to cut down to the top and bottom of the smaller round dimension. The spindle roughing gouge quickly cut that part down and then I continued with the story board, marking pencil circles on the rest of the spindle to the bottom. HINT: Use a single pencil line for significant features such as the margins of beads and coves, a little wider pencil line (1/8”) for the deepest part of a cove, and an even wider pencil line (1/4”) for the fattest part of a bead. For example, compare the pencil lines in this drawing to the pattern piece in the previous drawing.
Once you have your pencil circles laid out from the story board, use calipers and a parting tool to cut to the final diameter for each element. Two beads which are adjacent and the same diameter will just need to be cut into beads with a skew or spindle gouge. The photo on the right shows cutting the top to beads with a groove to the right which defines the depth of the cut for a cove, which is the next element. To the right of that groove is a wide pencil mark. That marks the top and center of the bead which is next. The process continues on down the shaft of the spindle where you have marked each element and cut in with parting tool and calipers to the final diameter. Each element is then linked together to produce the final piece. This photo shows the use of a spindle roughing gouge to properly shape the long taper of the leg down to the flare and back out to the final section. You may be able to see the wide pencil mark on the fat part of the tulip shape near the top. The next step is to sand the piece. Sanding by hand with 80 grit, 100, 120, and 150 should produce the surface which you want. Depending on the wood and the style of the table, you may wish to sand to finer grits and then stop the lathe to sand with the grain to fully disguise all the sanding marks.
Sometimes it is useful to use several sets of calipers. On these large and long table legs, I used six sets of calipers, each set to the diameter of a significant feature, so that I did not have to stop and change the width of the calipers for each element of each leg.