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Demonstration by Ray Jones
23 August 2023

Ray introduced himself as a Spindle Turner who had been practising his art for 65 years.

He planned to demonstrate making his signature nursery chair.

He put an already prepared disc of wood into his chuck to make the seat of the stool. His advice on speed was to ‘wind it up till the lathe begins to shake’! He turned the edge smooth with a half inch spindle gouge and then the same to the base. His two bits of advice were ‘tuck the handle of the chisel under your tummy’ to get the right angle of cut, and ‘don’t fall off the edge’ as this will splinter the edge and prevent a clean edge.

The piece was removed from the lathe and the holes for the legs and back marked out with a template using a bradawl. The holes were then drilled on a pillar drill. The front leg holes were angled at 10 degrees and the back ones at 20 degrees. The five holes for the back were drilled using a smaller drill bit, the outside back holes set at 10 degrees and the 3 inside holes at 20 degrees.

The seat was then remounted on the lathe and the centre hollowed out to make the shape of the seat, and the edges rounded off. Ray emphasized that the edges must be curved, not flattened, by using a twisting motion on the spindle gouge. He sanded it to smoothness.

Ray turned his attention to the back of the chair and drilled holes in another circular blank for the back supports, pointing out that the piece would make the backs for two chairs. The outside holes were drilled at 20 degrees and the three inside ones at 10 degrees. The piece was then mounted in the chuck in an already prepared recess. Marking an inch from the edge of the piece, he used a parting tool to make a 1/4in groove and then taped over it to support the middle piece when it was separated from the edge piece when reversed in the chuck.


The piece was then reversed and a 7/8” inch deep groove made again 1 inch for the edge. The outside edge of this groove which would end up as the lower edge of the back was then shaped with a spindle gouge to a pleasing curve and sanded. The edge piece was then parted off from the middle piece. This would then be sanded smooth with a drum sander and sawn in half to make two chair backs. Ray did not show us these stages as he had prepared one before and it was tea-time!

After the break, Ray took us through the spindle turning routine that made the legs and back supports. He told us there were 9 shapes, and only nine shapes in turning spindles with only their depth and profile being changeable. He emphasized the importance of the ‘battlement shape’ that marks out all the important features of a turning before any true turning is done. The use of callipers in determining depth and checking consistency with the other similar turnings was also shown to be so important. He showed how he marked high spots with pencil and how he rolled and twisted the tool – usually three times, be it a spindle gouge or a skew, to create a rounded bead. A pointed bead is unacceptable and ugly. He emphasised that importance of the bead in determining the whole shape of the turning and once completed it must not be altered. Lastly spigots at the ends of the various pieces must not taper but be straight or even concave, Ray demonstrated the use of a modified spanner with one edge sharpened to make identical spigots.

Ray turned an example of each bit required and then using pieces he had previously made assembled the chair, hammering in first the legs and then the back rest to produce the finished article. He checked that the same end, either headstock or tailstock, was orientated in the same direction for similar direction. 

Ray left us with a few of his ‘truths’:

‘The bead is the deciding factor in all spindle work’.

‘Shape must be a good shape not an OK shape’.

‘A chair leg is just a number of shapes put together’.

‘The right cut in the right place makes an OK piece a good piece’.

‘Do not try to reach the bottom of a cut with the first cut’.

Report by Julian Birch

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