Can you turn wood on the drill press?

Did you know that you can turn wood on the drill press?

I recently read an article in Fine Woodworking magazine on how to turn drawer knobs on a drill press so thought I’d give it a go. The original article doesn’t seem to be available online but there’s an even better video version here that I wish I’d seen earlier.

In the article they used a tenon cutter to make a round stub on the end of their square stock to put into the drill chuck but I don’t have one so decided to start with something that was already round. I put a thin piece of dowel into the chuck and using files tried to shape it but all I ended up with was chunks missing on one half of the dowel. What was I doing wrong? It looked so easy in the article

I went away for a week disapointed that it hadn’t worked but couldn’t stop thinking about it. A bit more more research found that people had better results when they supported the piece they were turning with a nail or rod to simulate the dead center on a real lathe so the next weekend I stuck a nail in the drill press and used a file to smooth the tip of it so it was conical rather than pyramid shaped, drove it into a bit of scrap and clamped that to the drill press table. I also drove a nail into the top of the  next dowel I wanted to work with and used it to hold it in the chuck instead of putting the actual wood in as this dowel was too big.

Because this was already round there was no work to do before I could start shaping it. I’ve got no shortage of files and rasps and microplanes in the workshop as I use them a lot for other projects and found they work just as well here. I held the rasp behind the workpiece with one gloved hand holding the handle and the other the tip to support it. It worked a lot better this time and shaping this little took handle took only a few minutes.


I still had some time left so wanted to try a bigger project so grabbed a square bit of maple from the wood pile and cut it to a short length.


All the advice I could find said to take as much of the square shape of the wood as possible before trying to turn it so I used my bench knife to do that.


I’ve got an old farrier’s rasp that I’d found somewhere that has always been too coarse for spoonmaking but turned out to be perfect for roughing this into a cylinder.


I wasn’t actually trying to turn this into anything, I just wanted to practice using the tools and seeing if I could get the technique right. I was using a smaller half round rasp here.


When it got to this shape I decided it looked like either a torpedo or a bud vase, and I figured that my wife might have more use for a bud vase than a wooden torpedo so decided to go in that direction. The same half round rasp was still doing the work though I did swap to the flat side for some of it.


I was happy with the basic shape so switched to a vixon file to smooth it. These are the files that have the teeth that look like a smile and are mostly used for cleaning up car body filler but can give great results on wood. You can see the difference between the rasp and it here. I also tried a mircoplane and found they work really well too and leave a great surface.


I have some mini files and decided to try adding some detail. I wasn’t sure that they would hold up to the force but there was no trouble at all.


I finished with a few grades of sandpaper to get it smooth then gave it a coat of shellac while still on the drill press so the grain would be raised and I could sand it smooth again easily.


I took it of the drill press, drilled out the center and widened the opening with a file and finished it with a couple more coats of shellac then beeswax. For a practise piece I think it turned out well.


I’m really liking turning stuff this way. I was a bit worried about safety at first but now that I’ve used it a few times I’m comfortable with it. I was also worried about damaging the drill press but there’s been no sign of problems and I’m using less force on it than I would when using a sanding drum so we’ll see how it goes. If it shows issues I’ll stop doing it but until then I’m having fun working in the round. I’ve got a lot of scrap that I have ideas for now.


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