Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sunday Toolfoolery - A Shop Made Steady Rest, A Center Marker and Some Bending Jigs

Without a doubt, I've been spending more time making jigs than making furniture in the last few weeks.  It wouldn't bother me so much, but my track record with these shop aids, especially when I start freelancing on their design, is decidedly poor.  When one doesn't work, I usually just strip off its parts and move on, trying not to think about the time I wasted.  But when I spend a good solid week on nothing but jigs, I'd like them to pan out in the long run.

The Steady Rest
One that has already proved useful is my shop-made steady rest.  I'm willing to entertain the idea that this is unnecessary, that a real turner just wards off chatter with good technique and a calloused palm, but I like the stability it gives me on these long shaker chair legs.

It starts with an approximately 4" hole cut in a piece that runs perpendicular to your lathe bed.  The center of this hole is exactly the height of your lathe centers.  This is easily determined by standing the board on end and squeezing it between the head and tail stock.  This is secured in place by attaching it at a 90 degree angle to a board that rides on the lathe bed.  It is held square with a rail. 

In order to hold your work steady, this rest must contact a perfectly round spot at several points around the circumference.  This is done via four sliding bars with wheels on the end -- well, not exactly wheels, but skateboard bearings.   So along with my order for some aluminum rail, and some other jiggy screws and handles, came a little red package that looks surprisingly like contraband. (The complete plans for this come from Fine Woodworking, Issue 143.)

The Center Marker
Designed to mark the centerline of your turned piece, this is necessary to keep the axis of the back rungs and the back slats aligned.  It is basically an L-Shaped piece of wood with a hole drilled for a pencil.  Like drilling the hole for the steady rest, the hole for the pencil lines up with your head and tail stock centers.  Once you have finished turning, you just slide it down the bed to mark your center line.

The Back Slat Bending Jig
This is taken directly from Kerry Pierce's Authentic Shaker Furniture Furniture plans -- with one modification.  I attached oak slats on the sides so that it will stay aligned when bending a group of slats.  Now I just pop the steamed slats in all it once, put the jig in my front vice, and crank it down tight.

The Leg Bending Jig
I fiddled with Pierce's idea more than I should have to develop my version.  His plans are very simple -- the legs slide into a hole on the bottom, wrap around the form, and are drawn together with a big hose clamp at the top.  I wanted to have the flexibility to do thinner and shorter legs, so on my version I secure the leg to the forms with C-clamps.  If I want to make a children's chair I can start the bottom of the leg higher up the form to make the leg begin its bend at, say, 15 inches instead of 19 inches.  Time will tell if this is an improvement or a nuisance.

By the way, I want to make a strong recommendation for the book in the opening photo.  I seem to have become a collector of Kerry Pierce books and this one is my favorite.  Chairmaking Simplified is readily available, packed with information about chair construction (and jigs!), and the sections on splint, rush, and cane seat weaving are invaluable.

Now, if the parts for my improved steam-bending rig come soon, I'll feature some bending on Thursday.

Thanks for reading!


  1. Glad to see your reading Chair Making Simplified. I have borrowed that book from my local library at least a dozen times in that last couple of years to the point when I think I need to buy it. I particularly like the Clisset style chair. He makes the build process seem very easy.

  2. I'm a big used book person, and I think I paid something like 2 USD for it. You are right, the Clisset-style is nice. So far, the build is easy, just too many jigs!

  3. Looks pretty cool. I may have to get that book. Maybe I'll tackle a chair some day.

  4. I've been wanting to make a steady rest for some time now, great idea using the T slot track.


  5. It's funny how small of a world it is. I'm not sure how I remember finding your blog but I've been following it for a few weeks. I was pleasantly surprised to see your first post including Kerry's book and now this one. Kerry was my 11th grade English teacher. I never knew he was a woodworker while in school. (Not that it would have mattered, I wasn't interested in ww'ing then) I'll be taking a class with him Feb. 12th.

  6. Cody, that's a cool story! I know he went through some health problems a few years ago, so it is good that he is still active. Be sure to mention that he has some fans of his work on the blogosphere.

  7. great idea using the T slot track. and thanks for sharing