Don’t go off on a tangent, Wooden balls can improve your spindle turning skills

Not to boast, but I consider myself a “pretty fair hand” at turning.  The type of turning that I’m the most fond of is between centers, spindle work.  While it’s great fun to turn free style bowls and the like, spindle turning, especially making multiples, i.e. furniture legs, requires a very disciplined approach. And, it takes practice to develop and maintain good spindle turning skills, bead, cove, fillet, bead, cove, fillet, etc., etc., ad infinitum.

Several years ago I read an article by Alan Lacer about turning Bocce balls.  You might ask what Bocce balls have to do with spindle turning?  My answer is this.  Most of the spindle turners that I know will agree that turning truly spherical beads is one of the most difficult things to do.  Most beads, when examined, tend to be parabolic or begin as an arc then run off on a tangent.  It’s tough to produce a truly rounded bead.  So, it seemed to me that concentrated practice at turning spheres and understanding the relative geometry could only help.  And the upshot is, it does.

After rounding the stock, I laid out a circle and gave myself some gauge lines to work from.


Then I shaped the basic ball.


After I parted the ball off, I made a wooden cup to fix into a jaw chuck and put a cup in my tailstock.  I chucked up the sphere with the “poles” perpendicular to the bed and began to turn those surfaces round. Spindle and tailstock alignment are very important.


My goal when turning is to finish with tools, no sanding, burnish with chips only.  That said, if you zoom in on the above photo, you’re going to see sanding marks, lots of sanding marks.  This is a tough exercise, even for a reasonably experienced turner.  Before I forget to mention it, a parting tool and skew were the tools used.  This is great practice for mastering the skew!

If you’re up for a challenge, give this a try.  Thanks Mr. Lacer.


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One Comment on “Don’t go off on a tangent, Wooden balls can improve your spindle turning skills”

  1. Sylvain Says:

    There are many variant to the bocce. Search “wiki jeu de boule”. I don’t know if the page is translated in English. It is a nice game. Interesting to play on a sand beach. Quite different if you play on dry sand or on wet sand at low water. On the coast here in Belgium you will find sets with wooden balls, other in plastic and of course in metal for those who want to play according to the official rules of the “pétanque”.
    The ferrous one are easier for aged people because they use a magnet at the end of a string to lift them.

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