Balls, Balls, Balls
by Fred Holder
When I came home from the Christian Burchard demonstration, I was really charged up. I guess that's why we go to these demonstrations and club meetings, to get a new charge of energy. Anyway, for the next several weeks, it seemed like all I could do was make balls. I made balls for the fun of it. I made balls for my grandsons, while they watched, and instructed them on how these were wooden balls and not to be thrown. I told them these balls were for rubbing. And, I believe that's what they're really for.
Anyway, I've now made 30 or 40 or more balls. That hasn't made me an expert by a long shot. But my balls have gotten better and easier to make. I've made most of my balls from Big Leaf Maple and apple wood, woods I readily had on hand and in the size needed. I've had a problem with the drive end marking the balls with a ring indention. Christian didn't mention that as a problem, but then I believe he was using harder wood for his balls. I did find in the Holtzapffel books that turning between centers damaged the balls. I presume in the same way that I've had problems. Perhaps, I'm using too hard of wood for the drive cup. Hopefully, I'll solve this problem one of these days. I might add, even with the slight indent, they are still pretty nice balls.
Here are some of the tools used in making a ball.
I'm going to share with you the way that I make my balls.
The chunk of wood is mounted conventionally between centers for the first phase of ball turning.
I start with a chunk of wood mounted between centers in a conventional mounting. I use the gouge to make it round and the skew to make it smooth. Once I'm satisfied with the surface of the cylinder I've turned, I measure the diameter with a caliper.
Using a caliper to measure the diameter of the cylinder. This measurement becomes the width of the ball.
Then using the caliper as a measuring device, I make marks to indicate the width of the cylinder that will become the ball. I then layout a center mark between the two outside marks. Now, holding the pencil on each of the marks in turn, I rotate the piece and make the mark all of the way around. At this point, I've marked the center (equator) of the ball and the north and south poles. Now, I measure half way between the center and outside on each side of center and make a line all around. I transfer the dimension between the two outside lines to my parting tool, then part to that depth outside of each end line.
This is what the ball blank should look like after the two 45 degree slopes have been cut.
With the skew or gouge, I cut the wood down in a nice slope from the line marking the middle of half of the ball to the parting cut. This gives me a slope of about 45 degrees on each end of the ball. Then, I begin to round over each end of the ball, cutting the end part deeper as I work my way down each side. I generally take the tenon on each end down to about 1/2 inch in diameter and then cut it off with the bandsaw. I've tried to maintain the center line throughout this phase of the turning. If I accidently cut it off, I make a new one before removing the rough ball from the lathe to cut off the tenons.
Here, Phase One is complete. The center line must be remarked since I scraped it away, then it is removed from the lathe and the tenons removed.
This view shows the drive and tail stock supports needed for Phase 2 of the ball making operation.
Now, you need a special made up drive. I use a small faceplate with a piece of wood mounted, endgrain along the axis of the lathe. I first turn it round and then true on the end before I hollow it slightly. Only the edges of the hollow will contact the ball so make sure that you hollow deep enough. For the tailstock end, you need a live center with a piece of wood fitted to it, or one of the special live cup chucks like Christian was selling at his demonstration. I purchased one of those. Ok, you're ready to mount the piece back on the lathe. That center line is now aligned with the axis of the lathe, i.e., you have rotated the ball 90 degrees for this next step.
Turn on the lathe and you can see your ball rotating there with a shadow where the high points are located. I now use a gouge to cut away the shadow. When it's pretty well round, i.e., the shadow has diminished, make another center mark. This doesn't have to be perfect center, simply mark it with your eye and a pencil while the lathe is rotating.
The ball has been turned round and the center line marked. It is now ready to be rotated 90 degrees for the next stage of turning.
Loosen the tailstock and rotate the ball 90 degrees to make the new center line along the axis of the lathe. Repeat the process of cutting away the shadow. Keep doing this operation over and over, until the ball if pretty much round. A scraper can then come into play. Christian uses a shear scraper. I've found a flat scraper works pretty well. However, a scraper made from an old hole saw with the teeth ground off, works best. Ray Key describes the use of such a scraper in making balls. This tubular scraper needs to be smaller than the diameter of the ball, but as large as possible for best results. In one of his articles in Woodturning, Bill Jones mentions using a section of bicycle handlebar for a certain size ball. Anyway, regardless of what you use to make this tubular scraper from, it must be ground on a disk sander to create a burr on the inside. I believe Ray Key recommends chucking the piece on the lathe and forcing a piece of broken grind stone against the end with the tail stock to create this burr. Anyway, this type of scraper helps to make the ball round.
At this point, if you're simply making a ball to be rubbed or to throw in the yard, etc., you can sand it on the lathe. However, as you sand, the ball becomes less round because end grain and side grain cut differently with the sandpaper.
The finished ball ready for sanding. The ball must be rotated once for each grit of sandpaper used.
I've found the Vic Wood rotary sander works very well for the sanding operations. Sanding is done just like the turning. Sand, rotate 90 degrees, sand, change grit, sand, rotate 90 degrees, sand, change grit, etc. until its smooth. At this point, I simply wax the ball and then rub it! That's what they're made for isn't it!
Apply wax and polish the ball and it's ready to rub!
Note: The Vic Wood rotary sanding kit was described in the January 1997 issue of More Woodturning (see Page 2). We also described the Flexi-Pad Kits from Klingspor in that same issue (Page 6) which are replacement sanding disks for the Vic Wood sander.
In that issue, we mention that the Vic Wood sander kit can be purchased from Packard Woodworks, P. O. Box 718, Tryon, NC 28782. TEL: 800-683-8876. The Vic Wood Sanding Kit is covered in our Product Review section at this site. We should also note that Klingspor can be reached at 800-228-0000 or write to them at P.O. Box 3737, Hickory, NC 28603-3737.
The live center, cup chuck made by F. H. Weiss Engineering Services of Ashland, Oregon [telephone: (541) 482-2368] .This product is included in our list of product reviews at this site. This is a useful center for many types of between center turnings and a worthwhile purchase if you do much between center work.