Build Your Own Steady Rest
Or Buy A Steady Rest
Ok ….what the heck is a steady rest?
A steady rest is a device that attaches to your lathe bed and helps to stablize a long piece for turning or a bowl or vase.
Let’s say you have a 30 inch x 1″ broom handle you want to turn some decoration in. If you place that broom handle between centers, and you try to turn something in the center of the piece it will start to vibrate and actually bend away from your turning gouge.
On the other hand you might have a vase or other shape you want to hollow out and it is in your chuck but not reinforced by the tail stock on the other end. If the turning project starts to wobble and lose its center you will need a “steady rest” to keep the turning project running “true”.
As with so many other things “woodturning related” I really didn’t know when or if I would ever need a “steady rest“. As it would happen I found myself in need of a steady rest and thought I would just buy one. Holy cow…those things are expensive. If you want to buy one, Rockler has a nice one Click Here
I Really Needed A Steady Rest
Here’s what happened.
One of my friends is a contractor who needed some stair balasters or stair spindles duplicated.
Although I’ve turned some handles, candle stick holders and lamps ….I really never did anything long like a stair spindle, balaster or newel. So, I told him …”NO problem, I can crank out those stair balasters for you!”
Well, first I needed some oak. The base of the stair newel was, at it’s biggest 1 1/4″ X 1 1/4″ square.
Oak Ripped for Stair Spindles
I found some clear oak 2x6x4′ at Menards, the stair spindles I needed to duplicate were 33 inches, so I ripped 3 pieces that I needed on my Jet table saw that now has a rusted top because my roof leaked because the insurance company and building department are a nightmare to work with…..but that’s another story!
Next I mounted them on the wood lathe between centers and started working on the tapered rounded part. Since my chinese tool set did not come with a roughing gouge, I had to use what they called a spindle gouge….. that was a big mistake because it almost ripped the piece from the lathe.
Rounding the Square Stock
for the New Spindle
So I tried to knock the corners off and round it out with my custom carbide insert tool.
That worked pretty good, but it mostly scraped and I tried every tool I had. The spindle vibrated and bounced, there was no way I was going to turn that spindle without some additonal support.
Youtube For Learning How to Turn Wood
Next I turned to my favorite place to learn some woodturning lessons…. youtube! After a while I thought a steady rest would solve my problems and there were plenty of tutorials on how to build a steady rest ….man, I just didn’t have the time to do that…..but I seriously considered making a steady rest!
I found a bunch of tutorials on how to make your own “steady rest” a device that provides additonal support for turned projects, whether it be a balaster, broom stick, spindle or vase. The additonal support helps you to make clean cuts and proper coves and beads as needed in your project….or in my case just to taper the spindle.
The problem I was having was once I got in the middle of the spindle and tried to reduce the diameter, you could see the spindle being pushed out, I was actually afraid it would break or come off the live centers.
Should I build a steady rest? Really didn’t have the cash to buy one …check out these steady rest plans and watch the video
Building A Steady Rest
I don’t have time to build a steady rest right now but I think I will in the very near future! You can get a set of plans on how to build a steady rest from Rockler click on Steady Rest Plans.
And you should watch the video below from someone who I have followed for a while on youtube, his name is Stephen Ogle, click on his name for the youtube channel he has lots of good stuff. Watch Stephen’s video below, as he shows how to build a very nice “steady rest“, however I would change the wooden wheels for some roller skate wheels, I think it would be a little easier on the project you are turning, a little cheaper and a lot faster! Anyway, check out his video, he goes into great detail …if not pick up the rockler plans.
Steady Rest Or Better Tools?
I didn’t have time to build a steady rest and I wasn’t going to buy one!
I thought if I had a couple of better tools I might be able to pull this off. I did some searching online and found a new Woodcraft store in my area and took a fast trip to the new store. I purchased a 3/8 spindle gouge (blade only) and a 1/2″ bowl gouge with a fingernail grind from Sorby. I really wanted to get some other tools online but I needed to get this done now!
I’ve read that a good 1/2″ bowl gouge with a fingernail grind can be used for many things including turning spindles.
I was shocked at how good these tools cut the red oak blank. The finish was perfect and I didn’t even sharpen them yet! I really wanted to get a 5/8 bowl gouge from D-Way, Carter or Thompson but the 1/2″ Sorby will have to do, it definitely is a step up from the crappy tools I’ve been using.
I’m retired (not by choice), actually on disability so my income is below poverty at this point. Otherwise I would probably have 2 or 3 of every tool I needed or thought I needed!
Make Money Turning Stair Spindles?
However, I planned on supplementing my income with some of my bowl turnings amongst other things. A little job like turning some stair spindles could bring some extra bucks but what couild I really charge for 3 spindles? If you were able to buy them from some of the big box stores they might cost anywhere from between $5 and $10 each for an oak stair balaster or spindle.
My friend’s problem was that he was unable to find the profile he needed to replace 3 stair balasters. So he needed someone to custom turn the stair spindles to match the profile he had.
It cost me $40 bucks for the oak, $32 dollars for a 3/8 spindle gouge, and $98 dollars for a 1/2″ bowl gouge. So, what do I charge him for 3 spindles….it would be nice if I could get $40+$32+$98= $170 !
That doesn’t even include my time, figure at least 2 hours a balaster, that’s 3 balasters …so a total of 6 hours at 40 bucks an hour equals $240.
So, I have $170 + $240 = $410 into a stair spindle project. Ha, ha ….what a joke. I’ll never get that and wouldn’t try…..I might as well go put them in for him too 🙂
Do you think I could get 400 bucks for 3 custom balasters? …..Ha, ha ….I’d be luck to get 100 bucks….if I do it will go toward my collection of tools and experience.
Next time I will use a steady rest and hopefully have a few more good quality tools.
It’s all a learning experience!