Assembling wood on the wood lathe: using a glue block

While one of the great advancements in wood turning in recent years has been the development of the four-jaw chuck for mounting wood for turning, the price of a good chuck comes as a shock to many turners. In fact, the price of a decent four-jaw chuck is often higher than the price of many starter lathes. One of the things a wood turner should remember when turning the faceplate is to use the old glue block to hold the wood together.

The use of the glue block arises from the desire that screw holes are not seen in the bottom of items such as bowls and platters. An article of this type is generally made by first turning it from green wood and then allowing it to dry in the workshop for some time. Later it is reassembled to the wood lathe and the turning is finished. It is during this reassembly that it can be bolted to the faceplate, thus leaving holes in the finished product. These holes then need to be filled or covered in some way. Also, the length of the screws determines a certain depth of wood that cannot be used or the tools would hit the screws.

A simple and centuries-old solution is to use a glue block to hold the wood to the lathe. The bottom of the bowl is first flattened with a brush or other tool. Second, a scrap wood block is screwed to the faceplate. Third, the waste block is flattened. Third, the scrap block is glued to the bottom of the container with white carpenter’s glue.

Usually a piece of craft paper is glued between the waste block and the container. This allows the bowl to finish turning and then a chisel stroke between the block and the bowl splits the paper in the center. The used paper can then be sanded from the bottom of the container and the bottom finished. If desired, the paper can also be removed from the waste block and can be reused.

There are some drawbacks to this system. While glue has a great hold, it should be held on and allowed to dry for at least eight hours. Also, the wood used has to be dry so this cannot help with green shavings. Plus there’s the fuss of sanding all that glue and paper, a combination known for quickly clogging sandpaper.

Fortunately, a couple of modern glues are up to the task. When turning dry wood, such as a dry bowl, hot glue can be used to glue the wood block to the bowl. In a couple of minutes it is ready to mount on the lathe and turn. Either the block can be separated from the blank with the lathe running or the entire assembly can be removed and the waste block removed with a sharp blow of a chisel on the glue line. Any remaining glue comes off easily.

Similarly, a medium thickness cyanoacrylate glue can be used to bond a green blank to a scrap block. The glue is applied to the scrap block and the accelerator to the blank and the two are pressed together. Again, a couple of minutes is enough to keep the job going and again a hard hit on the glue line will separate them after the turning has been done.

Modern adhesives simply allow ancient methods to work in today’s shops. While technology is a bit ahead of us, we are still working in the historic way. The old ways may not always be the best, but they certainly work and work well.

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