Hot to Turn a Piece of Firewood on a Lathe

One of the great questions when starting to use a wood lathe is what wood to use and where to get it. Hardwoods are preferred for woodturning and a lot of people who decide to turn wood have access to rough hardwood in their own firewood pile or that of a friend. Considering the high cost of prepared hardwood boards and turning blanks, the pile can look very enticing. However, it is pretty rough and not at all what most woodworkers are used to handling. All that is needed to use it is common sense and a few basic tools.

Spindle turning mounts pieces of wood between centers on the lathe and turns them round and into a variety of shapes such as straight cylinders, or cylinders with tapers, beads and coves. This is the first likely place to use a piece of firewood and uses the simplest tooling.

If you look at the end of most firewood pieces they are likely quarter split from the log. The end looks like a triangle with a curved surface covered with bark. There are two basic ways to treat the piece of wood. Each requires you to determine the largest square one can get from the piece. First, the ends of the piece need to be trimmed back past any cracks that have occurred during drying. A hand saw will do fine.

If you have a band saw you can cut off the two points of the triangle leaving a square. If you do not have a band saw, the corners can be cut off by hand with a bow saw or rip saw or removed with a hatchet. Neither is strictly necessary. The wood can be mounted on the lathe between centers, placing the centers in the center of the largest possible square, and the corners removed with a roughing gouge. This is tricky because of the spinning corners and the lathe should be used at a low speed until the corners are removed and balance attained. After this, the piece is now treated like any other turning square.

Some firewood will have been split down the center leaving a half log. This is an ideal piece of wood for a bowl blank. If you look at the end of the log, the flat side which used to me at the center of the tree facing up, you can see a bowl shape already in the making. Cut off the ends of the wood until all cracks from drying are gone. Then cut the blank square so that it is as long as it is wide. This gives the largest bowl. If you are using a chain saw to do this remember that it is one of the most dangerous tools we have and proceed with caution. Use a saw buck and protective gear.

If the blank is small enough to fit on the lathe it can be mounted on a screw chuck or between centers and a bowl can be begun. On the other hand if it is too large it needs to be cut to at least an octagon if not a circle. Again the band saw is great for this but hand saws or chainsaws will do. Start the lathe at slow speed until the piece is balanced.

Looking at the pile of firewood can get creative juices flowing once it is realized how easy it is to get from the pile to the lathe. Do not forget the pleasure of practice when the low cost of the wood is considered and make lots of shavings.