When you’re a beginner with anything, it can be quite overwhelming trying to not only learn about the different aspects about this new hobby, but what to try and work on. Learning how to use your new lathe should be exciting and refreshing, a challenge but also a learning opportunity. I spent a lot of time working with my lathe in my younger years (yes, there were younger years for me) and I created a number of great (and more not-so-great) projects while I stumbled through the process. I’ve put together some of my favorites (and some that I never quite mastered) that could benefit you as you head out on your own personal journey of growth while learning this rewarding skill.

Candlestick Holders

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While I don’t know that I would recommend starting with the candlestick holders as your first project, why not? It was my first project and while I still have those wooden things that sort of hold candles, I’m sure you could do much better than I did for your first project. Starting with a relatively small piece of wood, make sure that you measure the base width of the candles you would be placing in these candlestick holders. I was so proud of my first attempt, even though it wasn’t even and the two candlestick holders didn’t even match each other, but then I tried to fit the candlesticks in them and was met with an interesting dilemma: I created too small of a base and the only thing that would actually fit in them were birthday candles. A bit of exaggeration, sure, but I want you to be sure to measure the candle hole first. Once that’s taken care of, you’ll be able to round out the body and decorative aspect of the project. For detailed info, check out DoItYourself.com.

Baseball Bat

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It may seem exceedingly simple to create a baseball bat, but you have to choose the right wood and have the ideal tools as your disposal. Northern Ash and hard maple or the two best choices, especially if you plan on playing in the Major League. If not, then you can still use a nice solid hickory or beech.
Shaping the barrel will depend on what kind of baseball bat you want to create. You can choose a Major League style bat, Little League, or softball bat. Depending on the type of bat will determine the barrel shape. Finish the barrel before working on the handle. For step by step instructions, check out AmericanWoodworker.com. Believe it or not, my bat still sits in my closet waiting for me to take a few solid swings. No, it’s not Wonderboy from the movie The Natural, but it’s my special memento of youth.

Turning Bullets

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While I don’t condone violence, making bullets (wooden or metal) is one of the easiest processes for beginner lathe enthusiasts. Wooden bullets will provide you with the opportunity to understand how your lathe spins and how to shape different patterns on a small scale. Wooden bullets don’t have to be an inch long. You can create longer, higher caliber style replicas, such as three to six inches in length. You can also try something like a mortar shell.

Simply find a picture of a bullet that you’d like to replicate and do your best to emulate the shape. I recommend this project because there’s no real loss if you mess it up. You can even take a larger attempt that didn’t work out and condense it down into a smaller wooden bullet.

Mallet

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For metal lathe workers, the mallet is a great first project. Creating the head of the mallet (the hammer end) will be pretty straightforward as you only need to create a smooth finish and flat end with a small ridge over with a rubber end can be placed (to create a rubber mallet).The fun begins when you’re working on the handle. You can create grooves to help grip the rubber part of the handle, or instill a particular design into the metal that will make it personal to you. You’ll learn how to use the knurling tool when working on this mallet and that is what will provide you with a gripping tool. Learn more at ehow.com.

Rings

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Rings are another wonderful first project for both metal or wood lathes. These rings can be created using a variety of starting products, even nuts (as in nuts and bolts). Once you have the rough shape of a ring, using a metal tube, begin grinding down the pattern that you want to develop for your ring.
It’s easier to begin learning to accomplish this by focusing on a simple surface without any grooves. The more comfortable you become with the process, you’ll be able to add small, unique and identifying patterns.

Start with a soft metal, such as brass. This will allow you to become more comfortable with the process of lathing metals. If you end up with a ring that you’re proud of an wouldn’t mind being made into an actual ring that you can wear (brass will turn your fingers green!), then you can then create a mold of it and have more precious metal poured into the mold.

Instructables offers some clear images that you can see how this process is accomplished.

Captive Rings

Okay, one of the projects that I have heard so many people take on when they first get their lathe is known as the ‘captive rings.’ This is actually a simple project, even though it looks complicated. It doesn’t serve much of a function other than being a strong centerpiece or talking piece for your guest in your home.
Captive rings is a wooden (or metal) rod with an end, like the end of the handle on a baseball bat, the rod is narrow and consistent throughout from one end to the other, and ‘rings’ float around on the rod. These rings are too small to fit around the end. Someone who doesn’t understand how it’s made will scratch their head trying to figure out how you managed to get those rings on the rod. The more they inspect the rod, the more confounded they’ll be. For this project, you want to shape your rod down to about the width of the ends (and rings) first. Next, using a shaping tool, begin to grind down the wood next to your target ‘rings’. Shape out the rings. You can choose to use only one ring or multiple rings, though one is a good starting point if you’ve never done this before.

When you have the narrowest part of the rod determined, use a shaping tool held horizontal to the rod and grind out the ring. But note, before you finish the ring, sand it. Trying to sand a ring that moves freely will take a lot more time that it needs to when you have a lathe. Finish shaping the rest of the rod. Don’t worry about the ring ‘floating around’ as the movement will be minimal, at best. To learn more about making captive rings, check out WoodTurningOnline.

The more projects you take on, the more excited you’ll be to try even more challenging tasks. Let me know how you fare with your wonderful lathe projects.

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