Turn A Perfect Wood Sphere Or Ball – No Expensive Jig

Turn A Perfect Wood Sphere Or Ball – No Expensive Jig

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Hi, Alan Stratton from As Wood Turns dot com.
Several years ago I went to a five day class by Mike Mahoney. I enjoyed it very much – except
for one project near the end. And, that project was to turn a wood ball. This is the ball,
about half the size that it should have been. And, up close, it’s really ugly.
So, I’ve been a bit in despair over that ball since then. I’ve been researching different
ways to make wood balls. I’ve looked at commercial jigs. I’ve looked at home-made jigs. I guess
it’s developed into a bit of a phobia for me.
Recently, I saw Carl Jacobson turn a ball with a commercial jig. It looked attractive
until I looked at the price. Then I said, oops, that’s a bit much for a single purpose
tool. Then, I didn’t know what to do. Then I saw Dale Larson turn a ball with just
simple faceplates. And, I saw Alan Lacer turn a ball with simple faceplates. So, maybe there’s
hope. I have to face my phobias; face my fear; and
I got to get over this. I decided: I got to do it.
In this video, I’m going to turn a 2″ walnut ball and a 3″ Oak ball. For practice, I did
a maple ball. Later I did an apricot ball. The oak is wet so it may distort — we’ll
see what happens. Apricot is wet — it may distort also. We’ll see what happens there.
In the next video, I’ll get into the simple faceplates that make this whole process easier
– enabled me to get over my phobias. Then, in another video, I’ll go way beyond
that and see if I can totally wipe out the old phobias and get going with wood balls.
So, let’s turn a couple of perfect spheres, perfect wooden balls.
I’ll spare you from rough turning the cylinder. When the cylinder is ready, I need to mark
the width of the ball. This is no larger than the diameter of the cylinder. I’ll also mark
the middle which is also the largest diameter. I’ll use a skew this time to reduce the excess
wood on both sides of the new ball. But with this hard walnut, I’ll switch to a parting
tool and clean up with the skew. I want to leave just enough to support the ball during
the first phase of turning. Then I’ll use a spindle gouge to shape the
two ends of the ball. Easy does it. I want the best smooth curve I can get without going
below the invisible edge of the ball. I’ll do this part just by eye. Everything is fair
game except the mid line. This line must be left intact. It’s hard to visualize the curve
extended down into the nub that connects the ball to the spindle. I’ll do the best I can.
I could use a template but didn’t. When it’s ready, I’ll darken the mid line
to make sure it will be visible in the next phase.
I’ll mount one faceplate to my scroll chuck. I’ve previously marked the jaw locations so
I can always return to the same mounting position. The other faceplate goes on the tailstock
live center. It’s threaded to seat snugly. I’ve cut the tenon stubs from the ball, making
sure I don’t cut too closely. I’ll turn the ball 90 degrees so the mid line now runs between
the two chucks. I’ll use a gouge to cut or shear scrap and
a skew as a scraper. I’m watching the ghost image on the back side of the ball to see
where I need to cut. But easy does it — I cannot cut away that pencil line that is running
across the ball. If I do, I’ll have to remove it in the next phase and get a smaller ball.
So I’ll turn very gently and gingerly, stopping frequently to check the pencil line.
When I’m close, I’ll mark a new mid line on the ball then turn the ball another 90 degrees.
With the third set, I should be turning the final axis of the X, Y, and Z axes.
Now I’ll just use the skew to scrape. If I’m careful, this can be the final phase of tooling.
If not, I’ll have to keep rotating it 90 degrees until it is perfectly round. I don’t want
to be overly aggressive. Sanding follows a similar pattern for each
grit: Sand until smooth; rotate 90; Sand until smooth; rotate 90; Sand until smooth. I’ll
start with 80 grit. Here’s the first rotation. — still 80 grit.
Here’s the next rotation — still 80 grit. Then repeat this sequence for each grit.
When the sanding is done, I have to do the same sequence to apply finish. Here’s I’m
using my utility finish of beeswax and mineral oil.
I’ll again mark the mid line and the end lines. The distance between the two end lines must
equal the diameter of the cylinder. Then waste away the excess this time with
a gouge. While I’m at it, I’ll round over the right end before turning the other end.
A little shear scraping and I’m ready to rotate the ball and change to the faceplates.
For this larger ball, I’ll use a set of faceplates with slightly larger ends to hold the ball
securely. I cut off most of the end tenons. I’ll carefully use a gouge to shear scrape
or a skew in scraping mode. Again, easy does it. Any catch or excess groove will result
in more rotations to form the ball and the ball will be smaller.
Then mark the new mid line and rotate the ball’s axis 90 degrees.
And here’s the third and hopefully final axis rotation.
This time for sanding, I’ll start with a mix of mineral oil and beeswax for sanding to
cut the dust and ease the friction. Then rotate and sand a little more with 80
grit. And the final rotation for 80 grit.
I’ll add more beeswax and mineral oil and move to the next grit.
Finally, I’ll apply more wax and oil and rub it in at high speed.
With this process, I also made 2 inch balls from dry maple and wet apricot. The wet turnings
will distort some — I’ll have to see what they look like later.
Now — I’ve conquered my ball turning phobia and without having to buy an expensive single
purpose jig which would not have done anything for my phobia. Come back for the next two
videos for more on turning perfect wood balls. So, be sure to like this video; subscribe
to the channel so we can keep you updated. Have fun and be safe — always wear a full
face shield. This is Alan Stratton of As Wood Turns dot
com. We’ll see you on the next video.

82 thoughts on “Turn A Perfect Wood Sphere Or Ball – No Expensive Jig”

  1. I've seen those in catalogs and it would come in handy at times.
    So, like you if I had one, I'd use it.
    I'm more likely to buy it for segmented work.
    Thanks for the comment.
    Alan Stratton

  2. Just to clarify & check our terminology. The catalog name is "Reverse Chucking Alignment Adapter". With the threads that match the spindle. it will screw onto a scroll chuck. With a morse taper on the other end, it will fit into the tail stock. So, a project being held on a scroll chuck can be mounted onto the tail stock which by itself seems useless as there is not power. However, since this mounting centers the work to the turning axis, it can be used to center the work onto a jam chuck.

  3. I also use one to temporarily mount a segmented ring onto a faceplate. Then with the faceplate on the tailstock it centers the ring for gluing it to a segmented vessel. Mine does not revolve. but would be handy if it did.
    Never even think about using one in the head stock. It could work loose – the project and the heavy chuck would go flying and could do some serious damage. The only good scenarios are in the tail stock. There the fixed one won't revolve.

  4. Part 3. A revolving "Reverse Chucking Alignment Adapter" could be used in the tailstock between centers to hold a ball faceplate.
    Either version is great to center work.
    Sorry for being long winded — I wanted to highlight the RISK and put it in context.

  5. Thanks for this video, I tried the technique today for the first time and started out with a 3" diameter cylinder and ended up with a 2 3/4" perfect sphere. I'll admit I was having serious doubts half way through because my initial eyeball sphere was a bit out of shape, but it worked out in the end.

  6. Congratulations. My eye will not give me a perfect sphere. That's why I need the system.
    Thank you for going for it.
    Alan Stratton

  7. Theoretically, it could be done with one shift. But, I think you've got it with "who's perfect". Remember that on the lathe, you cannot turn the entire curve — the ends are blocked by the faceplates. The final rotation is the clean up as you said.
    Alan Stratton

  8. Great job Alan. Glad to finally have someone show me how to turn a ball without the expensive and homemade jigs. You've made it look too easy, so we'll have to see how my attempt goes. Thanks again.
    Kevin Richards

  9. Alan,
    Wow this is great. My daughters love to see the toys take shape on lathe and to play with them after. I was pondering the expensive jig as a toy for me, but this looks much better. Any comments on how the threaded live center face plate was made? Thanks so much for sharing. I really appreciate your videos!


  10. In my video "Simple Wood Faceplates For Perfect Balls Or Spheres", I describe the faceplates. If that's not enough, there is another video earlier on just faceplates for headstock and live centers.
    Alan Stratton

  11. Thanks so much for the reply. After I made my comment i felt silly when I watched the follow up video with the exact answer to my question. I am humbled by your skills! I am also inspired to try my best to make some round toys! Thanks again!

  12. My I suggest that you find your local Woodturners Club. Check American Association of Woodturners at .woodturner. org (eliminate spaces) to find a local club.
    And, keep watching. I have more videos coming.

  13. Wow. This looks very, very familiar. Like my step by step directions I put up on my website 13+ years ago. It's almost like you did follow my step by step.

    woodensphere slash robhoppe dot com

  14. I don't claim to have invented the process. It's actually probably been done this way for several centuries.
    But sometimes, we get distracted by technology, such as commercial jigs and have to return to our roots.
    Thanks for commenting.

  15. I agree, simpler is always better and with the excess expense of commercial jigs to make things "easier" it just makes sense to do it "old school." Loved the video!

  16. Alan 
    I just did a video on turning a sphere.  It is uploading now.  I just watched yours and loved it.  I must say you are an excellent turner.  I also did scrape mine a lot but used a gouge.  I need to remember to use the skew.  I think it works better.  You have nothing to fear….nice work. Sam  Will I see you in Utah?

  17. Suggestion: When making a ball from wet wood, make it a bit oversize, and leave it unsanded and unfinished. When it's dry, turn it to the final diameter, and sand and finish to your liking. That way, no unspherical balls.

  18. hi Allan, have you ever attempted to dry your wet balls in an old microwave?

    Sounds a little strange i know, keep it on a defrost setting for 2 mins a cycle, let it cool down and repeat. The size your working withheld should only need 7/10 cycles, with minimal distortion.

  19. Hi Alan,
    I've watched quite a few sphere jig vids. Some of them damn near put me to sleep! Particularly the Carter Sphere Tool vid. As an old dog woodturner and I've always believed that one of the joys of turning over other woodshop disciplines is the speed that a project comes to fruition. That, and the fact that the tool is held in my hands, which puts the project in the realm of hand made. The simplicity and skill of your sphere turning technique is stellar and is in keeping with old school bodgering  …. Bravo to you!


    PS: The comment from one of your viewers that suggested that you put your wet balls in a microwave oven brought tears to my eyes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  😉

  20. We'll your jig is skill & intelligence I would rather this jig than the other 1 good work mate this is we're I'm heading I will see you there

  21. Hey Alan, where did you get the turning 'smock' or whatever it is that you are wearing?
    Great vid BTW, I really enjoyed it.

  22. Thanks for the feedback Alan, I have been shopping for one for a while, they all seem overpriced to me. I've seen the one online from Woodcraft and I think it's about $59….I guess you have to pay to get good stuff 🙂

  23. Hi I watched your video for the first time yesterday and made my first ball today about 40mm across it came out ok but the only problem i had is that I could not see the line as the ball was going round maybe i had it going to fast. Thanks for the vid. dave

  24. Hi Alan,

    What a great tutorial! I've done metal work on a lathe but never turned wood….could you recommend a small inexpensive lathe and tool set to get started with? (I just want to get started, but also don't want something so cheap that it's low quality). I'd really like to try out your method but I don't own a lathe.

    Also, where do you get your stock for nice hardwoods?

  25. Very informative video.  I enjoyed it thoroughly.  I have attempted to figure out how to turn a sphere, and have followed various instructors to figure an easier way to come up with a finished product.  I too, have had the problem of starting out with a 4" ball and ending up with a smaller ball.  This idea looks great, and I can make some chucks for the ends to use.  Thanks again for your help.

  26. Hi Alan,

    Great video. Thanks for posting. I am working on a project and I need to make 4.2" diameter balls that weigh 2lbs each. Any tips on selecting wood to achieve that weight?



  27. Warping isn't a problem as much as uneven shrinkage and eventual cracking is. Wax those babies up and throw them in a dark drawer and leave them there for a couple of years.

  28. but expensive and highly artificial machines and materials you use. expensive jig. not createable or investable for natives like me.

  29. Thank you for this video, I tried it myself and was very happy with the results! I tried it on a waste block of pine just to try it out, but it worked very well for me:



  30. please try to make a GOOD KENDAMA, not one of the ones that lots of people make that have horrible proportions, or miss one of the lips, so on.

    A kendama is what my picture is….

  31. You make it look so easy. Right now I am terrified to try making spheres. Maybe someday will get over that. 😛 – Heidi

  32. Great video, made it look very easy, I'm starting in lathe art, wooden balls is a passion, I soon want to be doing like you. Have you ever used the technique using light shadow?
    Thank you from Brazil

  33. I saw a Spanish Guy on YouTube all he did was place a pillar drill over his lathe with a hole cutter fitted, he turned on the lathe and the lowered the pillar drill down onto the wood by gentle lowering the pillar drill he cut out the perfect ball, it was as easy as that! Perhaps my friend you might try it and film it! Just a thought! Take care & thanks for your work its stunning

  34. totally excellent demo vid. wood balls would be perfect for my 18m old grandson to play with over xmas. whats a safe finish for babies sticking everything in their mouths?

  35. Too much work. All you need is a lathe and cup bit locked in a drill press. Take out the center bit of the cup, and very slowly drill as tge the lathe spins. Two tools, one move.

  36. I think the headline is a bit misleading. What if you have only hand tools? That machine looks pretty expensive to me.

  37. Hiya! I’m just wondering well i found this ball it was okay but shiny and a few scrapes so i re varnished it and everything now I’m wondering how much i could sell it for…!

  38. My woodturning club challenge this month is a sphere on a stand. I will be putting this to use. Thanks for the tutorial.

  39. Or … Buy a spare plane blade, mark out the desired radius,… grind it out… sharpen it to return you the exact replica of a cabinet scraper tool. Yes ? No ?

  40. Excellent spheres, I agree commercial jigs are not worth the cost unless you turn spheres all the time and you also miss out on a skill of doing them the old way.

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