Like most things in hand work, no amount of reading or watching of videos can teach you to turn wood on a lathe. At some point you have to start putting tool to wood. Only then can your hand and mind begin to build the connections that are need to actually use a lathe efficiently. I don’t know about you, but there is only so much random turning I can as practice before it becomes boring and thus less conducive to learning. I need to have something at stake. I need to have the risk of failure or the lure of success in order to fully engage in the process.
Knowing that I would be teaching myself to use the lathe I started looking for lathe projects that would help me along the way. Magazine articles and videos are great, but without actual interaction you are still on your own. So I searched for projects that would progressively challenge my burgeoning skills. Abject failure sucks and can be discouraging, especially when your on your own. Therefore, the beginning projects needed low risk of failure and a high probability of success. One other wrinkle is that I wanted projects that would be useful. This brings me to my first project, the Garden Dibber.
The Garden Dibber is essentially a fancy sharpened stick of a known length with additional indicating marks of distance. It can be used to establish the spacing of plantings and also create a hole for planting at the desired depth. According to some sources the history of the dibber traces back to Roman times.
The Garden Dibber is a great beginner project. It requires roughing out, tapering, incising lines at exact locations. The surface needs to be smoothed and the handle portion can made simple or as complex as you want. None of the steps are critical to its function (a graduated pointy stick), so risk of failure is low.
I started by roughly shaping a billet octagonal at the shavehorse with my drawknife. I could also have done the same at the workbench with a plane. You can turn square stock directly on the pole lathe, but the sharp corners are hard on the drive cord.
One of the quirks of this lathe is that the drive cord wants to run at the end of the workpiece only. I can move it slightly over by angling the treadle, but it is much more efficient to simple flip the workpiece end for end to work the entire length. I could also use a longer blank and designate one end to be the pulley. I have done this, but it generates a waste piece. Since I’m frugal, I’ll use a smaller blank and flip it. Anyway, here is the blank roughed round.
Next, a little layout to delineate the overall length, the handle and where to start the taper.
After the taper is turned, I laid out the 1″ graduations.
REVISED 04/20/17 The drawing above is representative of the traditional shape for planting seeds and such with a strong taper to a sharpish point. The taper can be varied to suit. I’m making this and other dibbers with a more gradual taper. Most people I know who have gardens don’t plant from seed. They use starter plants and thus need a large hole.
The lines were cut in with a skew chisel.
Then I flipped the workpiece and shaped the handle.
I used a piece of MIG welding wire with toggle handles installed on it to burn (it’s not a Hillbilly Daiku project without wood burning) in the lines that I had incised with the skew. Pressure and friction does the trick.
The lathe work is done. All that is remains is to saw off the waste and shape the ends with chisel, file and sandpaper.
I wiped on a coat of BLO and called it done. This was my third (middle) attempt at this project. My first try is on the left and the second run is on the right. I can see some improvement and I’m becoming more comfortable with the tools.
I think the Garden Dibber was a good first project on the lathe. Heck, I can see cranking these out every now and again for practice and gift giving. It’s a relaxing way to spend an hour in the shop and there is almost no way to fail.