I have to admit it right off: I love wood turning. If you see the odd story about wood turning and wood lathes in this column, you'll know why.
Wood turning is the woodworking equivalent of pottery, allowing the craftsman or craftswomen--many women like this art--to shape a project in a matter of minutes, rather than days, weeks or even months as in many woodworking projects. It's something we all need: instant gratification!
Many wood turners gravitate toward making bowls; there is a limit to the number of pepper mills and chair legs you can make, let alone baseball bats. Howard Lewin of Custom Wood Design, 3825 West 139th St., Hawthorne, teaches wood turning, makes cabinets and furniture and opens his well-equipped shop to students on Saturdays. For $10 an hour, students can use his equipment and draw on his years of woodworking experience.
This experience--including trying to turn bowls and other faceplate work on lathes designed for between-center (spindle) turning--led him to design a lathe specifically for bowls and similar objects. He's had about a half dozen of the bowl lathes built and is looking for a manufacturer who can produce them in quantity, for school and home shops.
"This lathe is ideal for school shops because you can put two or three in the space that one conventional lathe takes up," Lewin said. A graduate of the Westside's Hamilton High School and UC Santa Barbara, he spent a dozen years in Laos with International Voluntary Services and the public works division of the Agency for International Development supervising bridge-building and other public works projects.
Before designing his own lathe, which sells for $1,850 complete with a one-horsepower motor and a cabinet, Lewin explored the two bowl-oriented wood lathes on the market. The English model sells for $400 to $600 more without a motor and doesn't have slow enough speeds. A West German unit is relatively affordable at $1,200 to $1,400, but is "tiny and not for the serious worker."
"My lathe has a speed range of 250 to 1,050 revolutions per minute, while the average lathe on the market has a slow speed of 900 or so. Slow speeds permit a wood turner to produce large bowls," Lewin said. "The inboard capacity is 16 inches in diameter and the outboard capacity is limited only by the height of the lathe above the floor."
The lathe is designed so that it can be converted into a conventional unit with the addition of a bolted-on bed extension and a tailstock, Lewin said.