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My first woodturning commission

November 21, 2009

This week a colleague approached me to ask if I could make something for him.
His house, which he’s been renovating, still had an original doorbell from whenever it was built. The door bell was a round metal plate with a button in the middle, inset into a wood ring which was screwed to the wall.
Time had not been kind to the wooden ring and it was a rotted mess.


So the job was simple, could I make him a replacement wooden ring.

The challenge for me was whether I could actually make a replacement quickly enough to make the job worth while. After all there is a limit to how much anyone is going to pay for a wooden ring. I agreed a price of £10, and figured it would be up to me to make that worth while for me.

Of course, since this is my hobby, I don’t have worry too much about earning a certain amount per hour of work. But I didn’t want to sell my time cheap either.

I had given him the choice of a couple of woods that I knew I had in the garage, and he chose American white oak, since he has used oak throughout the renovation of his house. I’d hoped that what I had would be the right size. Sadly however I was forced to make up a blank by gluing two blocks together. This required some time to make sure the edges were square and flat, and of course some drying time.

Whilst it was drying I decided to play around with a piece of scrap wood. I mentally stopped the clock for this, since I could have just gone back inside and continued later.

I didn’t wait too long, the glue gave a good enough hold quite quickly. Once I thought it was ready, I used the bandsaw to cut the corners off and generally get it to about the right size. I also ensured my centre was just to one side of the glue line. I figured it wouldn’t be very apparent on the finished piece, and I didn’t want to jam my drive centre straight into the glue join and risk forcing it open.

I turned between centres to rough it to round, and turn a spiggot, then switched it into my 4 jaw chuck for actual shaping.

It wasn’t very difficult to do, face off the front to a flat, then measure the diameter of the recess, and carefully used the skew chisel as a scraper to mark the line, I approached it from intentionally too small, taking a series of wider cuts to get the right size.

Shaping the exterior curve was just a matter of holding up the old one in eyeline of the new, and judging by eye where to adjust the shape of the curve.

Then boring a hole through the middle was a case of using the spindle gouge to get the depth with straight-ish sides, just shy of the right diameter. Then again using the skew chisel as a scraper, to get the right diameter.

The finished result I’m pretty happy with, when seen side by side with the original.


I’ve asked for pictures of the before and after with it in situ, so I’ll update when I’ve got them.

As for how long it took, I think I spent a little over an hour working on it. Now I’m not fast, but I’m not that slow either. Some things just take time. I wonder how a professional woodturner can possibly make a living! I guess they turn much higher value items, that have a better time/value ratio.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Mr_p permalink
    February 3, 2010 10:59 am

    Hi Daniel, apologies for the random nature of this note but I have been searching the web high and low for a wooden surround for our Victorian doorbell which we have restored. I was reading your blog with interest and wondered if you would be interested in another similar commission? We would of course be happy to pay for your work on this small project as what you have skillfully created for your colleague is exactly what we are looking for. If you are interested is there someway I can contact you? I’m not sure if you can see my email add. on this note.

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