Lee Valley Tools    Woodworking Newsletter
   Vol. 5, Issue 3
   January 2011
 
   Micro Turning
 

A micro dollhouse made at 1/144 scale   Author's lathe
An example of a micro dollhouse made at 1/144 scale.   Using dowels less than 1/4" in diameter proves challenging.

Over time, I've turned various small items for use on scale models. Some of the pieces I turn are 1/8" in diameter, and I've found it difficult to secure the tiny wooden blanks in my lathe. Even if I use my chuck's smallest jaws, the dowel needs to be at least 1/4" in diameter to ensure a secure hold.

Typically, I use a larger piece of wood that clamps securely in the chuck. I then turn the ends down to make the size of piece I want. This is fine for making one or two items, but not for making several of something.

  Electric-drill chuck
  A chuck from an old electric drill holds the tiniest dowels (1/4" diameter or less).
   
A few times, I've clamped a drill chuck in my lathe and used it as a dowel chuck, which is quicker than changing jaws on the lathe chuck. The chuck shown in the adjacent photo is from an old electric drill and holds any dowel up to 1/4" diameter and down to almost nothing. However, it has only three jaws, so it works best with round dowels and not so well with square ones. Also, sharp bits of metal turn quickly close to my knuckles and my tools. Should something get caught in the chuck, it could do some serious damage.

When I wanted to attempt even smaller turnings, I thought I should make a safer lathe — one that wouldn't have openly rotating parts (other than the wood), and one that would be easier to handle than my 3' long cast-iron lathe. Preferably, it would clamp the wood in such a way that I wouldn't have to waste an inch of dowel for every 1/4" long part. I also wanted set up for the subsequent piece to be quick.
 
 
             
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