by Nick Cook
A set of bedposts is one of those turning projects that tend to intimidate many novice woodturners. The very idea of making four posts just alike causes panic in some who turn. Add to that the extra length involved in making a bedpost and it could cause a complete breakdown. It is not unusual for someone to take on too large a project the first time out. You may consider starting out small and working your way up to larger, more involved projects. Just as I tell my students who want to turn hollow vessels, start with plates and bowls and work up to the hollow forms.
Before setting out on a major project such as bedposts, you should have a good grasp of the basics of spindle turning. And before you set out to make a set of posts of cherry, walnut or some other fine wood, itís not a bad idea to practice on pine or poplar. Make at least two alike to get a feel for all the various details and to work out the proper sequence of cuts. The practice will also allow you to make minor changes as you before getting into the more expensive material.
Style & Design
The possibilities are endless, just check out your local furniture or department stores. They come in all sizes and shapes, tall and skinny to short and fat, plain and fancy. The décor and size of the room will play an important role in deciding what style you choose. Cannon ball beds are very poplar or if you are really into making beads, try a Jenny Lynn style. One of my favorites is the Sheraton style bed. Dating back to around 1800, it is very elegant without being overly ornate. And, if you would like to make it more decorative, you can add flutes or reeds to embellish the basic form of the posts. You can also vary the shape and detailing of the headboard to get a more or less formal look. We will keep this one on the basic side.
Most any fine hardwood will make a beautiful bed. Mahogany and walnut have always been excellent choices for a traditional look. The lighter tones of ash, maple and oak lean more toward the contemporary style. Cherry falls somewhere in between, and will go with either a traditional or contemporary décor.
Local supply of raw material will have a lot to do with what you choose. Mahogany is usually available in thicker slabs. My local supplier, Atlanta Wood Products Center (www.hardwoodweb.com) offers pattern makers mahogany in thicknessí up to 16/4" and often has boards as wide as 30". Poplar and basswood (OK if you plan to paint it) is usually the only other materials available in thicker stock as lumber.
They do offer a variety of materials in the form of turning squares. Ash, cherry and hard maple are usually available in three by three squares in lengths of 30 to 36 inches.
Where do I start?
I like to turn the bottom half of the post first. It gets the pommels and lambsí tongues out of the way and you will be able to go ahead and drill the mortises before turning the upper portion. I start by squaring up the 3" x 3" blank and cutting it 30" long. It is very important that you start off with perfectly square stock and that you accurately locate the centers on each end of the blank. Next, I lay out the pommels and use a square to mark all four sides of the blank. This makes it easier see as the piece is turning. I also like to mark the top and bottom of each blank to avoid any confusion over which end is up.
I always start at the tailstock and work towards the headstock. The top of the post goes toward the tailstock and I begin by turning the lambís tongue at the top of the lower half. On a 3" post, I make the lambís tongue approximately 3-1/2" long. I use a Ĺ" spindle gouge ground to a long fingernail. Start just to the right of your mark and work back to the pencil line at the top of the pommel. It is very important to make each cut as clean and neat as possible. The final cut should be across the top end of the post to ensure a clean joint. Avoid excessive sanding with the lathe running, as it will tend to round over your crisp details.
Next, move down to the bottom of the pommel and begin the same manner. Start just to the left of mark and work back to it making a second lambís tongue in the opposite direction from the top. Then use a large (1-1/4") roughing gouge or large skew to take the remainder of the post down to a cylinder. Once round, you can layout and mark the foot of your post. The bottom of the lambís tongue rolls into a ĎVí and a half bead from the left rolls into it. Roll the bead into the top of an inverted vase form and then taper down to the foot. The foot begins with a short flat, a Ĺ" filet another 1/8" flat and then tapers down to approximately 2" diameter. You can now sand the post.
Once sanded, remove the post from the lathe. Replace the drive center in the headstock with a Jacobs chuck and a one-inch brad point drill bit. Replace the live center in the tailstock with the spur drive and remount the blank with the top of the post toward the headstock. Set the lathe speed to approximately 500 rpm and use the tailstock quill to drive the blank onto the revolving drill bit. The hole should be at least 3" deep. This method will ensure the hole is straight and true.
Turning the top section
I make the top section of the post 36" overall. This includes the 1" diameter by 3" long tenon at the bottom. The full length of this section will be turned so start by using a large roughing gouge to turn it down to a cylinder. Layout and mark all the major and minor diameters. Always measure from the same end of the blank when laying out your work. Start at the tailstock end and work progressively back toward the headstock. Use a parting tool and calipers to turn each mark down to the proper diameter, then detail that component before moving to the next area.