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I have had pretty good luck turning some reel seat inserts till I tried turning some cherry burl.  I have had three pieces literally explode while turning or drilling the center hole.  Can anyone shed some light on this. Hate to waste any more of that cherry burl.  (Tony Spezio)

    Forgive me if my answer here seems simplistic or naive.  I may not quite understand the difficulties you are having.

    When drilling the center hole in my burls (well, actually ALL my wood inserts), I begin with the squared block and use my drill press.  I prefer the drill press to the lathe because I can feel what I'm doing better.

    I simply position the block upright on the bed and start a small, pilot hole (3/16" extended-length bit).  Set your drill press to its slowest speed and move into the hole slowly, backing the bit out frequently to clear the chip.

    Then, increase the size of the bit in stages to open up the hole to your desired dimension.  Rarely do I screw-up, but when I do it is because I have allowed the hole to drift off-center, and NEVER because of blowout.

    When turning the burl to its shape, again, I do not use a lathe. Instead, I prefer to "turn" my inserts on my router table, using a homemade mandrel that I rotate against the fence.  This seems very handy to me, as the extreme high-speed cutting (plus the immediate ability to control both depth-of-cut and feed) almost obviate the dangers of blowout.  Besides, I am then also set up (with a mere change of bits) to mortise the reel seat area.

    I have never blown-out a burl except when I hit a truly fatal inclusion or a large, internal crack of some sort (the kind of "surprise" we encounter occasionally that nothing would have salvaged).

    Hope this helps. (Bill Harms)

      Well, it looks like one of the tools that Tom Smithwick  (God love him -- he really IS one of my favorite people) would have made.  That is, it's something that looks like hell, but works perfectly!

      I use a 12" length of threaded rod, of 3/8" diameter.  The wood block (with 3/8" hole) is slipped onto the rod and mounted at its center.  (I leave my blocks about 4" long, and cut to length after final shaping.)  The block will be fixed in place with nuts drawn tightly against either end of the wood.  But first, turn down the OD of these nuts to a diameter just less than that of the narrowest wood spacer you will be "turning."  You don't want your router bit to be chewing into steel nuts as you approach your final dimensions.

      Next, near each, outermost end of the 12" rod, I mount a small, plastic wheel (3/8" hole  X  1 3/4" OD).  These can be obtained at any local hardware store.  Each of these wheels is held tightly in place with washers and nuts on either side.

      You should now have maybe 2 1/2" of "empty space" between the block, at each of its ends, and the wheels out at the ends of the rod.  This space is important, as it will give you plenty of room to move the workpiece across the router bit -- starting in before the wood, and running right off its other end.  You can use a straight bit, as I do, or you can use a concave bit of some sort, if you prefer.  It doesn’t seem to matter, except that the straight bits are less expensive to buy.

      The idea of the two wheels at the ends of the rod, of course, is that (as you press these against the fence and slide the jig across the router bit) the wheels hold the entire jig a uniform distance away from both the router fence and the table top. The wheels  guarantee that the whole business will form a concentric "dowel," and, being spaced about 10" apart, they tend to minimize whatever minute errors in concentricity they may have.

      You begin with a guess as to where to set the fence, starting with a series of passes that round-off only the outer corners of the block.  Upon completing each series of passes at a given fence setting, you move the fence farther and farther back.  Keep a caliper of some sort very near at hand, just as you would do if you were working on a lathe.

      Lastly, when you have reached you final dimensions (slightly larger, actually, because the router technique leaves miniscule ridges that still need to be sanded out -- which could be minimized if you used a concave-radiused bit), change over to the thumbnail bit you will need for your reel-foot mortise.

      Line the bit up with the wood spacer as best you can, turn on the router, hold your breath, and move the dowel into the cutting edge.  I always begin with the shallowest possible pass first, just to see how I'm lined up.  Of course, you won't have more that a couple opportunities to make changes in alignment before you will have arrived at your maximum, intended depth.

      You might screw up one wood spacer in learning the technique, but I'll bet you won't screw up two.  Anyhow, practice a little on some "junk" wood.  (Bill Harms)

    Turning and boring some of the burls can be tricky some times. It sounds like you had a lot of hair line cracks in the wood.  You run into this in burls. You have to look closely and if there are cracks or fractures, soak the area with super glue. Let it get all the way down into the wood. Then spay it with some accelerator to harden the glue. The main thing when turning or boring burls, is to take your time and take small cuts.

    You may want to send woods like that out and get them stabilized, before you start working on them. This is the best thing to do with burls. I send a lot of my burls to be stabilized. They turn a lot easier when they have been stabilized.  (Dave LeClair)

    If you put a stop at the end of the run along the fence the router bit will only rout a section of the wood making a slope. 

    A couple of things to keep in mind. The blocks need to be exactly square to one another and the hole needs to run straight otherwise you'll see a slope in the mortise both across the wood and in depth. I've found a pin (v small nail used to hold 1.5mm MDF to a frame while gluing it) with the head cut off set into one block which is pressed into the blank will prevent it spinning not that it should but I do it anyhow.

    Mark the blocks with an UP side so you always know which way to set them.  Keep spanners etc. far away from the router table, experience speaks here.  Just watch your fingers the first time you do this. It's safe enough once you do it and see what happens but the first time can be an emotional experience.  (Tony Young)

    OK here is one for you guys on reelseat spacers.  How do you guys shape cork when you make a reelseat  spacer out of cork?  I know I see some really good looking cork spacers and then I see some crappy ones.  (Bret Reiter)

      I shape them on the lathe just like I would cork handle then mortise them the same as I would a wood spacer.  No problems yet.  (Bob Nunley)

    I have done it two ways. One block was recessed to accept the reel seat filler to the depth that I wanted the stop to be. The end of the filler was inserted in this recess and the cutter stopped when it just touched the block.  I have done away with that. The filler is just made longer that it needs to be.  Start the mortise and run almost to the end of the filler Leaving a little more than the finished insert would have.

    Just eyeball it.

    Remove the filler from the holding fixture (click here to see it) and cut it to length leavening the amount you want on each end. I find it real simple doing it this way. There may be better ways of doing it but this works real well for me and I don't have a hassle doing it.  (Tony Spezio)

    Mortising a spacer is done by using a jig which is two blocks of wood roughly 2x2x2 with a hole through the center of the blocks. The blocks set at each end of the spacer and are attached with thread-all and bolts. The thread-all goes through a block, through the spacer, through the other block and is bolted at each end. Before you tighten the bolts at each end of the wood blocks, make sure everything is square. I do this by pressing the jig against a flat surface while I tighten the bolts. The setup looks kind of looks like a dumbbell.

    Position the fence on your router table to where the thumb nail router bit just touches the spacer with the jig resting against the fence. Adjust the height of the bit to hit center on the spacer. I make 3 passes to get the right depth on the spacer, moving the fence back after each pass. The slope on the spacer is made automatically by stopping the jig at the same place every time you make a pass.  (Paul York)

    I installed some long Knobs on my blocks that keeps my fingers a Looooong way from the cutter.  You can see it here.  (Tony Spezio)

    I avoid burn marks by using a beading tool. You can use the same jig that you use for the router and set the guide on the beading tool. The blades can be shaped with a file so you can have any profile you want. I use it on American Holly reel seats with good results. Lie-Nielsen makes a great beading tool with a guide or you can just shape a scraper and clamp a guide on it. I ruin a lot less wood and I get less sawdust in my coffee. Of course if you have to use a power tool, you can turn on your router and just set it nearby.  (Willis (Robert) Reid)

    I mentioned last week that I had some cherry burl literally explode while drilling. Not to want to waste anything, I gathered up the pieces and stuck them back together with some Gorilla glue. It foamed and looked a mess. It had to sit a week till I could get back in the shop after knee surgery.

    This morning I hobbled to my shop and started fooling with the piece of burl. Finished drilling it and turned it to size and mortised it. It looks great. Managed to save that piece. I am wondering if applying this type of glue and

    squeezing it into the minute cracks would work in lue of stabilizing. I am sure that Stabilizing would be the best way to go but is this works it would be less hassle. Will play with it and report the results. (Tony Spezio)

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