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Reel Seat Spacers - Turning

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I picked up a pen mandrel at woodcraft about two weeks ago, and it is a pretty nice setup for turning reel seat fillers. It has a morse taper (1 or 2), a 1/4 inch shaft, and a knurled knob for quick on and offs. Before, I used a threaded rod, and it was a pain to get the things on an off for sanding or buffing. The other interesting thing about this tool is that if you need to put the wood back on the lathe for a touchup it seems to allow you to retain concentricity pretty well,  at least much better than the old method. There are two drawbacks: you need to buy bushings for whatever inside diameter you are boring, and the bushings don't hold a raw block as tight as a threaded rod. Occasionally the block will hang up during rough turning if you don't first cut the corners off with a rasp or bandsaw. But it is a dream for final finishing. Which makes the ones you ruin while mortising even more painful.

And yes, I guess it would do pens.  (Jeff Schaeffer)


Does anyone use a router to shape reel seats instead of a lathe?  Tony's article in Power Fibers got me thinking (dangerous) if this could be done.  Thanks Bill Harms for your input.  Should be an interesting topic to bat around.  (Mike Brown)

    I use a lathe. However, I remember reading an article several years ago in a wood magazine of how to turn table legs with a router. Basically you attached a round wheel to each end of the stock. Position a fence so that the center of the stock is directly over the router bit with the wheels touching the fence. Adjust the router bit depth of cut and turn the setup over the bit keeping the wheels against the fence. If you use wheels of different diameters you end up with a tapered leg. Never tried it, seemed to dangerous to me.  (Don Schneider)

    You could use a bullnose router bit and cut a half-round down one side.  Then flip the blank and half-round the other side to get a full-round dowel.  Never tried this, but shouldn't be too tough.  Just be sure to grip the block safely and correctly.  Like Don said, be careful.  Puree'd fingers can make a real mess of a perfectly good shirt.  (Tim Preusch)

    Sears used to sell a gismo called a "router crafter."  It was similar to a lathe, but had no motor.  There was a hand crank at the "headstock" and the "toolpost" was a platform to attach a router.  Steel cables connected the

    platform to the crank such that the platform would move as you turned the stock.  You could vary the ratio of travel to cut a spiral  or  a  cylinder  into  square  stock  mounted  in  the "router-crafter."  I remember thinking what a neat idea that was, but I had a hard time believing that it would work well.  They no longer sell it ... I wonder why.  (Grayson Davis)

      I have seen several recently on eBay.  Some were even unused, still in the original box.  Memory is that they ran $75-100.  (Carey Mitchell)


Does anyone turn their inserts on a mini wood lathe? I've got one now and need to  know what would be the most useful tools to buy, to go with it? What type of chuck would be a good idea for this?  (Bill Walters)

    I turn mine on a Jet Midi lathe.  I found that turning them on a pen mandrel works really well for me.  I drill out the hole (size determined by size of bushings available, or make/have a buddy make a set of custom bushings)  in a  squared up  blank that  is 3.75" long.  Mount the blank on the mandrel with appropriate size bushings (I have some bushings that I made, but I found that the American Classic pen style has 3/8" bushings that work pretty good) and turn away.  Once I have it turned out the way I like, I take it to the routing table  to route the groove a la Spezio.

    I like the mandrel idea because I've never been to confident in my boring technique.  This way I know that my hole is well centered in the spacer when I am done turning it.

    Oh, yeah, I use the mandrel with a MT2 lathe mount.  You can use a straight mandrel with a three/four jaw chuck, as well (I like the Barracuda multi-chuck from Penn Industries).  (Jason Swan)


I read Tony Spezio's rather informative article concerning making reel seat inserts, and have personally been considering a metal lathe such as Homier's 7x12 for awhile to possibly make other components as well.  However, what other items would also need to be purchased to be adequately equipped to make inserts initially? I am a novice when it comes to metal lathes and require a "shopping list" if you will.  (Ron Delesky)

    You would need tooling for the lathe, including a live center for the tail stock, a suitable cutting bit, a Jacobs chuck for the tail stock and various sizes of drill bits.  You would probably want some sort of mandrel on which  to turn the insert after it is drilled.  I use one my friend David Chin had made, and another that Andy Dear sells.

    If you will use reel seat hardware with a morticed cutout, you will need a router table and suitable bit.  Bob Venneri sells a good bit.

    Of course you'll need various grits of sandpaper, sanding blocks, and some sort of finish for the wooden inserts.

    I'm sure I have forgotten something, but you get the idea.  (Harry Boyd)

      One more thing that comes to mind is some sort of fixture to hold the reel seat while routing.  It doesn't have to be real fancy though.  (Neil Savage)

    I don't know about the Homier lathe, but I purchased a Cummins 7X12 and found that in order to make the cap and rings from a solid bar I needed to replace the 3 inch chuck with a 4 inch. Although the through hole through the head was 3/4 inch the 3 inch chuck was too small for the bar to go through it. I paid around $450 with shipping and spent at least that much or more on tooling. After you get the lathe you will start looking at things like knurls (80 TPI, rope, etc.), quick change tool posts, live center, reamers, and a lot of other enticing items. I wouldn't hesitate to do it again though. The lathe is not limited to just reel seats either. The first thing I made was the seat insert mandrel.  (Floyd Burkett)

    You had asked about what extra tools you will need to make the inserts.

    Here is the List

    Cutting bit: Can be bought for less than a dollar. I get the high speed blanks and grind them as shown in the article, takes about five minuets. You can use the standard shaped bits but you get a better cut with a rounded bit.

    Arbor: Can be made from threaded rod, two washers and two nuts. about 3.00. I used 3/8" "Drill Rod and threaded the ends.

    Long Drill Bit: About 5.00 Can be done with a standard bit by flipping the insert and drilling from both ends.

    Live Center: short stub From LMS:. Less than 15.00. This is not a "have to have" You can use the "Dead Center" that comes with the lathe. I like the live center.

    Router: I was using the 20.00 "on sale" router from Harbor Freight. I have found the same routers for 10.00 from Homier Truck sales, the same people that sell the Lathes. These are small Trim Routers, Blue in color. The Harbor Freight Routers are Orange. I still have the original setup. It is a trim router mounted on a 12X12" piece of 3/8" plywood with a hole in the center for the router bit. A 3/4x3/4" strip of pine clamped on for the fence. I can send photos. I lucked on to a shaper base with built in motor, it is now dedicated for cutting mortise on the inserts.

    Router Bit: I have the modified bit but I prefer the Fingernail bit from Grizzly 15.00. I like the way it shapes the edges better than the modified bit. Personal Preference.

    Center Drill: Set from HF "on sale" for less than 4.00

    You can spend a lot more for special tools but this will do just fine. Will be glad to send any photos of the "low cost setup". I made all of my first inserts with these tools before I did the article, I have upgraded a bit since then. The Router setup photos in the article is one of the upgrades.

    The article will cover the insert holder for cutting the mortise if you are using that type of hardware. Hope this is of some help in getting you started.  (Tony Spezio)


OK, after checking out Gary's articles at Brookside I now need to now how to turn eccentric pieces (earlier book suggestion on order).  How do you chuck up a spacer off center without a special piece like Gary has made.  If I could turn an oval spacer on my lathe I might just cry or something.  (Lee Orr)

    The most common method of turning eccentric work in a lathe uses a four-jaw independent chuck.  You center punch the work where you want the eccentric center and adjust the chuck accordingly.

    This is completely described in "The Amateur's Lathe" by L.H. Sparey.

    Incidentally, oval is different from eccentric. In eccentric pieces each section is round, they just have different centers.  (Ron Larsen)


Can someone help me with shapes and angles for turning wood inserts in my 7X10 metal lathe? I managed with a wood chisel for a bit but I would like to make a few better bits with the right shapes and angles.  (Barry Janzen)

    Just a simple round bit with a good relief, this way you can cut in both directions and it gives you a good finish.  (Joe Arguello)

    Order up some 5/16" tool blanks (MoMax, etc.) from MSC or McMaster-Carr. If you have a bench grinder tilt the table down about 10 degrees and grind a smooth radius on the tool. If you don't have a bench grinder a belt sander will work too.  (Mark Shamburg)


I enjoy making my wood inserts as it allows total control over wood choice, grain, color etc. I've done this for some time on my mini wood lathe. I've ordered a metal lathe so that I can start milling hardware and such, but I am having reservations about doing my wood inserts on this lathe. My concerns are the dust and chips of wood mixing with the oils and fluids and gumming up the whole machine. I am considering purchasing a second smaller metal lathe for wood inserts only. Part of this consideration is due to the more consistent results I think I can obtain with the way a metal lathe is set up with a cross slide and tool holders vs a skew or gouge that is handheld. Just looking for some insight from those that turn their inserts. Maybe I am overly concerned with the gumming up of things and can get away with just one lathe? Thoughts? I've gone away from the idea of a duplicator for my wood lathe since the costs are about the same as a small metal lathe and the duplicators seem a bit cumbersome.  (Paul McRoberts)

    I don’t think you need to be overly concerned about “gumming up” a small metal lathe with the dust/chips turning inserts. Making a bracket to hold a vacuum nozzle in the vicinity of the tool bit on the carriage will pick up most of the dust/chips. Been turning inserts for years with my mini-lathe with a vacuum nozzle attached with no problems. Even if you get a second small dedicated lathe for inserts I would recommend attaching a vacuum.  (Don Schneider)

    I have two lathes, a small Chinese and a stand-alone Smithy, which is huge. I cut metal and wood on both, as I also do on my stand alone Smithy milling machine.

    Just clean up after use and keep the ways well lubricated and you will have no problems.  (Ren Monllor)

    Drum roll please,

    This ought to keep ya busy for a while.  (Ren Monllor)

    I have an old Atlas metal working lathe and I have turned both wood and plastic reel seat inserts on it with no problems so far. I have recently been using Pen Blanks that I purchase at Rocklers.  (Don Sargent)

    Do not worry about the dust. You should use a vacuum to suck it up as it is generated. For mess, dust control, and some of the exotic woods produce dust that is toxic. Also, I keep a dry paintbrush by the lathe to dust it as I vac. There is something to worry about- never use a lathe to turn a grinding wheel. Now that will cause problems.  (Jeff Schaeffer)


For those on the list that use a metal lathe for reel seat inserts, what profile,  angles do you grind on your bits? What spindle speed? I have a 7x14 MicroMark with original tool post. I am experimenting with a bark grip ( I think it is walnut bark, but a local forester couldn't identify it from a picture of the bark slab) and reel seat, and am having issues...  I have turned cherry and oak wood using a home made mandrel also, but the finish is not quite what I want.  (Chuck Pickering)

    I grind my bits for reel seat inserts round. Flat on top and quite a bit of relief, with a round bit you can cut in both directions.  (Joe Arguello)

    I use the same bits I use when cutting metal. You said you're having issues, so's my ex-wife. Can you be a bit more specific?  (Ren Monllor)

      Issues! Sheez!! Everybody has issues. The solution always seems to involve my spending less time in the basement and "why do you talk to yourself?" or "who's down there with you?" or yet "are you talking to me?".

      I might suggest you use some wood hardener on the chips/bark before you turn it. Seems to me the oak and walnut barks tends to chip out chunks a lot less.  (Timothy Troester)

    I use a round nose bit.  (Tony Spezio)


As suggested by Frank Drummond, here is a link on my reel seat spacer tutorial to where you can buy the spot weld cutter I use for a spur. (Joe Arguello)

    In a pinch, a dull 1/2" or 3/8" spade bit can be used as a Spur.  (Tony Spezio)

    Joe, The link as posted in your Reelseat Tutorial does not work. Here is the correct link.

    I hope that this helps those that tried to find the cutter.  (Dick Fuhrman)

    What, if any, are the advantages to the spot weld cutter over a standard wood turners spur drive? I personally see none.  (Frank Schlicht)

      Well, let's see... How bout you don't have to remove the chuck to do it. Just chuck up the bit.   Assuming you have a chuck that spends most of it's time on the lathe. 

      I use a 7x12 Mini lathe with that weird  bolt on chuck.  You have to undo 3 tiny nuts and take them off without dropping them into the mess below the lathe.  Then after you’re done reverse the process.  Putting the chuck back on is actually a lot harder than removing it because my fingers don't fit between the spindle and the headstock very well.

      Also my headstock is a morse taper 3 size and most wood turners spur drives are MT2.  So an adapter is necessary.  (Larry Swearingen)

        Another way to turn square stock is with a 12 point socket.  I have both metric & American ratchet sets & can usually find a fit.  I'll turn one end of the stock round & then reverse it.  (Ron Larsen)

        I have turned down two spurs from LMS that were MT3 to straight 1/2" shafts for two friends. I had to take light cuts. I was able to do it with a standard lathe bit. It seems that the taper is not as hard as the spur head. Chuck the head in the Chuck and a live center in the recess in the tail end.  (Tony Spezio)

          Am I missing something?   Whatever happened to drill first, then turn on a pen mandrel? Then, if you want to mortise the seat, it's already on a mandrel for that, too.  (John Dotson)

            I chuck that mess up and turn it down with a 5/8” Tenon cutter.  (Brian Morrow)

            This is the first sentence of my tutorial with a part highlighted:

            "As I said it is time for a quick down and dirty tutorial on reel seat fillers, this is by no means the only way to do this but it does work. I wanted to do this on my new mini lathe as I realize some of you don't have a larger lathe. So here we go. I hope this helps."  (Joe Arguello)

              I agree with you and hope my reply wasn't taken as a poke at you because it was not meant that way at all.  (Ron Hossack)

                I was thinking of digging up a doweling tool I bought many years ago for drilling the holes on the edge of boards when you wanted to put reinforcement dowels in for gluing boards together side by side. This was the way before they came out with the now common biscuits. If I find it I may do an update showing this option. Frank Drummond bought some kind of a centering tool also he showed me that does the same thing, maybe we can draw him out to chime in! How bout it?  (Joe E. Arguello)

            Sometimes it's easier, and more accurate, to drill it in your lathe with the drill chuck in your tailstock.  (Larry Swearingen)

              I thought if you drilled it first, then turned, even if you hole wasn't accurate, the final product would be because your turning it "to the hole".

              Any flex in your drill bit mounted on the tail stock, and the whole is off a little.  (John Dotson)

                I do mount it on a mandrel to turn the outside.  Actually two separate short mandrels.  One mounts in the headstock chuck and the other is center drilled at 60° to mount to the tailstock live center. If I have a lot of fillers to prepare I'll mount them in the Drill Press vice first and drill all the way through  with a long 5/16" aircraft bit. Then they all go to the lathe to be mounted on the short mandrels. Then turn the square corners off in one pass and a second pass to final dimensions to be sanded. Then to my mill to be mortised and sanded. Then I dip finish. sand, dip coat, sand, dip coat, sand, dip coat etc. etc. until I've got a good finish.  I've had to do up to 6 coats on  some Redwood Burl I've got.  (Larry Swearingen)

                  I have several threaded rods of various sizes to mount the seats on after I've drilled them.  Depending on the rod I'm building, I may want a smaller hole or a larger one (less material off the butt of the rod....doesn't hurt to take more, but easier to drill a larger hole in the real seat).

                  I put a 60 degree counter sink in the end of each to fit the live center into.  Then, mount it in the jig Tony showed us how to build for the mortise on the router table.  I've made a little jig to set the height of the router bit so I don't waste time trying to get that part just right.  With my eyes, that's often the hardest part.  (John Dotson)

                  When I started to make inserts I found a tip in the tip site that suggested a Forstner bit for a spur. If this has already been suggested in this discussion, sorry. This is what I have used so far.  (Bill Bixler)

        I have turned down two spurs from LMS that were MT3 to straight 1/2" shafts for two friends. I had to take light cuts. I was able to do it with a standard lathe bit. It seems that the taper is not as hard as the spur head. Chuck the head in the Chuck and a live center in the recess in the tail end.  (Tony Spezio)

          I don't use a spur bit though.  I have a 3/4" Plug Cutter that I chuck up in the drill press and run down the end of the blank held vertically in the drill press vice on the table.  That gives me the round end real quick.  (Larry Swearingen)

        Easy.  Buy a 4 jaw chuck and indicate in the tool you wanna use.  Piece o' cake.  (Mark Wendt)

        I’ve had problems  putting the nuts on a chuck also because of my fat fingers. I’ve found this to help: Take a small gage wire, one of the skinny wire coat hangers will do. Bend a “L” shape on one end, the bend should be a little longer than the thickness of the nut. Place the nut on the wire and the end on the wire in the hole of the set  screw. Turn the nut and it will thread on the stud. You can also use the same wire to  catch the nut when removing the chuck.  (Don Schneider)

          I like that one...Thanks. I struggle getting the nuts off all the time and then worry about dropping and losing them forever.  (Bill Bixler)

      If you have a spur that is small enough there is none. It need to be small enough so that the cutter doesn't hit it when turning the blank.  (Joe Arguello)


Any suggestions for mandrel suppliers  out there who sell mandrels for turning inserts (so ones with adjustable collars would be great)?  (Louis DeVos)

    I use a pen mandrel from Rockler. It has an adjustable collar and is just barely long enough to turn a 6 1/2" grip.  (Jim Healy)


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