do you turn a bowl emerging from a wall like this?. Our next
demonstration night on 6th November will be on that very subject. Ralph
Nesbit from Strathclyde Woodturners has agreed to come along and
demonstrate how he does it.
Please ensure we have a good turnout for what will be an interesting evening.
Club members will be demonstrating their turning skills at the Oak Mall Shopping Centre on Saturday 10th August. The club will have two lathes and members will turn small items to give away to anyone interested during the day.
The following was an article I wrote for the AWGB Revolutions Magazine a couple of years ago. The method described is much the same as the method I use now.
IT would take far more space than is available to give full instructions on how to make Chinese Balls. This article is about my journey so far and hopefully will help anyone get the information available from others far more experienced in making these interesting turnings than me.
How it all started
Travelling to another wood turning club (Strathclyde Woodturners), a journey of some 40 miles my travelling companion handed me David Springett’s book “WoodTurning Wizardry” To look at. He had been given it for Christmas and being a fairly inexperienced turner found if way beyond him.
Always looking for something different to turn, l decided that
l would like to try some of the turnings. David makes much of using boxwood for
these items, l must state that l have an aversion to buying wood for turning,
however I decided on this occasion To bite The bullet and buy some Boxwood.
Looking at The various wood suppliers sites l could not ﬁnd any more than 50mm diameter.
So I Then went to The old favourite fleabay and found some small logs There. L placed bids on l or 2 but being a bit mean
did not bid high enough.
I decided that I would try it with some beech and cherry
which I have had in my wood store for 7 or 8 years. They had been cut into smaller
pieces about 5 years ago. The ends were well sealed and stored in a dry place with
plenty of air round about them so they were probably as dry as anything I could
buy. I sent for The Crown ‘Springett’
Chinese Boll Tool Set and while I was waiting for it to arrive I turned some
spheres as close To 2 1/2″ inches I could. I then marked out the spheres according
To David’s book and Then made a sphere holding jig. I went straight into a full
5 piece Chinese Ball following the instructions. The ball kept turning in the
jig. I stuck sandpaper to the inside of the jig and started again. I drilled the
ﬁrst hole in the end grain and reamed it out using The Crown Tool. Using The longest
cutter, I carefully cut to the end of the groove with each of the cutters and put
a hardwood plug in that I had previously made, carefully marking it as instructed
and turned The ball round to the opposite end grain. I went through the same
procedure and then started on the other holes. This is where the problems arose.
When cutting the groove, once the cutter reached the plug the different density
caused the cutter to catch and the ball turned in the jig. I persevered for a
while, and then discovered that because my sphere was not exactly 2 1/2″ diameter, the holes mode by The Crown Tool
were too big and the space between them was so narrow in places that it was breaking
away. I almost gave up of this point but by this time I had the bit between my teeth
and was determined to master the technique.
I searched the internet for some more information and found Magical
Wood Products at magicaIwoodproducts.com. Here Joe Skehan has started to document
some information about making these balls. Unfortunately he has only got one of
the tutorials on the web site but it is the most important one “Making a 1
Level Ball“. To save going back to my school trigonometry I blatantly stole The
calculations already done by people like David Springett, Joe Skehan and Claude
Lethiecq. I am now used to working in metric measurements so the sphere used
will be 63.5mm diameter. When I ﬁnish off the outer end of the sphere I will mark
that end with my drive centre to give me a starting point for marking out the hole
centres. For 6 holes I multiplied the diameter of 63.5 by 0.707 = 49mm and for
I2 holes I multiplied the diameter of 63.5 by 0.526 = 33.4mm. I followed Joe
Skehan’s instructions for making a single level ball and found that fairly
simple. I practised it using different types of wood and became reasonably
proﬁcient. Joe did not have the tutorials for the next stage on his web site so
it was back To Google to ﬁnd some more information. I found http://www.morewoodturningmagazine.com/magazine.php.
This magazine is edited by Fred Holder and he has written a
book ‘Making the Chinese Ball’ or ‘Five Concentric Spheres’ which is available To
download in PDF format.
In his book, Fred shows how to make a sphere chuck from
plumbers fittings. Unfortunately the ﬁttings used in US are different from UK.
He uses 2” and 3” fittings.
Ours go from 1 1/2“ to 4”. I have mode a couple of chucks
from 4 inch compression fittings but ﬁnd that they are difficult To Tighten sufficiently.
I drilled holes and dug out The Tools Tor Tightening my old Multistar chuck. This
worked for a little while, but after some Time the Threads must have worn and the
ball started slipping. I went back to using the chuck with the four screws and a
long Phillips screwdriver To Tighten or slacken them. I have continued using This
Type of chuck except that l now use on electric screwdriver with a long extension
To prevent the ball slipping, l Tried sticking sandpaper
inside the chuck, as advocated by David Springett. I did not ﬁnd this helped
much. I then tried spraying contact adhesive inside and letting it dry. However
l now squeeze hot melt glue inside and spread it round with a curved scraper.
Every so often just remove it with a round nosed scraper and start again. I
made 12 hardwood plugs to fit the holes but had a problem getting a really tight
fit so I melted some wax and coated the plugs with it and this gave me a good fit.
That was ﬁne on the first two holes but
when cutting from the next hole the tool caught one of the plugs and this then
moved the ball in the chuck no matter how tightly l had it held. Fred in his
book advocated machine wax. I got some, made moulds the same size as the holes
in the ball and made wax plugs. This worked better but machine wax is either bright
blue or bright green and the dye from it makes a mess of the ball. It is then a
lot of work cleaning the inside balls.
I now make plugs from softwood (a pine broom handle). It is not
easy making plugs to get a perfect fit. In each of the holes so there are a
couple of methods l use to get the plugs to fit. One is to use a little hot melt
glue to stick the plug to the outside ball which is the easiest one to clean. The
other is to melt paraffin wax and coat the plugs with it then when ﬁtting the
plug, dip it into more hot wax to build up a thickness and push it into the
hole. The wax hardens quickly and holds the plug in place. Using softwood, l
ﬁnd that when the tool hits the plug it cuts through with no problem at all and
does not move the ball.
I made some 2 and 3 stage balls then went on to other shapes
inside the ball. I have now successfully made a number of 4 level balls. I
found that l needed a handle for each of the cutters so that l could complete the
undercutting in each hole without having to change the cutter. This made the creation
of these balls so much easier.
I have not managed to successfully make a ﬁve level ball and
since I have been working up to this I still use forstner bits to drill the
holes. I have cut Perspex discs and glued them to the bits to create depth
gauges and it ls a simple matter to change the bit using a keyless chuck in the
I purchased some 63mm wooden balls on Ebay and found them to
be quite successful. I think they are birch but I can’t be sure. However I
decided I would try an experiment. A while ago I acquired a load of Yew. Unfortunately
because of the size of This Yew Tree, The tree surgeon had to cut much of it into
very short logs so that he could lift it. Many of These logs were only 6 – 8 inches in
length. I cut one of them into blocks and decided to try using one of these
blocks. I turned a sphere and quite easily made a four level ball. I discovered
that as long as I kept the cutters sharp and ﬁnished the four level ball in one
afternoon then I was able to do it without the ball distorting before it was
I have found this journey fascinating and will continue to expand my knowledge of these Chinese balls. Trying different woods and methods until I become more proficient.
As I have continued to work on these turnings I have changed
some things since the above article was written and there have been some changes
outwith my control.
I have stopped using the forstner bits for the holes and now
use a ground down tapered drill to create the holes.
I have found plumbers fittings which work well for holding
the balls in place. They are high pressure fittings which are used for swimming
pools like these available here http://www.koilogic.co.uk/pvc-high-pressure-socket-union-plainplain/p198
, I used the 3 inch fitting.