Weekend Projects - Turned Baby’s rattle archive

Friday 18 November 2016

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Peter Wood decides not to throw his toys out of the pram and instead makes himself a rattle…

In this article I’m going to show you how to turn a baby’s rattle on the pole lathe. It’ll allow you to try out some captive ring turning on the lathe.

Tools used:
Tools used
• 100mm diameter greenwood – or equivalent
• Mallet
• Axe
• Side axe
• Drawknife
• Roughing gouge
• Skew chisel
• Spindle gouge
• Ideally ‘ferret’ or undercutting chisel


I’m lucky in that I’ve just picked up the remains of a rotten damson tree. The main trunk was full of rot, but the remaining branch wood could be used to turn lots of different small items. Most of the smaller diameter branches are going to be turned ‘in the round’, but one of the branches was just over 100mm in diameter and straight enough to cleave. The pith was off centre, but that just means the larger quarter can be used for the rattle.

Toy safety
To  avoid any risk of choke hazard do make sure that the turned rings are thick enough not to break up easily as the wood dries out as ‘short-grain’ can split.

STEP 1: Use a small axe to cleave the wood to size. Place the axe where you want the split to start and hit the axe with a mallet. Start your first split through the central pith.

STEP 2: Damson grain can be fabulous, and it turns well on the lathe, but the twisty nature of the wood makes it harder to shape the wood before mounting it on the lathe.  

STEP 3: The billet I’m working is short, ideally I would have cut a longer piece but the branch was too twisted to allow this. Being careful of your fingers, trim the corners until you have an approximate cylinder.

STEP 4: Because the billet is short it’s awkward to hold in the shaving horse, so I’m not going to use the drawknife to refine the shape, but just centre it straight on the lathe.

STEP 5: Use the large gouge to slowly rough out the billet – remember to take light cuts and work your way evenly along the wood. It is much quicker to take smaller cuts smoothly, rather than large cuts. The larger cuts will ‘bounce’, creating a jagged edge that will then need to be smoothed later and create more work! Aim for a minimum diameter of 50mm.

STEP 6: One problem when turning on the pole lathe is where the string runs. As there is nowhere for the string to run smoothly on the completed rattle, turn a hollow on the waste end of the billet for the string to run around. You will cut this off when you finish the rattle.

STEP 7: Use a spindle gouge to round the end of the rattle over. Leave a little on the end that you’ll remove on completion.  

STEP 8: You can now use the tip of the skew chisel to mark out where you’re turning your captive rings. Make each ring approximately 8mm wide, leaving approximately 20mm between each ring.

STEP 9: Use the tip of the skew chisel to create the vertical sides of each ring.

STEP 10: Then, use either the tip of the skew chisel or the spindle gouge to cut the waste away between the rings.

STEP 11: Using the centre section of the skew chisel roll over the top of each ring to create a bead. Make sure you keep the blade at a low angle riding on its bevel and keep the cut well away from the heel or tip.

STEP 12: As you cut the bottom of the bead be sure to bring the ‘heel’ of the skew in to create a crisp line.

STEP 13: Alternatively, use the tip of the skew to straighten the sides and create a crisp line.

STEP 14: Now hold a handful of shavings on the tops of your rings and polish/burnish. You’ll not be able to polish like this when you have successfully cut under the rings.

STEP 15: To free each ring, roll the tip of the skew over and start to undercut. Cut in evenly from both sides and just keep undercutting until the ring comes free.

STEP 16: Remember to take the chisel off the work as your treadling foot comes up, otherwise the chisel can be dragged forward out of position and into the wood.

STEP 17: Alternatively, you can use a tool specifically designed for this job. Here I’m using a pair of ‘ferrets’ designed by Mike Abbott (a fellow ‘bodger’).  

STEP 18: These ‘ferrets’ will make light work of undercutting the rings, but you must make sure that as with all turning on the pole lathe, you pull the tool away from the cut just before your foot finishes the downward stroke otherwise the blade catches under the ring and it will split!

STEP 19: Once you’ve freed each ring, it’s now a question of cleaning under the rings and finishing the body.

STEP 20: Reduce the diameter of the main stem using the spindle gouge. This will allow the rings to move freely and you can move them all to one side while cleaning up the wood.

STEP 21: I like to have a nice curve in the transition between each end and the smaller diameter body. The larger gouge gives a nice curve and if sharpened well, leaves a good finish. Work along the stem with the gouge until it’s your required diameter, this one is 18mm minimum.

STEP 22: Finish all this section using the large gouge coming from both ends, remember to cut working from large to small diameter.

STEP 23: Now use the tip of the skew chisel to add some lines on each end of the rattle.

STEP 24: Finally, turn the opposite end of the rattle to match. Use a handful of shavings to polish the wood, then leave to dry. You can either leave the ends connected until the drying has finished – this slows moisture loss from the end grain, reducing the chances of it splitting – or trim the ends and cover with a finish of your choice. At the moment I like to just liberally coat with sunflower oil!