01 June 2005

Dibble Dabbling

The property I am renting has a big double dog-run in the back yard. I don't have dogs, and it seemed a shame to have all that good chain-link fencing going to waste, as it were, so last week I bought a bunch of pole bean seeds.

Now, I realize I could just use a pointed stick to plant those beans, but to a woodturner, a much more elegant solution is to make a garden dibble. It's a very useful tool, and a great exercise for turning tapers. I decided to use Ipe, a South American hardwood that is gaining popularity in this country for decking material. It is quite heavy, strong, and very rot-resistant in wet conditions, perfect for my purpose. It is also rather pretty, and not very expensive compared to purpleheart or teak, for example.

The design and turning proceeded pretty much as planned, except for the tapering. I had just reviewed Allan Batty's video on using the skew chisel, so I decided that the skew was just the tool for tapering the dibble. This was not my most brilliant decision.

As I mentioned, ipe is hard and dense. I was planing a seven-inch taper from 1.5" diam at the start down to .25" at the tip. As the taper progressed, it meant that the vertical angle of the skew handle in relation to the toolrest was continually changing, and I had to do that smoothly, while the length I was planing increased with each pass. I also had to be careful not to move the tool too fast or press too hard, or it would leave ridges on the wood. Ridges cause the tool to chatter on the next pass, and the problem compounds.

By the time I had done six or seven passes, both hands were cramping so badly I could hardly hold the skew. It wasn't because I was grabbing the tool hard, but rather from trying to maintain a light touch while moving ever-so-slowly along the tool rest. Eventually I gave up, abandoned the skew, and switched to shear-scraping with a gouge, followed by 80-grit sandpaper.

Things went better after that, as you can see.

The Dibble

The markings (double on inches, single on half-inches) were first scored with the long point of the skew, then burned with wire. The finish is shellac with a touch of walnut oil added, followed by beeswax. I used dental floss to clean the beeswax out of the grooves so it looks neater.

I plan to make more ipe dibbles. But I've decided I will do the tapering with the roughing gouge next time. Not only will that be much faster, it will be much easier on my hands!

I haven't tried using the dibble yet - I want to take it to Thursday's woodturning club meeting first. My beans will just have to wait till the weekend to be planted. Maybe by then, my hands will have stopped aching!

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At 6/05/2005 06:46:00 AM, Blogger Derek Andrews said...

Lea, you are right to use the roughing gouge in future. The job will go much faster and with less stress.

Save he skew for finishing! It's acute sharpening angle is not very robust and needs frequent sharpening, and more so if you use it for bulk wood removal of a very hard wood. I'm not familiar with ipe, but many of those exotics are really hard and their physical charateristics make planing cuts with the skew difficult.

At 6/08/2005 04:15:00 PM, Blogger Lea said...


Tapering the second dibble went MUCH faster with the big roughing gouge. I not only shaped the taper with it, but I used the same gouge to shear-scrape it.

Ipe is an interesting wood. Although it appears kind of olivish-brown with a dark reddish blush, the sanding dust is olive green. Also, even a sharp tool raises dust as well as chips.


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