turnings #12: A small juggling pin

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Blog entry by Gary Fixler posted 12-15-2010 11:52 AM 9080 reads 1 time favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 11: first hollow-form failure update - major checking! Part 12 of turnings series no next part

Been awhile since I posted anything! How’s everyone been? Work keeps me busy all the time anymore, but I do love it. Unfortunately it’s a very long drive, about 45 minutes to an hour in the morning, crawling along LA’s 405 and 101 freeways. Traffic ever since school started keeps it really busy until midnight, and with all the techy stuff I’m always working on, I tend to stick around at work until after 8PM, and often until 9 or 10, then the long drive home in heavy (but relatively light) traffic.

Anyway, at a little outdoor games party awhile back at work, one of my coworkers – Ryan – brought in his juggling clubs. I’m a juggler, and I’ve had this cheap Jugglebug set since I was in high school back in the early 90s. I’ve been keen to pick up some really good pins from somewhere like DubĂ©, especially their Europeans. Ryan’s pins looked a lot like their stage style clubs, so I was anxious to try them. Here’s Ryan juggling them:

The Europeans are ~$45/club, or about 6x the cost in total (for 3) as my old cheapy Jugglebugs. I don’t juggle enough to warrant that, especially without getting to try them out first! I could try them out in NY at their store, but I’m in LA. Ryan got his clubs while on vacation in Italy, but has no idea what brand, if any they are. The balance was quite odd for me, and the handles really felt like they were swinging around a much wider arc, almost hitting me in the face with every throw.

There are optional lengths, weights, and diameters on balls and clubs, which makes it even harder to choose online, and then getting to try out the first cool-looking set I’ve seen and having them be so hard to control just makes it even less likely I’ll shell out money to test out what seems like a good combination online. History has taught me that anything with an ergonomic element that I order online I will hate once I get my hands on it. A perfect example is the Happy Hacking keyboard, meant for programmers, but I didn’t like anything about it. The keys were way too tall, tapered too sharply (making them feel too separate from each other), too hard to press, and the surfaces felt like 320-grit sandpaper, quickly irritating my fingers. I type 90WPM on average, but I couldn’t use any of my shortcuts on that board, like sliding from one key to an adjacent one to type both in one swipe.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking for at least a year that it would be fun to make juggling pins on my lathe. Bowling pins are (or at least were) all wood. I wouldn’t want to juggle all-wood pins for any length of time – my set already kills my knuckles, and they’re hollow plastic – but I could make some really beautiful, decorative pins with glued-up hardwoods. I know my mom would love a set for decorating. There are also fighting clubs (Rule #1: You don’t talk about fighting clubs!), like these from India, c. 1920.

Too, I could make various pin shapes out of wood, paint them with something to get them smooth and perfect, then make molds from those and do some roto-casting with plastic to create hollow, unibody pins of my own design. I’m anxious to try that one day. Who knows? Maybe I’ll make some signature pins worthy of selling under my own brand. In the meantime, though, I figured I should try turning a pin on my lathe. Tonight, home early from work (holiday time half-day), I grabbed a large branch of jacaranda, a great, light wood that carvers love to whittle, and which I have in abundance at the moment:

I started with a 20-inch piece, but soon realized that my 12×20 lathe can’t handle a piece that long. I’d have to make a short club – something like a cudgel – and one day upgrade with a bed extension for doing full-size clubs. Fair enough. I cut the piece down to 18 inches and moved the tailstock out to the end:

And now for some turning:

My tools need some sharpening some day when I have time, and Jacaranda is soft and flexible, so I was getting heavy vibration as I thinned the handle. I had to invent new techniques, like taking fast slicing sweeps to the side with the tools. It wasn’t very thought-out. I just decided to make a pin and ran out to the garage to do it :)

Here it is all rough. I would clean up the rest with sanding.

All sanded up:

And my hand for scale – it’s a mini club.

I cut the ends off with a thin pull saw, then sanded the ends flat with the the belt sander, cleaning up the ends with some hand sanding.

You can see some of the tearout that comes with the territory when manhandling jacaranda. The big chunk in the middle is from turning on centers. The spurs of the driver pin tore it out early on.

A little more tearout on the knob:

I always like bark inclusions.

It was great to get back out there and make something again in the hour and a half I had free. It’s been too long. Now I have a new thing to bring in and show my fellow juggling coworker. It was a successful first test, though I probably won’t have any more time this year to do another. I will be in the shop this weekend, but Saturday is all about helping my friend make a headboard for his wife for their bed for Christmas (surprise present!), and Sunday is making some things out of branches that have a special meaning for my stepdad for a Christmas present. Then next week I fly home to see my folks until after the new year. Busy times!

And I haven’t made a nice mess like this in far too long!

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

7 comments so far

View degoose's profile


7284 posts in 4603 days

#1 posted 12-15-2010 12:41 PM

Now for two more.. and you too can be a juggler…

-- Be safe.

View patron's profile


13722 posts in 4589 days

#2 posted 12-15-2010 01:24 PM

good you got some time
back in the shop gary

all that wood you have stashed
must be getting closer
to dry by now

have a great holidays
and hope you get time
next year to have some fun

that sawdust looks better
than the glop
you had on the floor before

be safe

-- david - only thru kindness can this world be whole . If we don't succeed we run the risk of failure. Dan Quayle

View lew's profile


13430 posts in 5004 days

#3 posted 12-15-2010 03:06 PM

What, no pictures of you with 4 pins in the air- at the same time!!! ;^)

Nice job, Gary.


-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

View clieb91's profile


4264 posts in 5183 days

#4 posted 12-15-2010 06:59 PM

Gary, Glad to see you made it into the shop for a little bit. The bark inclusion on that looks pretty cool. Hope you get a chance to make a few more sometime soon.


-- Chris L. "Don't Dream it, Be it."- (Purveyors of Portable Fun and Fidgets)

View HokieMojo's profile


2104 posts in 4976 days

#5 posted 12-17-2010 10:01 PM

I’ve really missed your posts. Good to see you got a little shop time in. Hope the job is still as awesome as before!

View timjr's profile


28 posts in 4075 days

#6 posted 12-18-2010 06:04 AM

I’ve been missing your posts too, Gary! Glad to see you back. I hope you go on some more urban logging adventures soon. :)

View Gary Fixler's profile

Gary Fixler

1001 posts in 4630 days

#7 posted 12-18-2010 07:44 AM

I’ve missed you folks, too! And timjr, I need to go on whatever the opposite of a logging adventure is. I have WAY too many logs for this little 0.18 acre lot now. It really looks like the woodworking version of that hoarders show.

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

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