STEFANG'S CHINESE BALL QUEST #4: Making a Wooden Ball - part 1

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Blog entry by stefang posted 02-15-2012 07:45 PM 31656 reads 6 times favorited 18 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 3: The Big Chuck Challenge Part 4 of STEFANG'S CHINESE BALL QUEST series Part 5: Making a Wooden Ball - part 2 »

Here is what I’m trying to make

I tried my ball cutting jig today to see if it would work. If you remember, I built the jig from the plan in the book ‘Woodturning Wizadry’ by David Springett.

Work piece mounted on the lathe. 12cm (4”) long.

work piece marked up 62mm (about 2-7/16”) and with a center line. The centerline stays on until the ball is entirely sanded, polished and after marking up for drilling of the various holes.

cut to the width (Ball diameter) As you can see, the axle on the left is longer for access by the ball cutting jig.

Check chuck centering (left side)

Check chuck centering (right side matches left side.)

Cutting after about 10 minutes

Close to finished after about 50 minutes total.

After some sanding and cutting down the ‘axles’

A little test to see that it actually is round (except the axles)


1. How good is this Cutter?

On the Negative side, this jig is pretty flimsy, but it does work. I had to hold it down with one hand and hold it steady as I swung it with the other. My locking mechanism for the cutter has to be locked really tight or it will loosen and it backs out of the cut when it does. The cut wasn’t as smooth as I would like, but nothing so bad it couldn’t be sanded out.

On the positive side, it does more or less guarantee a perfectly round ball. This is a big advantage for this work, where high precision is a must for a good result in making a Chinese Ball.

2. A better alternative
Turning balls by hand or with a jig is not especially interesting or fun. A jig is therefore a great advantage as it is precise. Better tools always do the job better and usually faster too, so I think I will probably make a heavy…ish steel jig for this work with a screw type advancer for the cutter, and while I’m at it I will probably want it to be extendable in order to do larger work in case I get an obsession for big balls (unlikely, but one never knows).

Now all that remains to finish this ball is to part it off and turn off the small nubs left over from the ‘axle’. This isn’t as easy as you might think, but it’s not astrophysics either, so I will show you the rest as soon as I can get back into the shop.

There are lots of ways to hand turn these balls and lots of different types of jigs to do it that way. The way I’ve shown here is just one way and certainly not the best, but it works. I will just stick with it until I can make something better. I wish I could do welding as this would be an easy way to make a steel jig. Anybody with ideas on how to make one without welding, please let me know. I’m not keen on learning welding either as I would probably burn the shop down and the house along with it.

Thanks for reading and any observations positive or negative are welcome, as long as it doesn’t have anything to do with sharpening! The following links cover all the blogs in the series to date. #1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

18 comments so far

View patron's profile


13722 posts in 4584 days

#1 posted 02-15-2012 07:54 PM

so I will show you the rest as soon as I can get back into the shop.

good to see how a true round ball is turned
i always wondered

and good to know you plan on going back to the shop
every time i see you here

you are just sitting on the porch

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

View DS's profile


3953 posts in 3663 days

#2 posted 02-15-2012 08:00 PM

What about a copier attachment and a template?
It seems like you went to a lot of effort for this.

BTW I am amazed by this Chinese Ball thingy. I am eagerly waiting to see how it turns out.

-- "Hard work is not defined by the difficulty of the task as much as a person's desire to perform it.", DS

View Yuri's profile


55 posts in 4658 days

#3 posted 02-15-2012 08:01 PM

Good work. Small nubs left from axle is not a problem when you make chinese ball or the like. I use marks from parting as my starting point to make centers for future holes. Can’t wait to see the “ball in action”...

-- Live to Learn

View grizzman's profile


7836 posts in 4546 days

#4 posted 02-15-2012 08:05 PM

yea, how to you do that, porch sitting, but yet wood working…your a magical wizard i think…lol..its looking great and every step i see, your great craftsmanship shines through….....mike your doing a great job here, this is why you were missed when you were gone for awhile, when you do comes back you teach something for us to learn from and we appreciate it so much….thank you mike…

-- GRIZZMAN ...[''''']

View grizzman's profile


7836 posts in 4546 days

#5 posted 02-15-2012 08:09 PM

looking at the jig for rounding it over, i wonder if you put a small handle on it so you can hold it better as you sweep it back and forth…i dont know, but its just a thought…grizz

-- GRIZZMAN ...[''''']

View stefang's profile


17040 posts in 4577 days

#6 posted 02-15-2012 08:25 PM

David If I were sitting on the porch lately I would be frozen into a human lolly pop by now. I am instead lolling in my Lazyboy recliner in front of the fire. Getting out of that chair seems to take up most of my workday lately. I have a fatal decease. It’s call old age.

DS251 I enjoy a more hands on approach than a copier on my lathe. That would be ok for someone doing repetitive production, but not the kind of turning I like to do (when I do it at all). I have turned these balls by hand and they came out well enough, but I wanted to test the jig to see which way was the easiest/most accurate.

Yuri That would probably work, but the primary holes for the Chinese balls are only 18mm or near 3/4” and the ball isn’t round all the way to the axle yet because I couldn’t get access. Also, I’m concerned that the stub would prevent the ball seating properly in my chuck. Your chuck design might overcome that problem. I could maybe put turn a small cup in the bottom of the chuck to accommodate it. Thanks for the tip, I will keep it in mind.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Danpaddles's profile


588 posts in 3555 days

#7 posted 02-15-2012 08:53 PM

fun article, thanks for taking the time to post it. I might have to try that myself!

A couple things some to mind.

If you want to (need to, I think-) make the L shaped holder from steel, and you do not weld, think about drilling and bolting. Steel cuts easy with a hacksaw or sawzall. You can drill steel on your woodworking drill press, as long as you clean up the oil and stuff afterwards. I have no idea where you can get steel in Norway! But some bar stock shouldn’t be too hard to find. You could even try making a fixture from old bed frames, I pick them up cheap occasionally, it is okay angle iron.

I too wish I were a welding sorta guy, but a steel shop does not mix well with a wood shop, especially if you are as messy as I am. I knew a long time ago that woodshops were way more “hobby friendly” although I always sorta had this picture in my mind of a Bridgeport in one corner, and an engine lathe next to it. Oh well.

I flinched when I saw you held that fixture to the lathe rails with spring clamps. I have no doubt you needed to help hold with your hand! check out what this fellow did, I bet you could make something like this, if not from steel, then maybe from hickory or white oak. Use two bolts, of course, or even 4, to leave the center free for the pivot bolt for your jig.

about the third pict down, he is mounting a steady rest, but you can see where something similar could be used to make a mount for your ball fixture.

You talked about the surface coming out rough, have you tried to shape the cutter with different profiles, cutting angles, and relief angles? I bet there is some magic cutter setup that works well at a given RPM. Experimentation may find that sweet spot.

Good luck, I will look forward to your next post. Say, what city are you near in Norway? Have had that country on my radar for a paddle excursion, the fiords are grand, and there is much good whitewater there too. I have a friend that can help with logistics, but now family pressures are getting greater every year, so the trip is not too likely to happen for a long time yet.

-- Dan V. in Indy

View stefang's profile


17040 posts in 4577 days

#8 posted 02-15-2012 09:00 PM

Grizz Thanks for the nice comments and the ‘handle’ tip. I’m thinking it would be most fun to design my own jig which would incorporate a screw type cutting tool advancer. It is really a pain to loosen the lock, advance the cutter and then lock it again. This has to be done a zillion times because each cut takes so little off each time in order to get a relatively smooth cut.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View stefang's profile


17040 posts in 4577 days

#9 posted 02-15-2012 09:21 PM

Thanks Dan Thank you for the nuts and bolts tip. You are right about the spring clamps, don’t work good well. The jig kept sliding a lot and I had to recenter quite often. I might make a better clamping arrangement, but first I have to decide if I will be using much longer before using the time and effort to improve it. What you didn’t see is a center board that fits tightly between the lathe bed rails so it can’t slide on the lathe front to back. It did slide back and forth a bit between the headstock and the tailstock though. I should have left some ‘ears’ on the board for better clamping opportunities. I don’t think there is anything wrong with the cutter, it’s just that the jig isn’t very vibrates a bit in spite of my holding it steady as I can.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View grizzman's profile


7836 posts in 4546 days

#10 posted 02-15-2012 10:46 PM

oh ok mike i see how that works now, i thought you were able to make a clean sweep of it and get your round ball, i didnt look at it long enough to realize you had to do it a step at a time…, i get it now…thanks…so much for a handle, that wouldnt work…

-- GRIZZMAN ...[''''']

View Dave's profile


11435 posts in 4083 days

#11 posted 02-16-2012 01:14 AM

Mike as always its always something new with you. I do enjoy taking the woodworking journey with you. Very interesting and symmetrical;) And as the rest of the other guys. The best is yet to come.

-- Superdav "No matter where you go - there you are."

View Dale J Struhar Sr's profile

Dale J Struhar Sr

522 posts in 4373 days

#12 posted 02-16-2012 04:49 AM

Stefang your project reminds me of my Industrial Arts class in high school. My senior project was a attachment for a metal lathe that produced balls. I recieved an A on the project. I only wish I had taken the thing home or had the plans for it I’m sure it could be reproduced for your wood lathe. My 50th reunion is this year WOW.

-- Dale, Ohio

View lanwater's profile


3113 posts in 4177 days

#13 posted 02-16-2012 05:16 AM

This is very interesting. I fell I am in a class with severa good teachers.

-- Abbas, Castro Valley, CA

View stefang's profile


17040 posts in 4577 days

#14 posted 02-16-2012 10:37 AM

Dave “Something new all the time” is my great downfall as a craftsman. Once I have proven to myself than I can do something, I am usually ready to move on, thereby missing the ‘practice makes perfect’ bit. I might stick with these balls for awhile though as I have invested so much time and effort making the various tools needed to do this project.

Dale I wish you had that drawing too. It was undoubtedly better than mine. At least I can make the excuse that I didn’t design it. I have noted from David Springett’s videos that he now uses a steel ball cutter himself. I suppose he designed the wooden one so as not to discourage someone getting into the project. I don’t regret having made this one though, as it was easy and quick to build and I learned a lot about how a good ball cutter should perform and what it will take to make that happen.

Thinking about your work in high school Dale, I think industrial arts is a very important subject even for students today. They learn to work with precision and take great pride in what they produce, and they learn that things are done in a step by step fashion. I believe this is an important pillar of the work ethic. I understand that these programs have been eliminated by many schools, and I think they have made a fundamental mistake in doing so, which has already been harmful to America and so many other nations.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View plantek's profile


314 posts in 4042 days

#15 posted 02-16-2012 12:33 PM

This is awesome.
I just bought a lathe last weekend and already you have me thinking about some advanced stuff.
I’m looking forward to your next post.

-- If you want it and it's within reason... It's on it's way!

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