STEFANG'S CHINESE BALL QUEST #7: A Small But Significant Victory

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Blog entry by stefang posted 03-14-2012 06:33 PM 16672 reads 1 time favorited 16 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 6: Drilling the 22 constellation holes in the ball Part 7 of STEFANG'S CHINESE BALL QUEST series Part 8: Learned Something New Today? »

Hi Friends. The Chinese Ball war isn’t over yet, but I did manage to win a battle today. I was able to successfully turn all four inner balls in the first main (primary) hole. The first two holes are turned in end grain. The book suggests turning those first. I suppose to save a lot of time in case one of these aren’t successful and the ball is wasted.

On the negative side, I did a little damage to the rim around one of the small (secondary) holes. I think I can fix that. Otherwise I managed to compress the wood around the primary hole with the tool holder, which is radiused and used as a stop to keep the cutter at the right depth while work is underway. I will try to use a lighter touch next time. Meanwhile I sprayed it with some water to swell the compressed wood back to normal. That seemed to work ok.

Here are some photos of the work progression and the tools used for each step: First photo is the tapered hole used for entry by the cutting tools. The hole is first drill with a 9mm drill to a depth of 22mm and then widened and tapered using the tool shown in photo 2 at the far right. Now we have an entry hole for the undercutting tools.

Here is the #1 cutting tool in photo 1 and at full depth cutting in photo2 below.

Below are tools #2, #3, and #4 before insertion just to show you the difference lengths for each inner ball. On this last pic you can see where I compressed the ball with the tool holder and also the messed up rim around the secondary hole.

And lastly a shot showing all four inner balls successfully turned by your overwrought blogger. I forgot to mention earlier that this ball is Maple.

This was a very positive experience, but I still have a long way to go before all 12 holes are finished. I just hope that it goes equally well on the next 11!

Thanks for reading. I’m sorry this blog is taking so long, but family business has caused delays plus I was nursing a bum knee for a few days. Everything seems to get out of control when you get old! So long for now. #1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6 #7

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

16 comments so far

View Tim Dahn's profile

Tim Dahn

1628 posts in 4852 days

#1 posted 03-14-2012 07:28 PM

Wow good going Mike! If I understand correctly each ball is created by a different tool? Does the outer part of the tool ride on the outer ball? Interesting to watch and learn this, thanks. Good luck on the next 11.

-- Good judgement comes from experience and experience comes from poor judgement.

View stefang's profile


17040 posts in 4621 days

#2 posted 03-14-2012 07:41 PM

Hi Tim. Yes, each inner ball is turned with a different cutting tool all with different radii on the cutting tip, and of course different lengths. The tool holders which have the cutters attached with screws have radiused front ends which are meant to lightly ride on the ball. I have softened the edges on these, but they still compress the wood when it is against the ball while cutting. I just have to get more experience to learn how to avoid the problem.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Yuri's profile


55 posts in 4702 days

#3 posted 03-14-2012 07:43 PM

Go Mike Go!!! Because direction of the grain on each hole is different treat each hole as an individual project. You may want to try using paraffin/wax to make wood a bit stronger when you go to a smaller size. Worked for me. What speed you lathe is set to?
Can’t wait for the next part. Good luck!

-- Live to Learn

View stefang's profile


17040 posts in 4621 days

#4 posted 03-14-2012 08:12 PM

Thanks Yuri! I think my lathe is set at 1200 rpm. I have only three speeds, 450, 1200 and 2200 if I remember correctly. I’ll have to check it tomorrow if I’m lucky enough to get into the shop.

I’m not sure what you mean about using paraffin or wax. Do you mean I should coat the entry hole with it? Are you talking about liquid or candle wax?

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View patron's profile


13722 posts in 4628 days

#5 posted 03-14-2012 08:53 PM

great sequence mike

easy does it
don’t expect to learn chinese
in one week

it took them thousands of years
and most still can’t speak it

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

View stefang's profile


17040 posts in 4621 days

#6 posted 03-14-2012 09:04 PM

They can speak it *David, they just don’t have time to talk while they are turning out cheap woodworking machines and tools for folks like me with shallow pockets.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View grizzman's profile


7836 posts in 4590 days

#7 posted 03-14-2012 11:52 PM

wow mike, this is really coming together huh, those tools you made are fantastic, they are sure to give you the ability you need to move ahead on this, its really quite incredible, and its much smaller then i thought it would be, i have full confidence that you will get this right, and cant wait to see the final results..grizz

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

View shipwright's profile


8760 posts in 4085 days

#8 posted 03-14-2012 11:59 PM

This is fascinating Mike. It’s really starting to come together (or rather apart if you wish) now.
Your attention to detail seems to be standing you in good stead.
No need to rush, but there are several of us out here holding our collective breath.

-- Paul M ..............the early bird may get the worm but it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese!

View Dave's profile


11435 posts in 4127 days

#9 posted 03-15-2012 01:20 AM

Great work Mike and your patience is amazing. I will go with the other guys and say slow and easy. It is so often when I see the finish line I get in a hurry and mess something up. You have us all hanging on the edge of our seats.
Keep up the good work.

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

View Yuri's profile


55 posts in 4702 days

#10 posted 03-15-2012 02:01 AM

Mike, little comment from my own experience, when I work with small wood peaces (especially soft wood) I sharpen tool bits like it shows on the picture 2 or 3 and turn at a lower speed 600-800. I consider small peace when I have only handful grain lines when I look on the end grain side. And If the grains are tide, wood is hard enough or turning peace half an inch or more in diameter I would go with higher speed and with the tool bit shown on the first picture.

Waxing also helps me strengthening the wood. Only use this technique if you don’t have to glue peaces together and only if you final finish will be waxing. After making rough cut I pour liquified candle wax while keep heating the wood with heat gun. Work peace gets saturated with wax. Heat gun can and will change the color of the wood. I always keep checking by touch the work peace temperature. I keep it worm but not hot unless I want to highlight wood grains. Try experimenting on cherry or maple wood one day.

Paraffin is harder than candle wax. I use it in combine with wooden pecks to hold internal peaces in place to prevent cracking especially when I’m on my “last hole”

Get well my friend and take it easy.

-- Live to Learn

View sras's profile


6433 posts in 4416 days

#11 posted 03-15-2012 03:20 AM

Each hole will be a little bit more exciting! So far – so good!

This is a fun blog to follow.

-- Steve - Impatience is Expensive

View littlecope's profile


3133 posts in 4789 days

#12 posted 03-15-2012 08:59 AM

Great Project and Presentation Mike!!
A real “nail-biter” for your humble reader… I can only imagine how nerve wracking this would be to actually do!!
Good Luck on the remaining turnings my Friend!!

-- Mike in Concord, NH---Unpleasant tasks are simply worthy challenges to improve skills.

View Schwieb's profile


1921 posts in 4748 days

#13 posted 03-15-2012 11:02 AM

This is great Mike. The more I watch this the more I appreciate the challenge and the tools you made to meet the requirements. Terrific work.

-- Dr. Ken, Florida - Durch harte arbeit werden Träume wahr.

View stefang's profile


17040 posts in 4621 days

#14 posted 03-15-2012 11:49 AM

Thanks for all the support guys. Yes, it has been a long road and I am not what you would call a gifted or intuitive woodworker. I usually have to learn everything through trial and error, which has certainly been the case with this project. My greatest asset is that I am willing to try things way beyond my ability and stick with it until I succeed or perhaps die of old age, whichever comes first.

Whether this is patience, stubbornness or just plain ignorance, I’m not sure! I have learned, as I’m sure most of you have, that it is the difficult, complicated projects that grows our skills and that ultimately we are most proud of. I have to admit that this project has been my biggest woodworking (and metalworking) challenge to date. My end goal is to make balls for the family and some friends to have as curiosity and conversation pieces. For me, the having patience part will kick in when I have to make all of those balls. I hope I can stick with it at that point. I already feel I want to move on and try some marquetry work.

Dave I too get all excited when I am nearing the end of a project. When that happens I often forget important things and mess everything up or (as I am famous for in my family circle) I don’t know when to stop and I often mess things up doing that last ‘finishing touch’. On the positive side I have developed good fixing skills and that’s probably where I do my best work.

Yuri Thank you for the good tips. I like the paraffin idea and if I can get the right product I will give it a try. I suppose I can’t just melt some candles down for this?

As for turning the ball, I use exactly the edge angle in your drawing. I am only doing these freehand now and I use a heavy round nosed scraper which works very well and I finish with a small gouge. I am also using a different technique, perhaps similar to yours. I first turn the ball between centers and leave a large end that can be held in my 4 jaw chuck after parting off the other end, which I then turn smooth, then I cut the ball off the chuck and put it in my ball chuck to turn the last nub off. Works great!

For this ball I had planned turning wooden plugs to hold everything in place for each hole as it is completed. I did like your idea of making these from paraffin and sawdust. Do you just pour it into the entry hole onto the bare wood or do you put some plastic film or other material in first to keep it isolated from the wood? Can these plugs be used more than once? I hope you don’t mind all the questions!

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Yuri's profile


55 posts in 4702 days

#15 posted 03-16-2012 01:42 AM

Here are some plugs I used on last balls. You can see that some of them had quite a bit of wax on to hold or actually to glue internal peaces:

When I start making hole marked with blue arrow I felt and heard nocking. So I pulled the ball and I filled the gaps between the plug and the ball with candle wax. Basically, wax was just dripping in. The hole showed in the picture still had to be widen by 0.2 mm. The inside walls are not finished but wax made them look like its done (shiny already)

Because, I always finish with Carnauba wax I don’t put any film, paper, etc. between the wooden plug and the ball. Little bit of scraping and polishing cleans all unwanted wax with ease. Also I find wax can “hide” some of the defects

-- Live to Learn

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