The Frugal Woodturner Book Review - Canadian Woodworking Magazine

A disappointing book from an otherwise talented writer and woodworker.

The Frugal Woodturner

The Frugal Woodturner

Ernie Conover is no stranger in the woodworking fraternity. He's the co-designer of the now out-of-production Conover lathe, author of numerous books, frequent contributor to multifarious woodworking magazines, and he operates his own woodworking school. Which, I suppose, accounted for the high expectations I had for Conover's new book. The focus of the book is, as stated in the subtitle, to show readers how to 'Make and Modify All the Tools and Equipment You Need'.
The first chapter of the book focuses on three topics: the kinds of lathes that are currently available; how to make a spring pole lathe; and what to look for when purchasing a lathe. Conover's overview of the different types of lathes is disappointing. His two page overview is much to sparse, and he fails to describe the benefits and limitations of each type of lathe. His contention is clearly that 'big is better': "Full-size lathes are the best buy in the end if you are going to pursue turning to any degree". Certainly pen turners, furniture makers looking to turn custom hardware, and hobbyist turners whose interest might be in turning small bowls and the like would be well served by a benchtop lathe. Conover, however, lumps mini and midi lathes into the same category, while virtually dismissing them as viable options: "Bench-top lathes have nearly disappeared with only a couple of models on the market". I think that Delta, General, Jet, Penn State, Shop Fox, PSI Woodworking and other manufacturers might take exception to Conover's assessment.
I felt that the inclusion of plans to make a spring pole lathe somewhat out of context placed, as it is, between the discussion of the types of lathes available, and what to look for when choosing a lathe. It seems better suited as Appendix material. Making a pole lathe can, I am sure, be an enjoyable project, but, realistically, how many people are going to make and and use it for their day to day turning? I doubt if Ernie does.
The section on what you need to know before selecting a lathe is very good. He covers all the basics here, and, to my amusement, includes the plans for a lathe stand, which looks ideal for a benchtop lathe.


The following two chapters are filled with useful information on what to look for when searching for used turning tools and accessories, and tips for sharpening your tools. I like his recommendation to buy a few tools (used, preferably), develop some proficiency using the tools, and then buy (or make) additional tools as required. There is some very good info here on the different types of turning chisels and what they are used for. Conover does recommend that carbide insert cutters be avoided, as they are "actually designed for metalworking". However, a number of companies, such as Easy Wood Tools, are now making turning tools with carbide inserts, and turners, particularly novice turners, are finding them a viable alternative to conventional HSS tools. Dismissing them at this stage seems somewhat premature.
The chapter on finding free or inexpensive wood is somewhat sparse, though he covers wood seasoning, wood movement and turning green wood.
Finally, at the fifth chapter, we start to get to the meat of the book - making and modifying tools (though really the focus is on accessories). Conover describes how to make two turning tools (scraper and chatter tool), handles, sharpening jig (though he doesn't use this jig in his chapter on sharpening), a faceplate, screw, jam and pressure chucks, locking nest, tapered mandrel, drill pad, soft jaw, steady rest and a vacuum chuck. You'll find a lot of good ideas here, and novice turners should be able to easily make all of these accessories.
The book ends with a short chapter on finishes, and a recommendation for lathe setups for three budget configurations.
Conover is a very good writer, and the book is an easy read. The photos are good and the illustrations well done (though many seem to be much larger than warrant). Overall, the book is disappointing, though the chapter on making and modifying tools is very useful.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Choosing the Lathe
  • Finding Good Tools Without Breaking the Bank
  • Be Smart About Sharpening
  • Finding Wood Without Spending Lots of Money
  • Holding Wood on the Lathe
  • Simple, Inexpensive Finishes
  • Good Woodturning Setups for Three Budgets
  • Schools and Programs of Study
  • Index
PUBLISHER:Fox Chapel Publishing
AVAILABLE FROM:Your local bookseller or online
FORMAT:Softcover, 135 pages
AUTHOR:Ernie Conover

Carl Duguay
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