The Perfect Sphere: A Well-Rounded Tool - Canadian Woodworking Magazine

Turning Tools: Turning spheres free-hand is not easy. This jig makes the process easy and fun, and opens up a whole new world of artistic options on the lathe.

The Perfect Sphere: A Well-Rounded Tool

The Perfect Sphere: A Well-Rounded Tool



Photos by Mark Salusbury

I was given a fine gift last Christmas: a Perfect Sphere Tool. Until then, I never thought about a jig to make balls, but for the fun of it I put it through its paces, turned a few decorative balls, then explored what other possibilities it offered. This jig produces a fuss-free, accurate radius every time. It also has the benefit of being set up for hollowing applications. A useful tool? Let’s see.
 
Free-hand spheres are difficult
Spheres are the best way to admire wood’s physical traits; face grain, side grain, end grain, porosity, figure, colour, and texture of any species are revealed in this simple form that feels nice in the hand and pleasing to the eye. Without lots of practice, though, developing a sense for the shape and the hand-eye coordination, turning exacting spheres can be devilishly difficult, and spherical forms are unforgiving; flub it to wind up with anything other than perfectly round and it’ll always be in-your-face obvious.
 
For the occasional turner, or one wanting to add precise multiples to their list of accomplishments, this jig shines. From 1–14" diameter, it seems it’s capable of doing exactly as its name implies, though I stayed within a practical range between 2" and 6" diameter with no prior experience. The steps are novice-friendly: rough-turn a cylinder, mark each sphere’s center and margins, and roughly turn a ball profile for each sphere to remove surplus material. Now reference the sphere’s center line to align and set the jig and cutter. Lastly, slowly pan the jig to shape the form. Once the sphere(s) have been shaped nearly to axis, simply cut the sphere(s) off, then using the jig, finish the shaping with each sphere held between shopmade cup-chucks to turn away the stubs and blend the surfaces. Wow, that’s nice!
 
The finish I got right from the jigs Hunter #4 carbide cutter, which shearcuts rather than scraping, is really satisfying. White ash, cherry, ironwood, mahogany, maple (some pretty spalted) and black walnut all gained surfaces I could begin gently sanding at 180 grit. And the cutter lasts like crazy; using the jig extensively for over a month, the small area on the edge I’ve been using is now a scosh dull, so I’ll simply rotate it a few degrees using the TORX wrench provided, and keep on turning. A tool I’ll never have to sharpen; great value. Replacement cutters are mail order here in Canada from Woodchuckers, or from Carter Products, who manufacture the tool. I’ve found the Carter Products website offers excellent support and videos demonstrating how to set up and use the jig to explore its full potential.

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A Perfect Sphere – Turning a pleasing sphere free-hand is very difficult. With this jig the process is quick and painless, even enjoyable.
 
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The Finishing Details – Once the sphere has been cut to size, almost right down to its axis, it can be cut from the waste. It can then be positioned between two shop-made, round cups to complete the sphere. You can see the two round nibs on the upper and lower edges of this sphere, being turned away.
 
One sturdy tool
I also like the jig’s overall build quality, and how I can tailor it to fit my lathe precisely for repeatable accuracy. Its base is solidly adjustable to center snuggly in the lathe bed, and bearings and bolts are solid and well suited for strength and precision. Available robust riser posts are sized to suit almost any lathe swing capacity with an adjustable stop collar to fine-tune the cutter to exactly the lathes axis. The cutter holder and adjuster mechanism are equally up to the task, and simple to set and advance. The locking knobs seem a bit unwieldy, but their thread length can be reduced if I ever find them bothersome in use.
 
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Furniture Components, etc. – The potential of The Perfect Sphere is only limited to your imagination. Furniture legs, pepper mills, newel posts and many other projects can be enhanced by this jig.
 
Beyond the ball
So I turned a few balls to get the feel of the jig, then wondered what else I could put The Perfect Sphere Tool to; surely it can craft profiles to enhance other woodworking forms. It quickly became clear that I could add round profiles at any point along spindles of any practical diameter and length.
 
Furniture makers can now readily add ball feet and capitals or round details at any point along lone pedestals or sets of legs for stools, chairs, tables, beds, or cabinets. Perfectly proportioned sphere profiles can be crafted along split turned appliqués for cabinetry, build-ins or as architectural details at entryways, stairways and railings. And railing and stair spindles, as well as full newel posts or merely ball caps, for square newels are possible with little set up or practice. The value of this jig to quickly enhance the creative offerings of many woodworkers is really quite amazing.
 
Beyond the making of balls for display or decoration, the applications for small projects are pretty extensive. Picture adding ball feet to clock cases and small cabinets, spherical profiled details to candle sticks, ball tops to salt and pepper grinders, kitchen food prep tools and wooden utensils for home and garden.
 
Then there’s the almost overlooked potential of hollowing wooden spheres. Images of rattles, maracas, toys, spherical boxes, Christmas ornaments, domed lids for small joined boxes, lamp bases, attractive dishes and bowls ... all great projects that can be easily crafted singly or in multiples for sale or gifting.
 
Artistic expression? Begin with solid or hollow spheres, singly or grouped, making statements through texturing, carving, pierce-work, colouring and more. So much potential, so little time. This is one cool tool. Oh yeah ... and it’s making me a better spindle turner too! Bonus.
 
What would you make with this jig? Share your design ideas at the end of this article, on our website.
 
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Many Options – Non-functional projects, like this wood baseball and stand, are quite simple to complete. (Photo by Marvin Stoltzfus)
 
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Pierced Spheres – This project was first turned round, then piercing, carving and colouring were added. Design options are limitless. (Photo by Lee Perez)
 

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Intro to Hollow Turning (Apr/May 2002)
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woodchuckers.com
 

MARK SALUSBURY