Introduction: Finger Top on a Lathe

This instructable will show you how to make a top that spins on the tip of your finger. I used a shopsmith 10er that I got off craiglist but this can be done with any lathe that has either a faceplate or a chuck. This is an easy rewarding project that can be accomplished in under half an hour.

You can see a video of this finger top here

I'm no expert turner but hopefully I show enough setup and a couple tricks to make setup and turning easier. This is one of my first projects and I have no training on a lathe so feel free to make corrections to any of my steps.

Step 1: Tools and Materials

The main and most obvious tool is the lathe, you'll also need a couple different chisels for the lathe, a faceplate for the lathe, a hot glue gun with glue sticks, and a saw.

As far as wood goes you will need a small piece of a close grained hardwood. I am no expert in wood types so I just go around picking up different types and playing with them until I find one I like. I dont know what type I used it was just a 2" log I found on the ground. As chipf mentioned in a comment make sure the wood isnt green, meaning its dried for an extended period. Green wood will shrink and warp as it drys making something that was circular when you turned it change shape over time.

*You'll also need a scrap piece of larger diameter wood atleast the size of your faceplate. You screw your faceplate onto this and glue your piece to the other side.

If you have a chuck then you dont need to do this, you can just chuck your piece of wood.

Step 2: Setup

Start by screwing your large piece of wood into the faceplate then mount it on your lathe. Then you want to roughly true up the piece and face it off (make it flat on the end). No pictures of this because I found you only have to do this once, I just hatchet of the scrap wood and face off the hotglue.

After mounting the scrap wood, cut the piece youll be making the top out of about an inch longer than the top. You want the cuts to be as sqaure as possible as it will make truing the piece easier.

Now just put a big blob of hotglue on the bottom of piece and stick it on the scrap wood. Then go around edge filling in any gaps.

Step 3: Start Turning

Put the faceplate back on your lathe, this is done differently depending on the lathe, on mine you simple tighten an Allen screw. Then set your tool rest as close as possible to the work piece without hitting it, make sure you spin it a couple times by hand to ensure you dont hit your tool rest.

After everything is set up put your lathe on low speed (for me this means putting the belt in the lowest position, but varies from lathe to lathe). Use a low speed because the piece in not yet trued. If you would like you can tighten a live center onto the end but you will have to remove it to do the face work so I didnt bother.

Choose your preferred roughing tool, I like a gouge that I follow with the skew for a smoother finish but whatever works for you. Slowly introduce it to the piece you dont want to go to quickly here or you will catch an piece of wood that sticks out, this can rip the chisel out of you hands or knock the piece out of alignment. Bring the piece down to an even cylinder slightly larger the the outside diameter of you top. Mine is about an inch across so I made an inch and half cylinder. I also made it about a half inch longer than the top.

Step 4: Begin Shaping

Turn up the speed about 1200 rpm or medium speed, this makes it easier to remove more material and achieve a better finish.

Here you just remove a small amount from the handle and shape the outer part of the main body. You can make this anyway you like but I like the look of a dome shaped body.

Step 5: Hollow It Out

The idea of this step is the lower the center of gravity below the balance point. To do this we make a fairly thick ring at the bottom of the top and thin out the rest of the body. The tools I used for this was a small skew and a detail gouge. While shaping the body make sure you leave a 1/4" cylinder in the center that you can shape the tip out of later.

Then when your satisfied with the thickness of your walls get a small skew carefully shape the tip it should be a little less than 1/4" long, you can check how the tip is doing by touching the tip, this gives you a good feel of how well it will spin on your finger.

Step 6: Shape the Handle

At the same speed use a skew or gouge to take the handle down to a size you like, the small diameter the faster it will spin. The taller the easier it is to hold but the easier it is to knock over.

Step 7: Sand and Wax

This step isnt strictly necessary but after spending the time making your top its nice to have a nice looking piece.

I start with 220 grit sand paper and then use 600, I then use the 600 to apply briwax to the piece, then I use a rag to wip off excess wax and polish it into the wood.

Step 8: Cut Off

Use a skew or other cut off tool to remove the top from the excess wood. Make sure you have your hand around it so you can catch it when it falls.

Step 9: Spin It

This can be a little tricky to start off but after a couple tries its easy to get the hang of. Just place the tip of the top on the tip of your finger and spin it. The top should be perfectly balanced because it was made while spinning.