October 2011

Cape Atlantic Woodturners Newsletter

Volume #1, Issue #10
Subject: Club Minutes 10/18/2011

Here is an overview from Tom Cambria giving a background as to how he started turning buttons and his method.
Wooden Buttons on a Lathe

When my wife took up knitting, I never expected that it would have an influence on my wood-turning. However, on a vacation in New Hampshire, my wife was shopping for knitting supplies when she came across a display of wooden buttons. She pointed them out to me and asked me if I could make some. I picked up a small plastic tube containing about 8 buttons and commented, "They’re only $6.50...why don’t you just buy them. She was quick to point out that they were $6.50 each. I decided that, at that price, it might be worthwhile.

Since that time, I’ve experimented with a few techniques and I’ve made buttons for my wife. This made her very happy; it made many of the women in her knitting group very jealous and the requests started. I haven’t sold any buttons, but I’ve made sets for grab bag prizes at the knitting group’s Christmas Party. Suddenly, there is a great demand for wooden buttons among my wife’s circle of knitting friends.

I determined that buttons are stronger (less like to break) if they are turned with cross grain across the face of the button. Ironically, these scraps of wood are the (end cuts off boards) pieces which I had formerly discarded as useless. I start with a piece of square stock (approx. 1 ½" square by 6 inches long. This should be long enough to make an entire set (8) buttons - more or less depending on the design and thickness of the buttons and efficiency in parting off the buttons. (My spindle turning skills are weak and I'm always trying to improve my skill with a narrow parting tool) The process is as simple as turning the square stock down to a cylinder (I prefer button to be 1 3/16 inch diameter, so I turn down to that diameter. I use a sorby live center which doesn’t "bite" into the stock. Once I have my round stock, I simply prepare the face of a button, sand it, and part it off. I try to sand the face of the button as well as possible before parting them off. Sanding a finished button is so much more difficult. Since the backs of my buttons are always flat, I can adjust the thickness, if necessary, by sanding the backs. It’s brutally simple to make plain buttons, even whole sets of plain buttons. It gets a little trickier when you want to create a button with a shape other than flat. Generally, I want the buttons to look as similar as possible, so I might make 8 buttons and pick out the 6 which look most identical.

Initially, I tried drilling the holes in the stock, before turning the buttons. I found that, no matter how I tried to drill straight down into the end of the blank, the holes could wander and, somewhere in the process, the holes were no longer centered where I wanted then. I decided to create a simple jig to hold the buttons so that I could drill them after they were turned.

I finish buttons almost the same way I finish bowls; several coats of urethane oil, allowing each coat 24 hours to dry and lightly sanding between coats. I finish by buffing them on the Beal System.

In preparation for this meeting, I did an internet search for turned wood buttons. I did find a couple of wood-turners who are making buttons. One turner sells very plain buttons (however exotic woods) for prices ranging between $7 and $12.

President - Ron Befferman
Vice President - Alan Tasoff
Secretary - John Andrews
Treasurer - Tom Henry
Photographer / Video - Jeff Schnell
Education - Tom Henry
Newsletter Editor - Arthur Bichsel

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