Lathe for Pie Crust Top

sash plane

I'm moving this to this form....

Jeff L Headley wrote:
Jeff L Headley said:
Steve, The top could be done with a router. But that way you would not feel the wind in your face as you turn the top. What kind of lathe do you have?


I have the PSI 12" Turncrafter Pro var Speed
What my thinking is... I have a 1.25" shaft, a 1 hp motor, and a bearing hanger for a bench top...
I can make a bench side overhang lathe to put a panel on to turn .. that way i can turn up to what ever size top i need.... my only concern is, the method of attaching the top to the face place on shaft..

I like the lathe idea as i can turn it round and hollow out the top and make the molding..  The article I'm following is from FWW #67 Page 81.

But all this is still in planning stage... I don't know to just do it in MoHog or Practiz on a much cheaper wood 1st. I'm thinking cheap 1st , then jump in deep end... :)

Steve, With central American Mahogany today and its availability I might think of turning one first out of maple or birch as a practice piece. Birch was used as a mahogany replacement in many 20th century pieces stained to look like Mahogany. Do you have a use for a second top? I am not familiar with your lathe. Slow speeds are good on a lathe you are not familiar with. But if it spins with little vibration fast is nice also. I guess it depends on what you are used to working with. Please let me know how things go.

I've made several pie crust tea tables 34" dia.  The safest way to remove material from the center is with a router.  You did not state what size top you are making but I assume it will be about the average size of 32-36".  Leave the piece of wood square and screw it to a flat board.  A flush or solid core (better) house door works great.  Mount the router on a board and pin one end to the center of the top. Spin/rotate the board and router until you have cleaned up the top.  Use a card scraper to clean up the machine marks.

If your top is say 34" dia. your 12" lather is way to small for this size top and much too dangerous.  It will also need to spin at a slow speed.  If your top is 24" dia. then your lathe might be able to to the job but it will still have to spin at a slow speed or you risk the possibility of it coming off. 

One way to mount it to your lathe is to first bolt a piece of 3/4" plywood to the face plate.  Then turn or "face off" the ply so it is flat and runs true.  Then screw your pie crust top to the ply.

When I worked in a wood pattern shop I saw a large job fly off the lathe and break the turner's arm.  Be carefull.  I would still use the router method unless you have an industrial size lathe.

Do what Jeff suggest and use a piece of chaper wood for practice.

Dennis Bork
Antiquity Period Designs, Ltd.
At the risk of sounding like a cowboy, just true up your faceplate as was mentioned then glue the top to it with paper and glue and go at it. I start with a gouge and finish with a heavy barely rounded scraping tool. Always start at the rim and work in towards the center, if you go the other way it can get away from you.
Two things you will definitely need that were mentioned: a heavy and steady outboard tool rest, and a lathe that you can slow WAY down. I could definitely see it breaking an arm- that rim speed needs to be pretty low. It's surprising how slow you can spin it and still turn just fine.-Al

I and my students have made tops in the 32-36" dia. size range and here's how we've had success.  I've found that if you try to turn the entire tabletop, you almost have to do it at once.  If it sits around for a day or two after starting, it won't be flat.  Also, as you turn deeper into the material, the stresses change and the top will have to be repeatably re-trued.

In a school shop situation where students can only work for 40 min. in a period,  I found that if they mount their top to a piece of 3/4 plywood that's been trued up on a faceplate as Dennis suggested (I used a piece approx. 10"x28" screwed across the grain of the top- that will help to keep it flat).  Layout the mounting holes for the plywood to the mahogany exactly as the screw pattern for the battens would be and then you're set to turn. 

The top can be mounted square or rough round on the lathe, but after attaching to the outboard side of the lathe, use a pencil and tool rest to draw a true circle on the underside of the table top surface.  Then you can bandsaw it close to a perfect circle without taking the faceplate off. 

Next, turn the rim and just enough of the profile to do the piecrust and a slight flat for a reference.  That's all the turning we do- maybe 3" in. The rest is hogged out with a router riding on a sled.  As long as the plywood is attached to the underside of the top, very little cupping occurs, even if the routing is done days later.  Final cleanup of the routed area is done quickly with a cabinet scraper and card scraper along the edges

As Al stated, the big thing is lathe speed.  Mine starts at 300 rpm.  Even slower would be great.  The greater the diameter, the faster the outside surface speed given the rpms.
I forgot to mention,  be sure to really tighten the faceplate to the shaft.  Not just hand snug.  The first time I tried this, I just snugged it up and after spinning it by hand, turned the lathe on and off quickly.  The shaft stopped- the top kept spinning until it unscrewed itself and took off!

Live and learn!
I bought the Schiffer Book - Making a Piecrust Tea Table. The one with all the steps in it. It was mostly showing the carving part but had a few steps on table top.

Looking at the book.... I kinda  like the way he used the router on top, he plowed the field and left hedge rows for router to stay on, then just used a chisel to pop off the hedge row.... lol
I was wanting to stay sum what handtool only...but I guess you say, your using a power lathe...
but if you don't look at the power source from say a big wheel lathe(i.e. Hay shop Lathe) it all most would seem to be a power tool... well very close anyway.... ele motor vs hand turning the wheel... hmmmmm

I just don't want to be dragged into using power tools, just to get it done. . Like i said, I'm still in Planning stage of this....asking questions before i jump in deep end...

The Lathe I would use.... would be a "HOME Made" lathe, just for this project. I have a 1 1/4" keyed shaft, some bearing hangers to mount it on the table with, and a 1 hp ele motor.... I would make the ele motor a variable speed type to control the speed. also in planning stage
but the router method is looking very good.... lol

Thanks for all the reply's... I'm sure I will be asking more..!

At one of the Williamsburg woodworking conferences Mack Headley said that after studying several pie crust tea table tops he noticed that only the outer several inches was turned on the lathe (like Jeff stated).  The rest of the inner section was removed with a hand router and chisels.

Steve, if you make the motor varaible speed keep in mind that if you reduce the voltage you will reduce the speed but also the horse power.  If you vary the frequency (hi-tech) then the hp will not be reduced.

A machinist will tell you to always turn from the center out to avoid vibrations. I've tried it many times and they are wright.  As Al stated, it might get away from you this way but if you go slow and light cuts you will be okay.

You never stated what diameter your top will be.  Let us know how you make out.

Dennis Bork
Antiquity Period Designs, Ltd.

What I'm think I am going to do is a 32"-34" Dia, snake foot(w/pad), tilt top...not sure on bird cage... southern style(Elfe like). I may back up and make a few candle stands with 12" hard mount top, then work my way into the Big Pie....

MESDA had a pie crust back a few years ago that I liked, but the Ole Prude Bitty that was showing the group around not only "rush'ed" us through.... she would not let us take Pic's.... I did sneak a few in but it was to dark for the photo's with out flash... and I did get busted on one(w/Flash).... :) I was the one she keep saying toward my way.... "everybody stay together now". I even got on floor to look under and she got onto me for that....???? anyway....



Make sure your lathe is weighted (sp?) down or better yet bolted to your floor.  You don't want it to vibrate and walk across your shop.  Do you have an industrial lathe or a super heavy duty lathe to turn this 34" top?

Dennis Bork
Steve, The folks that attended the Virginia Chapter meeting at Stratford Hall this weekend got a close up view of the original Robert Walker teatable with the Shell, and S and C-scroll carving on the edge. In raking light, it looked like it was not a turned top. There were numerous variations from the planar surface all the way around the edge and several inches inward. A Walker table is also at MESDA so maybe you captured a photo of a similar table.

I showed photos of my reproduction approach and that I used the router and "hedge row" method that Steve mentioned. I clipped the ~1 inch hedges with the 2" wide chisel that Al first encouraged me to use (thanks Al). Since the grain will invariably change across the top, you just need to remember to start clipping the hedge from the top and not at the roots. Watch the grain orientation and it chisels off rather quickly and divot free, down to the routed paths between the rows.

On the other hand, if the top edge had a thumbnail or a simple turnable profile, I might have attempted the lathe approach.
Either way, have fun, be safe.
I apologize if this is off topic but, I just returned from Stratford Hall today (10:00 tour), it was my first visit, and all that I can say is "WOW". Do they offer any tours that allows one to get a close look at the furniture?