Turning project: Architectural columns

I recently accepted a project to turn 3 columns for a house in Seattle that was more than 100-years old.  The surviving column was of red cedar, and measured 5.5” by 5.5” by 60 inches long.  Fortunately, my lathe can turn 24-inches by 66-inches long.

I contacted a local lumber dealer that specializes in red cedar and they agreed to cut some logs to the dimensions I needed…for $175.00. 




I set the timber up on the lathe, located the exact center on both ends and marked the centers.  On one end I screwed on a 4-inch diameter face plate using 8 screws, and used a center punch to mark the other end for a live center. 

Silvia and I mounted the timber on the lathe between the spindle and the tailstock, adjusted the speed to 800 RPM (no vibration) and adjusted the tool rest.




Accuracy is critical because I am making a reproduction…so I transferred dimensions (distance and diameters) from the sample (old) column to the timber in increments .  I go for one feature at a time, turning a band,  bead or on ovulo as we go. 

Because Cedar is a soft wood, I had to be very careful not to tear away any of the wood with an aggressive or uncontrolled cut.  Even a sharp gouge left a very rough surface….arrgh!!  So what to do?  The best tool for this occasion was my 1 3/8” Alan Lacer skew.

Red Cedar is a very abrasive wood, which demanded frequent sharpening.  Many many many checks with tape measure, 6-“ rule and calipers allowed me to create 3 reproduction columns in 9-hours. 

Putting them side-by-side, any slight differences are negligible, and when installed 8-feet apart they look identical !!!




A demanding, and very satisfying project. 

The customer was happy and I was happy for a difficult job that turned out well, keeping in mind that only one mistake means that the valuable wood was useless….we can’t put the wood back!!!

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Capt. Jack Wayne 

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