Turning Threads in Wood, Easier than You Think
- Dave Gould
I first became interested in thread chasing while watching the Mike Mahoney video “Hollow Forms And Urns – A Workshop”, in which Mike threaded a disk of boxwood that became a collar insert for an urn, into which a blackwood finial was later threaded."
When I spent a week in Mike’s workshop in Provo, Utah, last December, I pressed him to include thread chasing among the projects we would attempt."
We wound up tackling thread chasing on our last afternoon and never got around to making inserts. We simply covered making inside and outside threads."
Tonight, the demonstration will cover the basics and some additional projects that can be accomplished using these skills.
The measure of the “denseness” of wood is its Specific Gravity. Specific Gravity is the comparison of the weight of a cubic foot of water at sea level (which is 62.4 lbs/cu.ft.) to the weight of a cubic foot of wood. "
A cubic foot of wood that weighs 62.4 lbs/cu.ft. at sea level is assigned a Specific Gravity number of 1. Woods that are heavier (more dense) will have a higher number and woods that are lighter (less dense) will have a lower number."
Chasing threads requires a wood with a Specific Gravity of around 1".
Pink Ivory - 0.9"
Boxwood - 0.9"
African Blackwood - 1.2"
Lignum Vitae - 1.25"
The only wood I used for thread chasing prior to preparing for this demonstration was Lignum Vitae. The benefit of using Lignum Vitae is that it is a naturally oily wood and as such is self-lubricating whereas some wax is often used to lightly coat chased threads to facilitate the joining of threads."
Sizing the work
Many turners suggest creating the female thread first and then measuring the base of those threads as the sought diameter of the male spigot to be threaded. This is the trial and error method. If once the male threads are made and the wo pieces do not thread because the male spigot is too large, then the threads have to be cut down and new threads established and the fit checked again."
Robert Sorby makes a thread sizing caliper that takes the guesswork out of sizing – ensuring a correct fit each time. I will demonstrate its use."
Lathe speed 200-350 rpm.
The tool rest should be placed 90 degrees to the lathe bed and at a height that allows the cutting edge of the chasing tool to strike the wood on center or just above center.
The threading cut is begun at an angle to the wall being cut. For the initial threads, start with the third or fourth tooth. Repeat until the thread has started. Once started, the threading tool can be gradually swung around until it is parallel to the side of the piece. Make sure to lift the threading tool once the lead tooth enters the cut recess or relief area.
Once the thread is defined, the first tooth can be used to enter the thread. Using the first tooth will allow the chaser to be pulled into the work. Some apply a light coating of wax at this stage before making the final cuts to fully profile the threads.
The tools should only be sharpened by using a flat stone or diamond hone on the top of the tool. That will sharpen the cutting edge of the teeth. No other sharpening is necessary.
Inserts In Hollowforms For Finials:
This subject is covered nicely in the Mike Mahoney Video noted in the Reference Section and in the Robert Sorby Video. I encourage everyone interested in thread chasing to check these videos out and watch them closely. I’ll include a couple of snipped pictures from the Mike Mahoney Video.
- Cut a recess to accept a fitted collar
- Make insert to be glued into the hollowform
- Thread spigot on piece to be used for the finial
References and resources
• Woodturning Design Issue #46, December 2013, Sam Angelo, pg. 57-61.
• Making Screw Threads in Wood by Fred Holder.
• Bill Jones – Notes From the Turning Shop.
• Bill Jones – Further Notes From the Turning Shop.
• All Screwed Up by John Berkeley.
• Turning Boxes With Threaded Lids by Bill Bowers.
Good threading can only be accomplished on woods that are dense, dry, stable, and close grained. Most of the native woods we are accustomed to working with -- Maple, Black Walnut, Cherry, Box Elder and others -- are not suitable for thread chasing as they are too soft or too brittle.
Woods that are good for threading
There are other exotic woods that thread well but the above are the more well known."
There are synthetic materials that are good for practicing
Resin blanks (pen)
The wood used must be dry and with the grain running parallel to the lathe bed so that there is no later movement which would result in threads that would bind."
Outside Cutter: Has the cutting teeth on the end of the The cutters have teeth that are offset from the vertical allowing them to create the thread as they traverse the threading area."
The number of teeth on the cutters correspond to the number of threads per inch (tpi) that the cutter creates. The most common tpi’s are 10, 16 and 20. The greater the number of teeth on the tool the slower the tool is moved across the cutting surface. It is easier to learn thread chasing by using a higher tpi tool. For these demonstrations I will be using 16 tpi tools.
Other useful tools are:
Robert Sorby Sizing Gag
Forming threads properly requires a slow lathe speed. A speed in the 200 – 350 RPM range is suggested as being ideal for thread
Cutting female threads
Mount the lid blank or the insert blank in the chuck. Hollow out the lid to the desired depth or hollow out the insert all the way through. The inside and outside wall must be parallel."
Cut a relief groove at the end of the section to be threaded. The groove prevents bottoming out the thread chasing tool which would destroy the threads. The outer lip of the inner wall then is chamfered or rounded over. That is the area on which the chasing tool will start the thread."
Cutting the male thread
Mount the base section in the chuck. With the tool rest parallel with the lathe bed, face off the end and create a spigot."
With calipers, measure the inside diameter of the female threads already created. When the spigot is chamfered, the lower edge of the chamfer should fit into the area created by the top of the female threads. Allow enough diameter along the spigot to form the male threads so that they will mesh with the female threads.
Cut a relief groove at the end of the area to be threaded. This can be accomplished with a parting tool.
Lathe speed 200-350 rpm.
The thread chasing tool should be presented to the wood on center or slightly below in a trailing fashion for the best cut. Make the cut starting on the rounded over edge area with a circular motion striking the wood with the third or fourth tooth of the cutter rather than the first tooth. As the thread forms, gradually bring the tool perpendicular to the threading area as the threads are fully profiled."
Test the fit. If the spigot with the male threads is too wide then a beading tool or a flat scraper can be used to lower the male threads and those threads can then be re-profiled and the fit tested again."
Videos and DVDs
Hand Thread Chasing with Allan Batty.
• John Berkeley Screwples Series.
• Focus On Thread Cutting with Robert Sorby.
• Hollow Forms and Urns – A Workshop with Mike Mahoney.
• Wyoming Woodturner with Sam Angelo.
• Hand Thread Chasing with Allan Batty.