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Once again, I said yes to a friend (it seems I say yes to lots of my friends) who wanted me to duplicate some woodworking in a house he is rehabing. This time it was something I’ve never done. But, of course, I said “No problem”. (Whenever I say that, I always hear this other voice telling me this WILL be a problem, but I always ingnore it.)

This little project involved making two balusters – with spirals. I own a lathe and can turn well enough, but I wasn’t sure how to cut the spirals. I asked a few folks and they all said, “Oh, you have to carve them by hand”. Yeah, right. I like hand using hand tools as much as the next woodworker but this seemed like a nightmare coming to life. How would I keep the grooves consistant and parallel to each other? How long would this take? I would need to practice on other woods before I broke out the mahagony (the wood used in the rest of the staircase). Seemed like this would be a problem.

So, I began a quest for the perfect way to make these balusters using power tools (the ones with cords). I began searching the internet for tools, clues and techniques that would make this task “easy”. I found a couple of tools that would do what I wanted, but one of them was extinct and the other cost a lot of money. I started reading some threads of conversations about such a tool. One chap from England said, “There’s a book out there titled …’Router Magic’ and it has plans for a rather sturdy looking tool called a router lathe.”

I got all excited because we have a copy of “Router Magic,” written by Bill Hylton, here at Popular Woodworking. I grabbed the book and there it was – the router lathe. All I had to do was build it. I just needed some plywood, a router and, what? – bicycle parts? Yup, I read it correctly. Well, I have 6 bicycles, so “Frankesteining” one of them would be okay.

Bill Hylton was still working at Reader’s Digest, writing about woodworking. He and his buddy, Fred Matlack, came up with this very clever tool and it looked like something I could make. I stripped my bicycle, found some plywood, bought some hardware and started the build. I had no idea it would be this much fun! The photo shows where I’m at now. It’s almost finished and I can’t wait to start turning balusters with my router.

I’ll show the final results in a couple of weeks and let you know if it works. Oh, and don’t forget to order Bill Hylton’s new book, “The Drawer Book”.

Jim Stack
Senior Editor, Popular Woodworking books

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Showing 10 comments
  • Jonas

    Just because it is straightforward, I can still be impressed. What impresses me the most is that somebody actuallly pulls themselves together and build such a thing. I am equally impressed when people makes their own engines, eventhough they are also pretty simple machines. I admire the will to make something, even if it is something that has a very limited use.

  • Chris Friesen

    Looks fairly straightforward…the crank moves the router carriage along the workpiece while simultaneously turning the workpiece, and the ratio between the various gears determines how tight the spirals are.

  • Jonas

    I have seen the future with my own eyes, and it is mechanical with chains, sprockets and plywood.
    The deepest respect from this side of the pond (the European).

  • I certainly hope we can expect an action video of this contraption in action!

  • stackj

    I hope to fire it up in the next day or so. Got to get the router deck finished. No, I didn’t cleanup my shop. I just got tight on the photo. My table saw is piled with hardware…

  • Outstanding young sir… look forward to seeing this baby in action. btw. Nice shop. (You didn’t clean up befor the pix did you)? LOL Great Job!

  • Paladin

    Any article with cycling and woodworking will hook me. This looks like an interesting project to build, even if you don’t need the spiral turnings:)

    Well I’m off for my morning ride, then a few hours in the shop.

  • Jonas

    I definitely think that there should be an article about it in the magazine.
    Its always a great experience to build a machine, if it turns out to be able to do what it was supposed to do. Sadly enough, I never find much use for these machines later on, but building them is one of the things I like a lot about woodworking.
    Thumbs up for this project.

  • Bruce Jackson

    LOL! Amen to that!

  • Drew DePenning

    That looks awesome, Jim. Maybe we can make a video to see this baby in action!


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