Lathe and Shaper Setups for Fluting and Reeding Columns

Jigs and rigs for fluting and reeding columns or posts using a lathe, shaper, or router. April 24, 2006

I am trying to come up with a jig that I can use to reed and flute columns or posts. I have a 53" Vega lathe. I was leaning toward a plywood box that would sit on the bed of the lathe. That box would surround the turning and support a router in a bracket on the top. Is there a better way to do this? Are there any pitfalls I need to watch out for? Will the material be stable enough? I would like the jig to be able to do tapered and constant diameter material. Is there any other functionality that I may be able to work into a jig like this?

Forum Responses
(Architectural Woodworking Forum)
From contributor H:
The way this is done mainly is on an over arm or pin router. Next a shaper. Both require the use of an indexing head and tail piece mounted on a moveable table or template. Doing it this way, you can flute or reed almost any shape you can turn on your lathe.

From the original questioner:
I don't have an over arm pin router. How would it be done on the shaper?

From contributor F:
You can make a router jig to flute on the lathe or even entirely with a bench mounted jig. The fluted section can be straight or tapered and jigged accordingly. The fluted section cannot be easily jigged in this way if it has curvature lengthwise. Accuracy of the circular layout comes from accurately laying out and dividing a stop scale on the jig's end.

From the original questioner:
I didn't think about the axis not being straight. That would be a tough one to figure out. That's why I threw it out for everyone to chew on.

From contributor F:
Yes, a lot of that curved work is done with hand carving.

From contributor H:
Get an indexing head and tail stock from a metal working tool supplier. Mount these on a board or beam of some kind. I use a piece of 8/4 oak. Mount your turning in the jig (head stock and tail stock). Mount your cutter (pointed for reeding, convex for fluting) in your shaper near the top of the spindle, but between 2 small bearings/rub collars. These bearings keep the cutter depth consistent and follow the contour of your turning. This works on turnings as large as 4" diameter with the shapers we use. There is also a spindle for a shaper called a French spindle. SCMI had them available for their shapers at one time but no longer. This spindle is solid with a slot cut in the center of it, allowing for a piece of profiled and balanced steel to be inserted and held in with a bolt from above. Experienced old time "shapermasters" will have knowledge of it. It requires no bearings. The spindle is smooth and rubs directly on the work. Pin router (overarm), shaper, CNC - there are many way to skin a cat. Just depends on how many cats you have to skin.

From the original questioner:
That is an interesting way of looking at it. I was hoping to do bigger diameters. I think the method could be made to work if the right parts were available.

From contributor C:
Vega duplicators have a router adapter that can do this, which may be your answer. The old Craftsman RouterCrafter (same as Trend unit) is also about to do it, if you can live with its length limitations.

From contributor D:
As for the lathe, we do this with a router mounted so its shaft is parallel to the floor/latheways. A counterbalance is used on the far side to balance the jig/contraption. The center of the bit height matches the centers of the lathe. An index head is used or made to suit. There are small depth gauges (just small chunks o' wood) on either side - left and right - of the bit, and these control depth, and ride on the work piece. The bit can be moved in/out independently of the fence depth control. This type of fence can ride on straight, tapered, concave, convex, or everybody's favorite, hourglass shapes. The next chapter is how you can easily control depth by just having one chunk o' wood to one side of the bit, and by holding the router at right angles to the lathe centers, or swiveling slightly to the left or right, you can control depth as you slide the router down the shape, mimicking the best hand carved details that increase/decrease in depth/width as the shape swells and tapers. By working from the side of the piece and using the ways of the lathe, the jigging is greatly simplified, far more flexible, and creative as can be.

From contributor H:
A larger straight or tapered column flute could be cut on a table saw using a moulding/dado head. Indexing could be achieved horizontally so as not to get in the way of the cut. I have not done this, but I can see it being possible.

From contributor O:
This is a little off the professional path of the other posts, but maybe it will help. I fluted some 6" and 8" PVC columns with my Makita MV12 (?) router. I made an 8' long plywood box. It had 2 6" high sides (shimmed 2" higher for the 8" columns) that I just clamped into position on my workbench. I clamped some plywood on top of one side to guide the router. I set the fence so it was centered on the column. If I had been fluting wood, I would have built wedge ramps at both ends to limit the burning that I seem to experience at the end of the router cut, but the PVC cuts like a dream and will be painted.
I planned on building a nice indexed wheel, but it was easier to just mark the column and reposition it manually. It was pretty easy.

If I understand your particulars, I would suggest you might rig an adjustable mortising fixture above your lathe with adjustable height at both ends (that would allow you to adjust for tapered pieces). Adjust the fixture so it is centered on the lathe axis and is resting directly on the work piece. Rotate the piece the proper number of degrees (I personally calculated the distance and rotated the column that distance - I found it easier).

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor J:
I am a retired machinist and faced with the problem of fluting turned parts, I created my own fluting adapter that is easily attached or removed from my wood lathe. When on my wood lathe, the attachment allows me to turn, flute, barley twist, overhead route, copy and index route both vertically and horizontally. I can flute convex and concave surfaces and either copy an existing turning or create a new turning from an aluminum guide I make from 1/8" aluminum stock.