Making Giant Wooden Buttons on a Lathe….the Easy Way

I do sometimes worry when turners on YouTube make a project way, way more complicated than it needs to be. Many like to add a bunch of complicated chucking scenarios and use a few MDF jigs and the like. When my wife asked for some giant wooden buttons to act as drape tie-backs I thought I would skip the YouTubes and figure my own way through it. Sometimes this is asking for trouble and a do-over, but in this case it totally paid off.

I used maple for these buttons, but any hard wood will do. Avoid pine because it can be a pain to turn sometimes.

The pictures above show the preparation steps. I used a large clothing button as a guide to proportions of the rim and placement of the thread holes. My buttons were in the order of 3 inches across and I used a compass to draw the perimeter and the distance of the thread holes from the center. I drilled pilot holes through the thread hole locations to guide my auger bits later on in the process. The button blanks were roughly cut out on the band saw before being mounted on the lathe.

OK, so here are the steps to turning the button on the lathe:

  1. The work is simply clamped between the live center and the jaws of my chuck. This is a temporary holding solution while I mark out the tenon on the rear of the button with a parting tool. The lathe speed is slow and I check the clamping pressure regularly.  A bowl gouge is used to shape the back of the button.
  2. The button is turned around and the tenon is firmly grasped by the 4-jaw chuck. The parting too marks out the location of the outer rim and the bowl gouge is used to shape the inside front of the button.
  3. With the lathe on its slowest setting, the button is sanded smooth with some 120 grit.

The last steps are to drill out the thread holes with an auger bit and remove the tenon with a chisel. The giant wooden buttons look great left naked, but we painted them to match the drapes.



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