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Turning wooden tap handles on a wood lathe

Posted by on September 14, 2012

DIY wood lathe tap handles

For all of the more creative-minded homebrewers out there, I have found a really fun way to use your creative energy to learn a new skill and make something beer-related.  I recently used a Groupon for a short-term membership to the TechShop in Raleigh where I’ve been taking a few classes and learned how to use a wood lathe.

Wood lathes are typically used to turn things such as spindles, bowls, pepper mills, pens and bottle stoppers.  This makes it the perfect tool for turning something like a tap handle.

Unlike most woodworking tools, the lathe is not based on precise measurements or straight cuts.  It’s the artists’ favorite tool in the wood shop – which is why I love it.  It is about working the wood and not fighting it, creating something that flows with the shape of the wood.

That being said, there is definitely some technique to learn.  You’ll have to learn how to make the basic cuts on a lathe, such as beads and coves, and you’ll need to learn how to use a few tools – a spindle gouge, a roughing gouge, and a skew are all good ones for using on a tap handle.  Obviously, there are others, but those are the basics.

You can learn the basics in a couple hours at a class, or from some YouTube videos, then it’s just taking the time to practice.  I find it best to draw out the tap handle to scale, mark the cuts on the wood once you’ve rounded it, and then practice.  It makes it a lot easier than trying to eyeball everything.

wood tap handle plans

After some practicing and studying some YouTube videos, you’re well on your way.  Once you have a shape down that you like, then it’s just a matter of sanding it down – I usually gradually work my way from 180 grit up to 600 grit to make it nice and smooth.  And then apply your finish of choice.  I have really enjoyed using the Mylands high build friction polish.  It lends a slight shine and really brings out the colors and lines in the wood.

Once you have a handle turned, sanded and finished, remove it from the lathe and drill a hole in the base, twist in a double-threaded insert, and you’re ready to attach it to your tap!  Below are a few videos that I have found particularly helpful in learning to turn tap handles:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LXL6EMtiFII&feature=plcp
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uYnEPi7CX7s
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OiRnchYpwBA
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2xDCNTE4Q5I

If you don’t have access to a lathe, but would love to have your own hand-turned tap  handles. just let me know.  I’m still practicing and would love to make one for you at cost.  Depending on the size and type of wood, they cost as little as $10, and can go up to $20, with the average handle being around $15.  Just shoot me an email with some design ideas, size, and type of wood, or just let me know what you like and I can make some suggestions – and I would be more than happy to turn a few for you while I’m practicing!

wood lathe turned tap handles

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2 Responses to Turning wooden tap handles on a wood lathe

  1. Lara

    These all look awesome! I also love a good technical specification drawing.

    I have often thought of getting a lathe for furniture-making in addition to tap handles. Right now, I am really into geometric and angular shapes, though…

    Do you think a lathe could produce results like these cool shapes but for tap handles instead of candlesticks?

    • Chris

      For sure! A lathe could definitely do that. But it is going to be difficult to make all of those angles match up exactly. As I mentioned, a lathe is very free-flowing, but it can do straight cuts as well, as long as it’s cylindrical.

      If you get a lathe, I’m inviting myself over to come use it so I don’t have to pay for a membership at the TechShop!

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