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.
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:
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!