Project Tutorials


Curly walnut gavels

Before you can start to turn a gavel the design, size, and wood need selected. The design I used here is a traditional one that looks good and works well as a functional or presentation gavel. When I was first asked to make gavel samples for the Oklahoma State House of Representatives I did not have any idea exactly what size to make or what would be a good design. I ask the local library for help on with this information; the internet is a good resource now. Search for gavel or antique gavels. You can find samples of different shapes and sizes to get you started.

There are some standard sizes for gavels but do not be afraid to bend the rules and make a custom gavel to fit someone’s personal taste. A judicial gavel usually has an overall length of 10” to 11” and the head is 4” in length by 2 ½” in diameter. I make two sizes of gavels for the State. The Speaker of the House of Representatives uses the largest gavel. The head is 2 7/8” in diameter and 5 1/2" long and the overall length is 15”.

The wood I mostly use is walnut; most any hardwood used in furniture making will work. Ebony and rosewood gavels are popular for presentation sets. Dry walnut is easy to find in 12/4 stock but the exotics dimensioned to 3” or thicker and dry are hard to come by. I try to find a wood dealer that has exotics that have been air-drying for a several years.

With the above considerations taken care of, we can now get down to the actual turning of a gavel.

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Walnut gavel head blank between centers

Since this is a large square, 3”, I will start the turning between centers and turn a tenon to fit in the chuck. The spur center for the Stronghold chuck is convenient for this operation and saves time in not having to remove the chuck to install a drive center.

Spur center tip in blank

To quickly center, the blank I roughly eye the center and stick the spur point into the wood enough to hold it. Bring the tailstock in to hold the other end and rotate the blank to check centering. If not I move the point to another point and check again until centered. I cut all my blanks slightly oversize so I do not have to center perfect to keep the finished diameter I want. Once centered tighten the tailstock to engage the spurs on the center.

Roughing blank to round

Start roughing the blank from either end, not in the middle, and cut back across the blank until round.

Roughing headstock end of blank

When you reach the opposite end, reverse the gouge and turn toward the end of the blank.

Skew peeling cut for tenon

I am using a peeling cut with the skew on its side to form a tenon for the chuck.

Turned tenonon head

The straight tenon formed with a flat or slightly undercut shoulder to fit the jaws of the Stronghold chuck.

Tenon in chuck

The tenon seated firmly against the chuck jaws so the largest diameter area gives good lateral support while turning an unsupported spindle.

Sizing cuts on head

Sizing the blank to slightly over the desired diameter. When I say slightly over, I mean about 1/64”. Sanding will reduce the diameter by a small amount later.

Planing to size

Turn the whole blank down to the sized areas. Cut the surface cleanly because the tops of the beads and ends are at this level. The cylinder needs to be a consistent diameter all the way across. I do not want one end of the gavel larger than the other one.

Head storyboard

The storyboard for the head. The length and all the major transition points are marked, the high spots and the diameters also.

Laying out marks on head

With the lathe on transfer the layout points to the blank. Each point on the storyboard that needs to be marked precisely has a small V notch for the pencil to rest in.