Furniture Fittings – Knobs and Knockers

As much as I enjoy fixing the largest piece of wood I can find onto my lathe and making the shavings fly, there are also advantages – and a great deal of satisfaction – to be had from working in a smaller scale. These two furniture fittings are a perfect example of what you can achieve

Furniture Fittings -  Photo 1

There is a wide range of colourful timbers to choose from for turning work on this scale; indeed, many of them are available only in small dimensions. Sometimes the outer surface of an exotic hardwood can look very much like any other oxidised hardwood if the timber has been air-dried for a long time. It’s only when the crusted surface has been removed that the dazzling nature of the grain’s figuring is revealed. Woods like Mexican rosewood, from which I turned this cupboard knob, and tulipwood, from which the ring handle was made, are two examples of exotic timber so beautiful that it’s a delight to the eyes just gazing at the contrasting colours.

Clear vision
When it comes to small decorative work of this nature, it’s the attention to fine detail that’s most important. Tools have to be precisely ground so that they generate accurate profiles and create clean crisp corners. I now have difficulty in seeing tiny mouldings clearly, especially when forming them in dark wood, so I find that a strong directional work light is essential. A magnifying glass will also help to check that inside V-cuts and fillets are crisp and clean.


Furniture Fittings - Knobs and Knockers Figure 2

To hold the block of rosewood on the lathe, mount one end in a compression chuck. Then slice across the free end using a small 1/4 in bowl gouge to form the domed face of the knob. Start the cut slowly with the gouge on its side and anchored firmly onto the tool rest so it’s prevented from snatching into the corner of the cylinder.

Slowly edge the gouge forward with the bevel in line with the cut. Once you’ve traversed the exposed corner and cut a little way across the face, the bevel of the gouge will be supported by the freshly cut surface, photo 1. You can now relax your grip slightly and allow the tool to cut at its own speed.

Detailing the face

Reposition the tool rest so it’s almost parallel to the face of the knob. With a skew chisel held on its side, use the point of the tool to form two shallow V cuts in the surface, photo 2. Then form the section between the two V cuts into a bead using the point of the skew chisel again, photo 3. This time slide it in an arc to form first one side of the bead and then, by reversing the tool, the other.

Furniture Fittings - Knobs and Knockers Photos 1-6

Form the round centre button of the knob using the same technique. Then complete the ogee moulding shape by forming a shallow hollow with the point of a 1/4 in spindle gouge, photo 4.

Shaping the neck

Form the steep hollow section in the middle of the knob with the point of the spindle gouge. Hold the tool on its side as you feed it in and twist it round as it cuts so it’s brought to a level position at the base of the hollow. Repeat this mirror fashion to produce the other side of the hollow so that the two sides are symmetrical.

If you feel the gouge slipping back sideways as you make your entry cut, you can prevent this with the simple addition of a vertical tool guide. I made mine using a masonry nail placed in a hole drilled in the tool rest, photo 5. Round off the rim of the knob using a parting tool, by rolling it over from side to side and cutting with the corners of the blade, photo 6.

After reducing the diameter of the shoulder of the knob, further reduce the dowel section to match the size of a standard drill bit. To clean up the parallel sides of the dowel, use a lateral cutting technique with the parting tool by slowly feeding it sideways, photo 7, using just the corner of the blade to make the cut.

Removing tool marks

With a fine-grained wood like this, you shouldn’t need anything coarser than 250 grit abrasive to remove the tool marks, after which you can finish off using 600 grit. Cut the abrasive into small pieces and roll it up so you can work it into the coves and round the beads without damaging the corner details. It’s in this sanding stage that the full beauty of the wood is revealed. Its purpose is not simply to make the surface smooth, but to remove all the tool marks. These sometimes become visible only with the finer grades of abrasive, and a stubborn blemish or scratch may appear as late as the polishing stage. If this happens, you won’t be the first turner who has to go back and start all over again with the abrasive!

Polish and wax

Wipe the surface clean and apply a couple of coats of shellac polish with a soft cotton cloth. This works into the crevices of the fine detail, and after about ten minutes the surface will be dry enough to be waxed.

Furniture Fittings - Knobs and Knockers Photos 7-11

Carnauba wax creates one of the brightest and, for a project like this which is going to be handled, one of the most durable finishes. Rub the surface all over with the stick of the carnauba; then burnish this into the work with the cloth so it melts and spreads evenly all over, photo 8. Apply the stick of wax once more and then burnish again, gradually reducing the pressure so the work is brought to an even shine.

When you’re satisfied with the finish, slice through the dowel with the point of the skew chisel in a series of deep V-cuts. You can either part all the way through by holding the tool in one hand and cradling the work in the other, or just take a fine saw to the last few millimetres.

Making the collar plate

Use double-sided tape to stick the collar plate blank to a small wooden faceplate. To cut the hole and the recess for the shoulder of the knob, use a small square scraper which has had its sides ground so that they don’t bind on the side of the work, photo 9. Then use the same tool to form the collar’s small round moulding, photo 10. This method relies entirely on the razor sharpness of the tool’s edge to achieve a perfectly clean cut. Polish and wax the collar plate in the same way as the knob. Then prise it gently off its faceplate with a chisel, photo 11, and pick off the double-sided tape with your fingernail.

You can now stick the shoulder of the knob into its recess in the collar plate, ready for use. Mine was destined for a cabinet door, so I fitted it with a simple latch bar as shown in the main picture overleaf.


Furniture Fittings - Knobs and Knockers 01

To make the ring part of the handle, I first used my drill press to bore a 16mm diameter hole through the centre of the 40mm diameter ring blank. The ring blank can then be held on a wedged mandrel chuck while each side of the ring is formed in turn. The mandrel chuck is made from a block of hardwood which is fixed in a chuck or on a faceplate, then turned with a 16mm diameter projection. This is sawn down the middle so a wedge can be introduced to expand the mandrel and grip the workpiece after it’s been positioned, photo 12. You can see here that my mandrel chuck includes a clever extra feature: a sanding drum which will be used later to sand the inside of the ring smooth.

Furniture Fittings - Knobs and Knockers Figure 1

Forming the ring

Slice the ring to the correct diameter with a 1/4 in bowl gouge, photo 12; then part down to clean off the front of the disc. To form the ring, first scrape one side with the ring scraper, photo 13; then reverse the ring blank on the mandrel to complete the other half, photo 14.

Setting it free

To part the ring off, slowly feed the point of the ring scraper in, stopping the lathe periodically to test the amount of flexing the ring will do in your fingers. At some stage it will be ready to break away and be separated completely from the waste core, but before this happens you should complete as much of the sanding and the polishing as you can while it is still supported. Then use the drum sander on the mandrel to sand the inside of the ring.

Furniture Fittings - Knobs and Knockers Photos 12-17

Mounting the post

To hold the small block of wood for the ring post so it’s more easily accessible, make yourself a simple cone chuck. This is a block of scrap wood which is screwed onto a faceplate or held in a chuck and is then turned to a cone shape with a gouge. The end is made flat by parting across it so that the block of tulipwood can be squarely fixed to it with a large blob of hot-melt glue, photo 15.

Apply the glue to one end of the block and push it against the end of the cone chuck so the surplus glue is squeezed out. Centre it on the cone and hold it there for a few seconds so the glue can set. When the glue has cooled completely, gently trim off the corners of the block and reduce it to a cylinder with a 1/4 in bowl gouge. Bring the tool rest round so it’s at 45° to the end of the work, and use the same freshly-sharpened gouge to slice the end smooth.

Drilling the post

Before drilling the hole for the ring, mark the centre of the post and prick it with a bradawl. This will help hold the 5/16 in twist drill in place while it makes its entry cut. Gently guide the drill through the centre of the post, and be very careful not to put any pressure on it as it emerges on the other side, photo 16, to avoid causing an unsightly breakout. Sand the inside of the hole smooth with some rolled-up abrasive.

Shaping the post

Mark out the full length of the post on the side of the workpiece, plus the two intermediate positions which will define the central bead section. Use the point of a skew chisel to cut in deeper on each side of this central bead. Then use a parting tool to form the bead by gently twisting the tool from side to side so that the corners of the tool cut sideways, photo 17, forming a shallow radius between the two skew cuts.

On the base of the ring post, use the parting tool to cut a dowel of a convenient diameter to match a standard drill size. Then, using the side cutting technique with the parting tool, round off the back shoulder of the post so it forms a small quadrant. Finally, place the skew chisel flat on the tool rest and use it to scrape the decorative lines on the head of the post, photo 18. These can then be sanded to form shallow beads.

Furniture Fittings - Knobs and Knockers Photos 18-20

Fitting the ring

The ring post has to be split in two so the ring can be fitted through the hole. Mount the post head first in a hole in a block of scrap wood lined with tissue. Make sure there’s enough space around the post so it isn’t restricted when it splits apart. Split the post from the rear so that the face isn’t marked by the cutting edge, photo 19.

To assemble the ring handle, place the ring in the hole, apply some epoxy resin glue to the two halves of the post and use a small G-cramp and some scrap pads to hold them together again while the glue sets, photo 20. Then glue the dowel into a matching hole in the furniture to which it’s to be fitted, and you’re done.

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