In making choices about the tools and processes that I use, I try to reconcile whether I am going to continue learning and enjoying working that way and if my skills and chairs will keep developing. For instance, using the skew for the finish of my turnings, as opposed to sandpaper, took quite a while to conquer, but now it's great fun and the work keeps getting better and faster.
The same has gone for steadying vibration on the lathe. I've taken some steps, such as weighting the lathe with cinder blocks and bolting it to the floor and wall, but I've always tried to manage vibration with sharp tools, reasonable cutting pace and my hand steadying the piece when needed. I figure if I can turn on my little rumbler, I can turn anywhere. When demonstrating at Peter's Valley Craft School, I even pulled out their ragged old Delta benchtop lathe and let the Oneways sit idle. Just like home!
But this weekend I'll be demonstrating one of the toughest turnings I do, which is the fan back side chair post. It's long, thin and detailed. Now I could practice and probably get pretty proficient, but I don't make many of these and I just don't see it happening. Plus, as Curtis said when asked about demonstrating this turning, "I could try, but everything has to be just right".
With all this in mind, I set out to make a steady rest. Most designs out there seem like a pain to make and set up and they rely on contacting multiple points, which means more set up time and less time turning, plus they get in the way of cutting.
Then, I remembered a steady rest concept that I'd seen and even used almost 10 years ago. It's simple and it works. Basically it's a V block that's held against the spinning piece by a wedge and gravity. It's easy to make, self centers on any size spindle and beyond that, you can cut right across the contact point and the wedge drops deeper and the V block advances giving constant support. That's right, you can cut right across the piece at the steady rest, AWESOME!
Below is the rest in position. First I removed the wedge and V block from the base and placed it about 1" behind where the work piece. Then, I clamped it to the lathe bed with a couple of little C clamps. Next I cut and smoothed an area for it to make contact. I put a little wax on as well for good measure. The V block is made of a very dense exotic that a student gave me (you were right Peter, it does come in handy!).
Here you can see that once I turned the detail intensive parts, I was able to rough out the long "vase" right across the steady rest.
Once the entire piece is turned, I go back and remove the V block and wedge and skew carefully across the contact area to finish the piece. Below is another image of the rig with the V block and wedge in position.
I'm going to make some measured drawings to post, but I just couldn't wait for them to be done to share this. Now instead of spending the entire time worrying about the wood climbing over the top of my tool, I am able to focus on the quality of the shapes and surface, it's a compromise that I can live with.