Magic Wands and Secret Compartments

If you make a magic wand for one of your children, it is inevitable that your other children will want one too.   Just as day follows night.   No child wants to be out-waggled in a pointy stick magical arms race.  So I set about making a wand for Simon.   I wanted to make the wands a little bit more than just a pointed stick, so I decided to give them a secret compartment.

wandEndCapInPlageWhen I turned the wands, I gave each a finial at the end of the grip.   After turning and sanding the wands, I cut the finials off with the bandsaw.  The idea was that I could then drill holes in both the body of the wand and the end cap and glue a dowel peg to the end cap.  The deep hole in the body would form the secret compartment and the finial and dowel would form a removable cap.

protectingLatheFromWoodI hate turning wood on my metal lathe.   Sawdust and sanding grit can get into everything. The sawdust wicks away oil and the grit can embed into precision mating surfaces causing them to wear quickly.  To avoid this problem, I cover most of the dust-sensitive bits with aluminum foil.  This makes clean up a lot easier.

Holding the wand was a bit tricky because  its uneven shape.

drillingWandEndCapI ended up wrapping it with electrical tape to help protect the wood, and sticking it all the way though the headstock.  The wood is pretty soft, but I didn’t have to tighten the chuck down super tight since I’d be drilling it at high speed with a pretty slow feed.  I used some bits of blue foam to shim the wand so it wouldn’t wiggle.  When I drilled the finial, I used a collar to keep from drilling all the way though.wandThoughHeadstock


With the secret compartments completed, it was time to think about finishing.   The kids were running around with the wands already, and I wanted a tough finish that could hold up to a lot of abuse but would look ok.   I decided to go with a polyurethane finish.   I use polyurethane a lot because it’s tough and dries quickly.  I usually use clear semigloss because that’s the most forgiving.   I’d never used colored polyurethanes, but I decided to give one a try for this project since I wanted a very distinct color and wanted to do it quickly.  I got a a very small can of deep red and started brushing.

The next morning I went out to the garage to see how it looked, and I was shocked to see that the finish had formed a really dark band on the side of the wand that was down while it was drying.   I can’t say I like the colored finishes because they really highlight unevenness like that.  Luckily I was going to build up quite a bit of the stuff, so I just kept changing which bit was the underside each time I let a coat dry. It mostly evened out.  No fun though.

simonWandFauxFinishI used red finish on the handle and clear on the body of the wand.    I wanted to make the wand look old.  I thought I could do that by just dabbing some black acrylic paint on, but since I’d never done that before, it was a little bit intimidating.   What if it looked awful?  I took a deep breath grabbed a paper towel and started dabbing.   I had to work fast because that stuff dries quick.   I dabbed and dabbed and eventually got it to something I was happy with.

It really highlights some of my not-so-perfectly-sanded areas on the finial, but I guess making it look old and dinged was the goal.   I’m pretty happy with the results.  Simon wanted the wand to be all black, which I could have done but seemed kind of boring.  He’s going to be upset if I make his brother’s all black.  I’ll have to come up with some other finish for that one, or Simon will be snagging it faster than you can say “Expelliarmus!”


Making Your Own Springs

Sometimes when I’m building a project I run into a problem where I can’t find just the right spring.   I make the rounds of the various hardware stores and all the springs are too big, or too short, or not stiff enough.   I could order some, but that’s a big delay, and once you add shipping the springs are going to be kind of expensive.   That’s when it’s time to make a few springs.   It’s fairly easy to wind springs on the lathe, and you can make them long/short fat/thin.   I wind mine out of Piano Wire, and they work fine.   commercial springs are going to last longer so for things that are going to be cycling constantly use the commercial ones, but for the kinds of things I do it’s handy to be able to make your own on the spot.

springWireHolderI recently had to make some compression spring for a Gong Ringing Robot, and I took a few pictures to show how it’s done.   You need a way to tension the wire as you crank, so  I made this little holder by drilling a #47 hole in a 1/4-20 bolt and then tapping a hole in some square stock so I could clamp that in my tool holder.  I added a plastic washer and a 1/4-20 nut that could be adjusted to put some tension on the wire and put some tension on it. The whole bold floats free in it’s threaded hole so it’s naturally tracks at the angle the wire wants.

springOnRodTo wind the spring I just bend the end of the wire so I can tuck it between the jaws on the lathe.  A somewhat acute angle is better to cut down on slip out.  Then I crank the lathe by hand to put a couple of turns on the rod.   Then you engage the half nut so the wire is fed evenly down the rod, just like when threading with a single point tool.   When the spring is long enough you disengage the half nut and do a couple more turns to form the other end of the spring.

Don’t do this under power.  A whipping piano while will cut you badly.  I always wear a face shield even while doing it by hand.  Clipping the piano wire with some diagonal cutters is fun because it sometimes shoot a few sparks.  (I guess due to the carbon content of the wire.)

chuckAndTailStockChuckFor small springs like this where the rod I’m winding around is thin, I hold the other end of the rod in a Jacobs Chuck in the tailstock.  I don’t have one that rotates freely, but if you just use the normal one and loosen it up so it’s not clamped on the rod, the rod is fee to turn, but the jaws support the rod so it doesn’t deflect.


How do I crank my lathe by hand?   You can of course just twist the chuck, but long ago I cast this hand crank.   It goes into the head stock of the lathe, and expands to clamp in.  Then I can crank away with style.  After clipping the springs free, and grinding the ends flat, I usually stick them in the oven at 400 for 30 mins.   That’s supposed to relieve some of the stress put into them when winding them.    Here you can see the final springs just before I wrapped them in Aluminum Foil and stuck them in the oven.
springsJust  a few final notes.  Make sure not to nick the springs.  That will make a horrible stress riser and the spring will eventually fail a the nick.  Don’t try winding a bunch of springs in one go starting and stopping with the half nut, and cutting them apart later.   That seems like a good idea, but trying to adjust things to be able to re-engage the half nut in the middle of making springs makes for sloppy springs.  I made these springs form $1 worth of piano wire, and maybe an hours worth of fiddling, but that included building that 1/4-20 wire holder.   I used to just tension the wire with a Jorgensen Clamp, but this way gives smoother starts/stops since the place I’m holding the wire is closer to the rod it’s winding around.   Normally it only takes a few mins to wind some springs.  (Not counting time in the oven)


Turning A Magic Wand

Trying out the gripIn the run up to Christmas our family went to Dickens Faire, and my son really wanted to buy a wand at the wand shop.  I told him we could make one at home.   Now that the Christmas rush has passed we’ve finally gotten around to making one.

We chose a length of dowel rod, and I marked the hand-grip section out with a pencil.  Then I put it in the lathe and turned it out freestyle.  We did it out in the driveway to keep my shop from getting full of wood shavings.  I really should put some roller wheels on the end of that lathe.  It’s kind of small but still not much fun to haul out from under the workbench and lug out to the driveway.

Hand on Wand

My son tries the wand’s grip to test the comfort level.

I couldn’t find all my turning tools, but was able to track down a big gouge and I made do with some chisels I had around.   My son seemed to enjoy the process.  He was amazed at how the dowel seemed to stand still after the not-so-centered wobbly parts were turned down and it was running true.  The wand is not going to win any awards but he can hardly put it down.

This summer we dug for Herkimer Diamonds and we’re planning on gluing one to the tip of the wand.   I also will try to make  a secret compartment in the handle by cutting that trailing ball off, center drilling, and re-attaching with a dowel.   Lord only knows how I’ll hold the wand in the lathe for center drilling.   I guess I should have though of that first.