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Making wooden knobs

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by Josh Curry, Dec 15, 2004.

  1. Josh Curry

    Josh Curry

    May 29, 2003
    Frisco, TX
    I tried my hand at making some wooden knobs last night. I actually made one, and it took about an hour. It looks pretty nice, but took way too long and I'm not sure I could make another one the exact same size. basically here's what I did.

    - Using a 3/4" pen blank I cut off a 3/4" chunk so now I have a 3/4" cube. It was curly maple if anyone cares :)

    - mark the center of the piece on one end, drill a tiny hole (for later use) and use a bench sander to remove most of the material to get a basic round shape. Looking back, I really should have used a circle template and removed a LOT more material during this part.

    - using an (**unknown tool**) from my dremel I screwed one end into the hole that I drilled. Then put the whole thing in my drill press. Does anyone know what this part is called? Basically, it's a 1/8" shaft about 1.5" long and has a course thread wood screw type thing on one end with a stop collar? I have no idea what this thing is, but it did the trick.

    - now you spend about 1/2 hour sanding the living daylight out of it getting it down to size and rounding the top part. Then, (and I know this is REALLY WRONG) using a chisel, while still spinning in the drill press, flatten what would be the bottom of the knob so that it's square with the sides.

    - once it got to shape I used some very fine grit papers to get a very smooth finish on it. Then used some lemon oil on a rag to oil it up, all while still spinning. This worked real nice.

    - Then drill out the bottom etc... so it can be pushed onto a split knurled pot shaft.

    So, it all worked fairly well and I 'm happy with the result, I'll post a pic tomorrow. Although I don't know if I could make another one that's identical without twice the effort.

    Anyway though. I would like to hear some advice from you guys who make wood knobs. I've seen your work. I'm most curious to know what you use to 'turn' the knobs and how you ensure some sort of tolerence between them so they all match.
  2. Josh Curry

    Josh Curry

    May 29, 2003
    Frisco, TX
  3. It's not going to work for you probably. The cut is much too rough for a knob.

    I have started my hand at making knobs as well. I am using a lathe and some 1"X1"X14" pieces of cocobolo. The biggest problem we (my brother-in-law and I) have run into is getting a consistent rounding over on the top of the knob. We also got some threaded brass inserts and set screws to lock them onto the shaft instead of pushing them on. Seems like it will last longer that way. I'd love to keep this thread going and see how things go. We have only done a couple of knobs so far. I will try to get some pics. We havent finished them yet either. We will make more and hone the process.
  4. Josh Curry

    Josh Curry

    May 29, 2003
    Frisco, TX
    I was reading about the plug cutters, it looks like the tapered ones actually put a very nice finish on the piece. I'm sure it would still need some final sanding, but it would probably cut HOURS off the total time if you were making a set and give very consistant results.
  5. That would be great if the finish is good enough. I would also like to know more about the tool you used to spin the knob to sand it and such. I have wanted to spin it independent of the large piece I was turning on the lathe!
  6. Josh Curry

    Josh Curry

    May 29, 2003
    Frisco, TX
    I'll post a pic of the little tool I used to mount it in the press. It's pretty weird. Look at dremel tool accessories, it came with mine and never knew what it was for.
  7. If you get serious about this, Hartville Tools has a drill press lathe setup that would be perfect for this operation.

    Remember to orient the end grain to the top of the knob or you'll have a lot of problems sanding and shaping.

    If you want to dome the knobs, use a piece of 2" PVC pipe cut in half with a piece of 80 grit sandpaper glued along the bottom. As the knob blank spins in the drill press, run the half pipe across the (now) bottom of the blank until it's perfectly domed.

    I use pen blanks also but I use the entire blank in the drill press and then I cut off knob size pieces as they've been rounded and shaped. It's much easier to hang onto when the workpiece is bigger.
  8. Stu L.

    Stu L.

    Nov 27, 2001
    Corsicana, Texas
    BW, I have a shipment of ebony coming in today for just this purpose. If I may offer a suggestion though, instead of starting with a 3/4" cube, using either your drill press or preferably a lathe, turn the whole piece of wood at once. That way you can get a consistent roundness. When finished, simply cut off whatever size you want your knobs to be. Then drill your holes, etc. That's what I'm planning on doing.
  9. Stu L.

    Stu L.

    Nov 27, 2001
    Corsicana, Texas
    Man, beat me by 2 minutes :p
  10. Josh Curry

    Josh Curry

    May 29, 2003
    Frisco, TX
    If I had a lathe that's what I would do. I didn't want to put the whole thing in the press because I think it would easily come off balance and fly off since there's nothing holding the other end in place.

    Hambone, I was looking on their site for that, I can;t seem to find it, do you have a link?
  11. Cliff Bordwell

    Cliff Bordwell Commercial User

    Jan 6, 2004
    USA , Orlando , Florida
    Owner of CB BASSES
    Hambone, what is this that you speak of???? :eyebrow:
  12. Josh Curry

    Josh Curry

    May 29, 2003
    Frisco, TX
    I'm going to pick up one of those tapered plug cutters @ lunch. there's a Woodcraft store about 5 min from my office that carries them. I'll let you guys know how it works later tonight.

    EDIT: a trip to Woodcraft and $21.50 later I have a 5/8" plug cutter. The company that makes the tapered ones doesn't go to 5/8", only to 1/2" which is too small. they had those there too. I did find another company that does, but I would have to order that online. We'll see how this one works......
  13. A couple of weeks ago, I found a 2 year old Hartville catalog under some stuff. It was in there, I swear on a '62 stack knob!:crying: It had a bearing loaded center point that bolted to the press table and was registered to a 3 jaw chuck. The tool rest was either bolted to the press's table and post or chassis. I think it cost $139.

    Now the catalog has walked off again :bawl:

    I'm still searching...
  14. Phil Mastro

    Phil Mastro

    Nov 18, 2004
    i've used these dowel cutters http://www.leevalley.com/wood/page.asp?SID=&ccurrency=2&page=42292&category=1,180,42288 to make knobs and i usually set up my piece of wood on my press drill, clamped and all, drill my hole for my insert, change my drill bit for the plug cutter so i know that the piece of wood hasn't moved and the hole will be centered, and cut out the dowel. The cut is pretty rough, but i just put the drilling bit on my press drill, put the knob on it and start the machine and use it like a lathe and sand it that way, it's worked pretty well.

    some porous woods (cocobolo and bloodwood) tend to chip and split though so it doesn't always work. I've gotten good results with padouk and morado.
  15. tjclem

    tjclem Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jun 6, 2004
    Central Florida
    Owner and builder Clementbass
  16. Are you going to try using those plug cutter on end grain? Whew, stand back!

    I've got to reiterate my warning - those plug cutters work well on side grain plugs but that means that half of the visible area of the knob will be end grain. That in turn means 2 things - you are going to have a devil of a time sanding half of the diameter of the knob and if you use a figured wood, only half of the knob will show it off. That's why lining the grain up vertically makes a better looking and easier worked piece. This has been another of those long lasting experiments in my little shop of horrors. I've made about 3 dozen knobs in various styles and attempts getting a system down. I did these knobs on the #0001 rebuild while experimenting.
  17. Josh Curry

    Josh Curry

    May 29, 2003
    Frisco, TX
    I used the 5/8" one tonight. It's too small. I will be returning there tomorrow to get the 3/4" one. I think that will work real nice. You have to cut it real slow though. It produces a LOT of dust and makes a LOT of noise. It's more of a shaver than a cutter, it doesn't cut like a drill bit does at all.

    Here's a picture that kind of tells the story.

    From the left: The first knob I made for fun, it's more than 3/4" less than 7/8" (13/16"). Middle knob, your standard brass control knob, slightly less than 3/4". Right knob, the 'plug' from the 5/8" Woodraft plug cutter, it's exactly 5/8"

    On the bottom is the small tool I've mentioned that I can't name. basically you drill a small hole in the piece of wood, turn the end into it, and stick the other end in the drill press. Instant mini-lathe.

  18. Suburban


    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    Good use of a drill press, but... They are not made for sideways load, so the bearings will wear out faster than normal.
    There are "drill mills", that work for both. Better, but also about double the price. :crying:
  19. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
    If it's like my Craftsman-branded version of a Dremel, that post is the one that is meant to screw into a felt cylinder (looks like a miniature toilet paper roll) to do polishing.

    Great alternative use!