It’s the rare woodworking endeavor that’s low-cost, no-risk, and that offers the reward of honing your skills while producing nice-looking, useful items. Making refrigerator magnets checks all those boxes. It doesn’t involve any special commercial equipment—just regular turning tools, a 4-jaw chuck, and a lathe-mounted drill chuck. As for materials, this is the perfect opportunity to use those scraps of precious wood that you can’t bring yourself to throw away. There’s no real risk involved because even if you ruin a piece, it’s just a tiny bit of wood. This dispensability gives you the freedom to practice cutting coves, beads, fair curves, and other basic shapes. All in all, it’s great fun that yields li’l surprises you can stick on friends’ fridges when they’re not looking.
The system I’ve developed here focuses on creativity and efficiency using commonly available 3/4 stock and 3/8-diameter rare-earth magnets. The finished pieces are small enough that they don’t obscure photos, yet strong enough to hold postcards and multiple pieces of paper. The key to quick production is a simple shop-made screw chuck and double-faced tape, which together securely hold a small blank for shaping, sanding, and finishing a piece, typically in 20 minutes or so. So if you’re looking for some productive fun and perhaps a safe way to teach a youngster at the lathe, take a turn for the refrigerator!
Order of Work
• Make screw chuck
• Prepare blanks
• Shape, sand, & finish
Make the screw chuck
Mount a 4-5-long maple (or other dense hardwood) blank in a 4-jaw chuck and turn a cylinder with a tenon as shown. I work at about 1800 rpm when turning the chuck and magnet blank, using a roughing gouge and parting tool. Reverse the blank in the chuck, and part it off to 3 long (including the previously turned tenon). Then true the end, and turn another tenon. Bore the pilot hole, reverse the blank, and drill the counterbore in the other end. Remove the piece and drive in a #8 × 21/2 woodworking screw. You now have a wooden screw chuck with a tip that projects about 3/4, which is perfect for the job.
Turn a cylinder with a tenon. Turn most of a 4-5-long blank to a 2-dia. cylinder, then shape a 17⁄8-dia. × 3⁄8-long tenon on the end. When the blank is reversed for the next step, the tenon shoulders will register against the chuck’s jaws to ensure that the piece runs true.
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