View Full Version : Spreader – Letter Opener Tutorial

Steve Schlumpf
11-28-2008, 3:14 PM
This is a very basic ‘How-To’ and written for those with limited lathe experience. The following steps for creating a Spreader or Letter Opener are procedures that I am comfortable using. If anything ‘feels’ wrong or you have doubts as to proper technique – STOP! Ask questions or better yet – have someone with experience demo the proper method for doing the procedure.

For this tutorial we are using a piece of cherry 9” long x 1” square. It doesn’t have to be that long or that thick – it is just what I had on hand.

The chuck in photo #1 is a Oneway Talon and has the #1 jaws installed. The cherry blank is mounted in the chuck using only 2 of the 4 jaws and securely tightened. The other end of the wood is secured in the tailstock off-center such that the cone is located on the centerline but is ¼” from the top edge. A sketch on the side of the wood blank has been provided to help you visualize that by mounting the blank off-center, the handle will be located above the blade. A red line has been included to show actual lathe centerline. If you wanted to make a Letter Opener (blade centered on the handle), you would center the blank at this step.

To turn the handle (photo #2) – move the tool rest close to the work such that the tool will be cutting slightly above the centerline. Make sure before you apply power to your lathe that the work spins freely and will not hit the rest. Using the tool of your choice (skew or spindle roughing gouge) turn the handle portion of the Spreader. You do not want to round over everything – just the handle portion!

Once you have the handle to the diameter that you want (whatever feels comfortable to you) – sand that portion while still on the lathe. For safety reasons, be sure to remove your tool rest first! In photo #3, sanding was started at 280 grit, then 320 and finished with 400 grit. Whatever grit you start with – make sure you work through all the grits to get the best surface. When finished sanding, remove the blank from the lathe.

The blade portion of the blank is cut out on the bandsaw as shown in photos #4, #5 and #6. The flat portion on the top of the blank is positioned face down on the bandsaw. This prevents the bandsaw from ripping it out of your hands once the blade hits the curved area of the blank (blade to handle transition) and there is no wood directly under the blade to support the cut. This is a safety thing – so pay attention to what you are doing!
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...............continued ..............................

Steve Schlumpf
11-28-2008, 3:18 PM
The fence is positioned such that the blade will cut the blank only to the thickness of the handle. The fence allows you to use a push stick and move the blank through the blade without getting your fingers near the cutting area. After the first cut is made – turn off the bandsaw and the reposition the fence to provide the same clearance for the other side of the blank. Please note that the blank is reversed so that the same flat area on the top portion of the blank stays in contact with the table. Once again be sure to use a push stick to move the blank through the cutting area.

Photo #7 is where you rough out the final shape on the disk sander (or whatever sander you prefer to use). The blank may seem thick but it doesn’t take long to get the shape finalized.

Photo #8 is the fun part of the process – hand sanding! Work through all the grits as you remove any and all scratches. Round over all sharp edges – including the blade – as this is a Spreader or Letter Opener and not a knife.

Photos #9 & #10 show the finished Spreader – before any finish has been applied.
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Once you are happy with the results of your sanding, apply the finish of your choice. I have been using mineral oil as it soaks into the wood, is food safe and is easy for the end-user to re-apply whenever they choose.

Have fun making these but please - be safe – and remember to ask questions if you don’t understand something!

David Walser
11-28-2008, 3:44 PM

Thanks for taking the time to do this tutorial. I wouldn't have thought to start the turning off-center. Learned a lot.

Leo Van Der Loo
11-28-2008, 4:59 PM
Thank you Steve, as I always say there's always things to learn, and again I did :D
I've made some "pot stirrers" and use a similar way of making the piece, but as is often the case just a little different, as I usually pre-saw the blade and then turn the handle with all the sanding afterward.
Though the blade is heavier and centered, so going off center and sawing the waste off later makes good sense for your spreader :D

Jim Kountz
11-28-2008, 4:59 PM
Steve, this is great! Thanks for taking the time to do this you have no idea how much these things help a relative new turner. Im going to give it a go tonight and see how it "turns out".....ok I'll leave that one alone!!

Bernie Weishapl
11-28-2008, 6:05 PM
Great looking piece Steve. Thanks for lesson 101.

Don Carter
11-28-2008, 6:51 PM
Thanks for showing your process. It really helps those of us who have just started swimming the vortex.
Your pictures are very helpful to me.

All the best.


Jim Becker
11-28-2008, 7:28 PM
Nice tutorial, Steve! I may need to make a few of those things one of these days!

Dave Halter
11-28-2008, 7:47 PM
Thanks for taking the time to put that together. Making some are going on my to-do list.


Eugene Wigley
11-28-2008, 8:11 PM
Steve, Thanks for posting this. It is a lot of help for someone like me who is new to turning. I turned three green bowls today. I will make kitchen utensils tomarrow. I like that. I have some dry wood so I can make something that can be used as soon as I am done working on it.

Thanks again for the lesson.

Paul Atkins
11-28-2008, 8:40 PM
Steve, great simplicity. Nice design and good instructions. I had just finished one for friends Thurs. They are actually fun to do. That comes from a guy who turns for a living.

Tom Wilson66
11-28-2008, 11:18 PM
Thanks, Steve, this is going on my "to do" list. Another project for all the extra time I have on my hands:rolleyes:

Allen Neighbors
11-29-2008, 6:27 PM
Steve, I really appreciate the time and energy you put into this tutorial. I have it copied, and printed for my shop file. You're a good man, Thanks again.

Pete Jordan
11-29-2008, 7:05 PM
Excellent job Steve!

I think you are doing such a great job of teaching you are ready for my 30 fifth graders.

Chris Barnett
11-29-2008, 9:09 PM
Nice. Put that blade thingy on the end of a spurtle and you could start a cooking frenzy in Scotland :D.

Dave Carey
11-30-2008, 10:06 AM
Great tutorial Steve. Thanks. Bet there'll be a lot of those under Christmas trees this year!

David Drickhamer
11-30-2008, 9:06 PM
Thanks for taking the time to put together this lesson Steve. I'll have to try one later this week.