Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Bottlestopper Trimming Jig

by Wes Jones
(download this article in Office 'doc' format)

(See Woodturning Design Magazine, Winter 2009 for pictures)

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One of the most lucrative small woodturnings you can make is a bottlestopper that can be used to cork a bottle of wine. These easy to make items sell like crazy at craft fairs or directly to gift shops. I know one woodturner that claims to have made over 400,000 of them over the years. Besides wine bottles, bottlestoppers are also used to close many other types of bottles like salad dressings, flavored vinegars, etc. This article is not about making the bottlestoppers. There are plenty of articles, books, and videos out there that will show you how to make them. This article will show you how to make a simple jig to make them easier.

When making a bottlestopper, one of the tricky problems is how to trim the length of the wooden dowel that holds the cork to the turned bottlestopper. It needs to be trimmed flush with the cork, but the conical shape of the cork makes it problematical to trim them on the bandsaw. A friend of mine turns a lot of bottlestoppers and his wife assembles the corks on the dowels and then trims the dowels. While watching them work, an idea for a jig occurred to me that would allow them to do the trimming faster and much more safely.

Essentially, the trimming jig is a block of wood with holes in both sides to insert the bottlestoppers. A saw kerf down the middle of the block of wood allows the bandsaw to be used to quickly trim off the ends of the dowels. Conical-shaped holes in the sides of the block securely support the bottlestoppers and keep your fingers away from the sawblade.

The corks we are using are 1 ¼” long and taper from 5/8” to 7/8” in diameter. The key to making this jig is to form conical holes that will hold the assembled bottlestoppers securely so that they can be trimmed. These tapered holes must be made so that the corks can be fully inserted with the turned wood flush with the side of the jig. The stoppers should be snug when they are twisted into the holes.

The width of the block is 2 times the length of a cork plus 1/16” for the sawblade kerf. In our case this is 2 9/16”. Check the corks you are using and if necessary adjust this dimension. My block is about 3” high and about 7” long, but this can be adjusted to suit your needs. I designed my jig to allow 4 corks to be trimmed at once, 2 inserted from each side.

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To make sure the tapered holes do not interfere with the ones from the other side of the block, the centers of the holes on one side are laid out 1” and 3” from the end. The holes on the other side are spaced 2” and 4” from the same end. Start out drilling these holes 9/16” or 5/8” diameter all the way through the block. You can drill these holes on the drillpress, but I found it more accurate to drill them on the lathe. This is because we are going to use the lathe to taper these holes from 5/8” to 7/8” diameter.

To hold the block of wood on the lathe, remove 2 of the opposing jaws (#2 and #4 for example) from your scroll chuck. [Picture P1000360.tif] The remaining 2 jaws will grip the block and allow you to do the drilling and tapering operations. I can’t claim credit for this idea of using 2 jaws on your chuck to hold a block of wood sidewise. I saw it several years ago in another article and it works great. Two cautions here: Make sure the remaining 2 jaws are aligned on the scroll of your chuck properly so that your wood will be centered across its width. And make sure there is clearance for your drill bit to go completely through the wood block without hitting the chuck. You can drill all 4 holes and then come back and open up the holes to make them conical. But I think it is easier to drill a hole and then, before you move the block of wood, go ahead and make the taper.

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To taper the holes, use a small skew such as a ½” flat skew or a 3/8” round skew. I found the round skew worked best for me. The holes only have to be tapered 1/8” per side over 1 ¼” length. So, there is really not much wood to be removed. Adjust your toolrest so that the toe (long point) of the skew will cut exactly on the center of the hole when the skew is held horizontally.

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Spin the block completely around by hand to make sure it will not hit the toolrest. With the skew held horizontal, use the toe to score a circle just outside the diameter of the hole. Stop and measure the scored circle. It should be 7/8” diameter or a little less. Once you have this 7/8” diameter circle, put the point in the scored circle and slowly push the skew in at about a 10 degree angle to the axis of the bed of the lathe. Note that we are using the skew as a negative rake scraper here.

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When the skew point reaches the drilled hole and quits cutting, stop and move your toolrest out of the way. Blow the chips out of the hole. Take an assembled bottlestopper and twist it gently into the hole. It will probably stop when the small end of the cork binds in the hole. Move the toolrest back into position and take another cut by rubbing the side of the skew on the side of the hole at the entrance and cutting the hole a little deeper at a slightly smaller angle to the axis of the lathe. The process of getting the taper right requires cutting a little and checking with the stopper and then cutting a little more. Your taper is perfect when the stopper will twist snugly into the hole with contact all along the cork and the turned wood seats flush against the side of your block of wood.

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Repeat this process of drilling and tapering the holes until they are all finished. Work carefully. If you make a hole too big, you won’t be able to use that hole. Actually, it is much easier to make these tapered holes than it is to describe how to make them. With the holes drilled and tapered, we are ready to make a saw kerf down the middle of the block. Mark the centerline very carefully and set up a fence on the saw table to make this cut. Just touch the wood to the blade and double check that you are cutting exactly on the centerline of the block. Then saw down the block and stop just past the center of the last hole.

Finally, take your block to a sander and round over the sharp edges and corners to make it nice to handle. Be careful not to decrease the width of the block or your corks won’t fit properly.

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Now twist a few bottlestoppers into the fixture and try it out. You will notice that the stoppers sticking out of both sides of the fixture serve as convenient handles.

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This is an easy project to make and this jig is so handy to use, maybe you can finally get your spouse to help in the shop.