Making a tapered dowel


I'm working on a model ship. To do it right, the masts need to be tapered from the manufacturer's provided 1/4" wood dowels. Measuring the plans, I get a diameter at the top of ~.160" (more or less, depending on the thickness of the lines that they use to draw it). I'm assuming that not all that critical and that anything in that range is okay.
All I've got in the way of stationary power tools are a Radial Arm Saw and a Bench Drillpress. I managed to kludge something for the foremast (~13" length) by jacking up the head of the drillpress on the column by ~2" and clamped a block of plywood with an appropriate hole against the base, then chucked the dowel in the DP and "turned" it down with coarse sandpaper.
Well, it worked ... sort of ... and I've definitely got something I can use for the Foremast this way, but the Mainmast has to be 2" longer and I don't think I can get that length unless I drill a hole in the top of the cabinet the DP is mounted on, and then I have no way to really support the bottom of the dowel. And one problem I did have was that the top of the dowel (the part that I tapered) broke off at one point and I lost whatever length was hidden in the chuck. While I didn't need that length for the Foremast, I do for the Mainmast.
SO ... I'm looking for other ideas. One problem I seem to be having is that the dowel in the chuck works loose and occasionally actually drops out. Would I be better off if I drove a nail (or screw) into the end of the dowel and held that in the chuck?
I've thought of actually giving up and buying an inexpensive wood lathe from HF, but this too long a slender piece to turn horizontally it seems to me. I suppose intermediate supports would be needed but now we're getting into a really expensive setup, aren't we?
Another thought was to turn the mast in sections and then glue the sections together and use putty to smooth the taper. Seems to be a lot more trouble than it's worth that way.
Suggestions welcome.
TIA Norm
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I think you can come up with a way to use your drill press. One issue is keeping the dowel from whipping and you can do that by supporting the rod with one hand. The bottom end can be supported with a sharpened nail. I have another idea but that involves a router, hand drill, and custom-made bed from scrap wood (This method will produce many tapers all the same size). You don't need to buy a lathe.
wrote:

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I solved the problem of the top cracking off and getting loose in the chuck by creating a brass collar out of a piece of tubing. It's quite sold now. I also discovered the trick of stabalizing the bottom of the dowel by using my second hand -- the one not holding the sandpaper and it's going much easier for the Mainmast.
Norm
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It was no no big thing recently to "whittle" a .5" square strip of spruce into a selectively-fitted dowel-pin to hold an old chair's back together. Whittling done with miniature plane was really pretty straightforward. If it were desirable, a few seconds in the drill press with some sandpaper would've made it smooth.
J
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| It was no no big thing recently to "whittle" a .5" square strip of | spruce into a selectively-fitted dowel-pin to hold an old chair's back | together. Whittling done with miniature plane was really pretty | straightforward. If it were desirable, a few seconds in the drill press | with some sandpaper would've made it smooth. | | J
Honestly, you're probably right, but since I have a problem with the nerves in my hands I try to do as little wrist-twisting work as I can get away with. If everything else were equal, I'd certainly have done it with the plane as the instructions recommend, but holding a piece of coarse sandpaper against the rotating dowel is much less hand work than either a plane or a knife.
Thanks for the info.
Norm
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Norm Dresner wrote:

What you need is someway to have *both* the abrasive and work rotating so you can maintain "round". I'd probably put a sanding drum on the DP, chuck the dowel in a portable drill and have at it.
--

dadiOH
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I've built a number of model sailing ships over the years. My strategy has been to clamp one end of the dowel in my bench vise, then reduce the diameter with a small hand plane (maybe around 3" long -- no idea where I got it). Then, when the majority of the shaping was done, simply smooth out with sucessively finer grades of sandpaper on a sanding block. If you don't like it, simply get some more dowel!
I did find it useful to also use my bench vise as a rest -- just open it up a crack and set the dowel in it. In this manner, I could handle the smaller diameter part without bending or cracking the small end of the mast.
For booms, which are smaller, I just used sandpaper.
Simple solution is better here...
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Only tool I know that can do this is a "trapping plane", a sort of variable-diameter, squeeze-controlled rounder. You can probably make one.
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Norm Dresner wrote:

Have you tried asking this question in a forum devoted to modeling? The folks at www.drydockmodels.com are friendly and represent all levels of expertise. Also, the model expo site has manuals for Model Shipways kits on line in pdf forum. They have some good suggestions on how to taper a mast but aimed at use of hand tools. If you can get access to someone's lathe, look for one with a chuck where the headstock shaft is hollow. This would let you extend the dowel a small amount at a time and let you shape it near where it is supported. John
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A spokeshave is the tool you want. Quick, simple, only needs a little practice once its set up. They're not that expensive either.. --JD

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Norm Dresner wrote:

I'm often forced/delighted to find myself in situations without the proper tools. Jury-rigging a solution is half of the fun. It seems to me that you have just such an opportunity.
In a similar situation I've clamped a variable speed corded drill in a vise and clamped a block of wood with a screw poked though it at the other end to act as a tailstock. The slower speed rotation would be all that you'd need considering that you don't have to take off that much material and higher speeds would create problems with vibration. Your piece, being long, thin and flexible, would probably benefit from an intermediate support to minimize vibration and the chance of breakage.
R
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Well, you sure got some answers! How about chucking the dowel in a hand drill held in a vise? Then you can go horizontal and length won't be a problem. You could also clamp/tack something like a piece of 2X6 standing on the bench for a steadyrest. To stay vertical, you could turn your DP base so the chuck could hang over the bench. Wilson

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| Well, you sure got some answers! | How about chucking the dowel in a hand drill held in a vise? Then you can | go horizontal and length won't be a problem. You could also clamp/tack | something like a piece of 2X6 standing on the bench for a steadyrest. | To stay vertical, you could turn your DP base so the chuck could hang over | the bench. | Wilson
The dowel is 1/4" diameter and 16" long. Clamping it horizontal and rotating it rapidly is an invitation to personal injury. This works fine for a 3-4" piece for a spar, but not a mast.
Norm
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