Garden Dibber for Planting


Garden Dibber for Planting:
Rick Rich shares his ‘after dinner’ turning project to make a garden dibber

Rick Rich shares his ‘after dinner’ turning project to make a garden dibber

I know some pretty serious gardeners; my wife is one. After dinner while I am in the shop turning, she will frequently be in the garden planting and watering. This garden dibber can be made from firewood within an hour or so, making it a fun evening project and a nice gift for that pretty and serious gardener.
To some extent, any kind of wood could be used for these things. I suppose one could even use an old piece of Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii). Softer framing timber probably won’t hold up so well as hardwood, but it would work for a while.
My experience in similar items has shown that straight-grained hardwoods, such as oak (Quercus spp.), maple (Acer saccharum), cherry (Prunus spp.) or the like is just what the doctor ordered. If the wood is too pretty though, it will be set aside and the recipient will use it for decoration only. So I try to remember when I make these projects, they are for work, not display!
I made a similar project to this some years ago when I wanted to learn how to master the skew. I still haven’t mastered the skew, but I have noticed a substantial reduction in catches. The design I use for this garden dibber has a bead. This provides exercise in turning a bead, which leads to less clenched teeth and hopefully a more relaxed grip on the tool. It also incorporates one small cove, because I wanted to make one of those too.   

Information and plans

Equipment used
• 12mm skew chisel
• 9mm spindle gouge with fingernail grind
• Pen turner’s parting tool
• Steb centre drive centre
• Revolving tailstock centre
• Outside callipers
• PPE, including full facemask

1. Cut a blank about 355mm long by 50mm square. Mark the centres on both ends of the wood and place the blank on the lathe between centres. Revolve the workpiece by hand to make sure it clears the toolrest. With the skew chisel, peel cut the corners off to form a cylinder. The surface will be quite rough but this is normal. If you need to move the toolrest over to round the entire piece, it is safe practice to stop the lathe first

2. Now make planing, or smoothing, cuts with the skew. I enjoy practising both toe up and toe down cuts. The cylinder should now be smooth

3. If it isn’t smooth, practise some more and make it so. If the cylinder gets too small from practising planing cuts, grab another blank and begin again at step one

4. Use a story stick (see below) to make your dimensions repeatable and look professionally manufactured. A calliper-sizing chart on the story stick allows measurements of the diameters of the bead and the handle to be taken and transferred to the work. The largest size of the business end is usually 47 to 50mm, but I don’t usually size it with callipers. It is what it is. Mark the bead, the middle of the handle and the bottom of the handle. The cove will go at the bottom of the handle and just above the bottom end. For ease of sizing, the bead bottom ends are the same as the handle ends (see drawing)

5. Size the bead, the middle of the handleand the bottom end with callipers and the parting tool first. This is so you can work the cuts from the tailstock end to the headstock. You don’t want to make any cuts at the tip, or headstock end, of the blank just yet. It could cause unnecessary chatter

6. Make rough peeling cuts and then…

7. … smoothing / planing cuts with the skew chisel to create a pleasing lower shape

8. Make a small cove just above the bottom, not too big and not too small; you will  have to be the judge of what looks right. When making the starting cut for the cove, be especially careful to present the tool correctly as it has a tendency to skate sideways. The cove is designed for a lanyard, if anyone asks

Story stick
Make a ‘story stick’ from a small side slab of wood when cutting blanks square. A trick I learned is to use a small triangle file to cut a little pencil groove to indicate where you want the layout lines to go.

9. After working the bottom of the handle, return to the top area of the handle and smooth it with plane cuts to what will be the bead bottom

10. Now make a 12mm half cove above the bead with the spindle gouge. In addition to enhancing the design, this also provides clearance for finish turning of the bead itself

11. You could try cutting the bead with the skew chisel instead of the gouge: it’s good practice and good fun. It may be helpful to use the parting tool mark in the middle of the bead area as a reference, or make a pencil mark, to keep track of the bead centre. I have had many beads end up quite small and misshapen as a result of overly aggressive cutting! Here, the skew is being used to create a clean intersection between the handle and bead

12. Make peeling cuts to taper the cylinder into a dibber shape. You will have to decide what type of shape works best for the type of seed or bulb that it will be used for. Smooth the business end from the top of the cove to the tip. Downhill cuts with the skew will result in a uniform surface. Be careful at the tip: it should gently round, or bead, to a point. At this stage, clean up both ends, leaving a nub of 3mm or so, which you can cut off later with a handsaw. I like to use a V cut with the skew on the handle end nub, to clean the end grain

13. Make very shallow V cuts at 25mm increments from the point

14. Burn the cuts in with wire so they stay visible. Make sure the toolrest is removed from the toolpost, or set far aside for safety: it’s really not worth squeezing a finger. Then sand the entire piece just enough to remove any tool marks. Now apply some oil at very low speed. High-speed applications of oil are self-correcting and messy. I have had oil along my wall and ceiling as a reminder to not go too fast during this step. Paper towels are appropriate here, as they will easily tear if it grabs the wood. All that remains is for you to remove the dibber from the lathe, cut off the nubs with a small saw and sand the cut marks

Handy hints
1. For the drive spur, I use a steb centre, which seems to slip easier than a standard four spur centre if
a cut gets too heavy
2. A revolving centre with a point and cup at the tailstock keeps the wood from splitting
3. Set the toolrest at centreline, or slightly above as I prefer, for use of the skew chisel


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