Copyright© 2011-2019
Doc Green’s Woodturning Site

Wooden Tool Rest

While hollowing globes for tree ornaments, I ran into the situation where the handles of the small, shop-made hollowing tools would hit the tool rest and limit the amount the tool would extend over the rest.  This was not a major issue, but it was an annoyance just the same.  What I needed, I decided, was a tool rest with a thinner profile.

I was not able to find a store-bought tool rest that I thought would be any better than what I already had.  I’m not a metal worker so anything I make must be mostly wood.  How can you make a tool rest out of wood, mostly, that will be functional?  

In my junk pile I found a one-inch diameter, thick-walled aluminum tube that matched the hole in my banjo perfectly (Powermatic 3520B).  In the same pile, I found a ramrod-straight section of 5/32” music wire, left over from my adventures flying radio-controlled model airplanes.  

From this, the idea gradually took shape:  make the body out of wood; use the aluminum tube for the part that goes into the banjo; use the music wire to provide a very hard surface for the very top, where the tools make contact.  

It works!  I’ve used it a lot over a period of two years or more, and there are no indentations on the aluminum tube nor are there any dings in the music wire.  However, I’ve used it in only light-duty applications, which was the intent from the outset.  

What follows is a description of how I made it, written as step-by-step instructions in case you might want to make one.  Many variations are possible, of course, both in design and method of construction.  

Options:  You don’t have to use an aluminum tube for the support. A solid rod will work just as well and it can be iron or steel.  Check your local hardware store to see what is available.  Just be certain the rod or tube you select will fit into the hole in your banjo.

A hobby shop that caters to the model airplane crowd will have the music wire in various diameters if you don’t find it at the hardware store.


To make the wooden body, I glued two pieces of different thicknesses together, stacked vertically, to minimize the amount of wood that must be removed to create the desired profile.

1.  From any convenient hardwood, cut a piece 1 1/4 x 1 5/8 x 7”.  

2.  Drill the hole for the metal support.  Use a drill press to drill a 1” diameter hole to a depth of 1” at the center of the piece.  Set this piece aside.  

3.  Cut a piece 3/4 x 1 5/8 x 7”.  

4.  Cut the groove for the music wire.  Use a table saw to cut a groove along the center of the narrow edge of the 3/4” piece.  Set the fence carefully and test with a piece of scrap before making the cut for real.  Make repeated passes as necessary to form a groove so that the wire will drop in and leave only about one-half of its diameter exposed.

5.  Use the table saw to cut two slots 5/8” deep, parallel to the groove for the music wire.  Be sure the slots are symmetrically located relative to the groove.  These slots establish the 5/16” thickness of the top part of the body.  

6.  Free the waste wood.  Make a cut on each face of the piece to remove the waste wood.  For these cuts, the saw blade will be raised only about a quarter of an inch above the table, and the cuts should be made about one-half inch from the edge.  The details depend on the width of the kerf made by the saw blade.

7.  Glue the two pieces together.  You may use either epoxy or a traditional wood glue such as Titebond.  Use a quarter-inch spacer under the 3/4”-thick piece to be sure it centers properly on the thicker piece.  

8.  Cut the metal support to length, etc.  While the glue is setting up, you can cut the metal support to the proper length.  For my Powermatic, the overall length came to about 4”, allowing for an insertion to a depth of 1” in the wooden body of the tool rest.  Make the length appropriate for your lathe.  

If your support is a tube, turn a wooden plug of hardwood to be driven into the hole in the tube. This will make the tube less likely to collapse under the force of the clamping screw, and it will strengthen the part where the pin goes through to lock the support into the body.  

Make the diameter of the plug just slightly oversize so it has to be driven in.  However, do not overdo this.  The fit should be tight, but not extreme.  Also, remove any burr that may be present on the inside of the tube so that no shavings are produced when you drive the plug into the tube.

9.  Return to the body to shape the profile.   At this point, the glue-up for the body will have unsightly sharp corners on each face.  I used a hand plane to remove most of the corners and then a sanding pad on a drill to finish the job.  

(An option is to not shape the profile until the support is installed in the body.  Then, clamp the piece in the banjo to hold it while you do the shaping and sanding.)

10.  Cut the tapers on the sides.  Use a bandsaw to convert the rectangular piece to the truncated triangular shape of the tool rest and to reduce the width to 6”, if that is what you prefer.

11.  Install the support.  Check the fit between the metal support and the hole in the body.  If it is a loose, sliding fit, use epoxy in the joint.  If the fit is tight so that the support has to be pressed or driven in, no epoxy is required.  (The pin will hold it.)

12.  Find a nail ... to use for the pin.  One with a diameter of at least 1/8” will work, but one slightly larger will make for a stronger connection.  

13.  Drill the hole for the pin.  If you’re using an aluminum tube, select a drill bit that is just slightly undersize to drill the hole.  Plan for the pin (the nail) to be driven in, to give a tight fit.  If your support is a solid rod, the hole will need to be large enough for a sliding fit.  If, by chance, you wind up with a hole that’s too large for a tight fit, use epoxy to hold the pin in place and firm things up.  

14.  Install the pin.  Cut the nail about 1/16” longer than what you need.  After it is installed, you can grind or file the ends flush with the surface, if necessary.  

15.  Cut the music wire to length using a sharp hacksaw (music wire is hard) or a cutoff disk in a Dremel grinder.  

16.  Install the music wire.  Mount the nearly-complete tool rest in the banjo, for convenience.  Lay a bead of epoxy in the groove for the music wire.  Give the wire a few strokes with 150-grit sandpaper to clean the surface and roughen it a bit.  Press the music wire into the groove. Clean up any stray epoxy with a paper towel moistened with denatured alcohol.  

17.  Apply whatever finish you prefer.  I usually just brush on a coat or two of lacquer sanding sealer and call it pretty.  And that’s it. Enjoy!

     Back to Top