Cutting Beads and Coves with Woodworking Lathes

What You'll Need
Woodworking lathe
Cylindrical piece of wood
Spindle gouge
Skew chisel
Round nose chisel

Using woodworking lathes to cut beads and coves is a fairly simple process in principal, but it will require some time and practice to get good at it. Use a scrap piece of wood to start out with until you master the technique. You can use a spindle gouge for most of the cutting and shaping, but other tools may be preferred. This is an art, so don’t be discouraged if it takes some time to get used to it.

Beads are rounded, convex structures with dips in between, whereas coves are concave depressions. Each of these elements can be used alone, but most often beads and coves are placed in conjunction with one another to create some kind of design.

You will need to start with a cylindrical piece of wood. If you have a square piece, you can make it cylindrical by using a spindle gouge to round the corners and rough out the shape and calipers to gauge the width and make it even.

Step 1 - Mark Wood

After your wood is secured in place on the lathe, turn the lathe on. A good recommended speed for shaping beads and coves is around 2,000 rpm.

You will now need to mark the wood at desired intervals. Do this by holding a pen to the wood and using your calipers to measure the right distance in between each mark.

Step 2 - Score Notches for Beads

You can use a skew chisel to score circular notches along the lines when forming beads. To do this, make sure the long point of the chisel is facing down. This step is optional but can be beneficial in giving you a stopping point at each end so you don’t accidentally overstep your lines. Beads can be formed without the initial scoring, using only a spindle gouge or skew chisel, but this is a more advanced technique and requires a good amount of accuracy.

Step 3 - Cutting and Shaping Beads

As you go along, mark the center of each bead with a pen. Using the spindle gouge or skew chisel, with the flute parallel to the floor, roll the gouge gently downwards from the center mark to the inside of the groove, forming a rounded bead. Repeat on either side of the bead and for each consecutive bead you wish to make.

Step 4 - Coves

Follow the same principal for coves as you did for beads, this time making the center the thinnest point on your wood. Using your gouge or a round nose chisel, cut into your workpiece at the center, making a shallow dip in the wood. Continue to deepen and widen the cove until you have reached the outside marks and have a symmetrical cove. Typically, coves are not rounded off on the outside ends, so sharp corners will be formed here.