Inexperienced turners find making two pieces the same quite intimidating. But it need not be difficult. After all, if you can turn the first item, you just have to do the same again.
A copying attachment for your lathe is an option, but is only really worthwhile if you have a great many items to do. The attachment has to be set up and taken down and may get in the way when not in use. It may not even save time. Much better to save your money and benefit from the practice that hand turning will give you. Soon you will be able to make duplicates so quickly that you will surprise yourself. Making lots of the same thing is an excellent way of improving your skill, and you will find you can then make other shapes much more fluently. And why take up woodturning if you don’t want to do the turning?
It is rarely necessary for copied items to be indistinguishable. A degree of variation is almost always acceptable, and shows that the items are handmade. If you look at antique furniture you may well see variation in the spindles and that is part of the charm of the piece. Of course, this is not an excuse for sloppiness. Generally, the closer together two items are placed, the better the resemblance should be.
The important dimensions of a spindle being copied are usually the overall length, the maximum and minimum diameters, the diameter of any tenon or fitting, and the position of beads. The exact size or shape of beads, fillets and coves is not normally so critical.
Tips for copy turning
It makes the copying easier if you start by making the blanks identical, so you have a stack of cylinders all the same size, just slightly more than the maximum diameter of the finished piece to allow for sanding.
First make one item to your satisfaction. This proves that you can do the job. Rig up a holder for it that positions it just behind the lathe so you can use it as a guide when working on the others.
When doing the rest of the items, it helps if you break the task down into steps and put all the items through one step before going on to the next. The advantages of this are firstly that the practice gained from carrying out that step on the first item is immediately put to use on the next item, and secondly that you can see as you go that each one is within tolerance. You should start out with some spares to allow for any rejects along the way.
Mark the key points from your sample onto a strip of thin ply. This is offered up to the spinning cylinders and circles marked on them with a pencil. The number of points and circles will depend on how accurate you want the copies to be. Usually, I mark the centre line of each bead, the position of any tenon and the overall length of the item. I don’t normally mark or measure the width of beads or hollows or fillets, partly because having too many lines drawn on the blank is confusing.
Sharpen and lay out the tools for the job. Set callipers to slightly over the relevant finished diameters to allow for small errors and sanding. Lay them out in order so they don’t get mixed up. You might label the callipers to correspond to the positions on the marking strip. But unless a dimension is critical, you will find after the first one or two items that you don’t need the callipers any more.
Use a parting tool to block out the beads. With a little practice you will have the confidence to set the width and depth by eye. Cut in on both sides of the marked line. The parting cuts locate the bead and make clearance for the gouge or skew. Turn the beads, then the coves, then clean up the fillets. Try to set the width of any fillets and the depth of coves by eye. Aim to get all fillets on an item of equal width, and all coves and beads properly shaped. If they are properly shaped, the finished dimensions should come out right each time. Pay particular attention to the shape of large coves and beads and sweeping curves.
When you have finished the batch, line them up and pick out any rejects. If you need small sets, sort them into groups that match best.