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How to Make a Brass Container on a Metal Lathe



The Voice: Hey, Kevin. What are you doing?

Kevin Caron: I'm just playing on the lathe, a new piece of metal working equipment here in the studio. I had a special request for a brass canister with a lid, so that's what I'm trying to turn out on the lathe. Come here; let me show you.

Here is my little chunk of brass; I faced it out to get it true and smooth this way. I'm sorry; I turned it out this way and then I faced it to get it straight and square along the edge.

Now I'm hollowing out the inside of the lid itself. I've cut a little lip on here so this lip, once I take the top off and turn it around, will actually fit inside the canister.

I've got this outside dimension; it'll turn into the inside dimension in the canister itself. Next I'll work on the inside of the lid just to hollow it out a little so it's not quite so heavy. Then I can come in with my parting tool and part this off and get my lid out of the way.

I've still got enough metal here that I can grab with my six-jaw chuck, allowing me to turn the top of the lid and get this dimension; then I'll know what size to hollow out the canister itself. My lid will then fit on there and everything will be straight and smooth and ought to come out looking just right - I hope.

The Voice: Is the inside of the canister still solid?

Kevin Caron: Yes, the inside of the canister is in here. This is the canister itself right here.

The next thing I need to do is part off the top of the canister with my parting tool. This tool has a solid cobalt blade with a cutting edge; this cutting tool will go into that holder and then I just feed this in this way, and that's what parts off the lid so I can get the lid off of it. Then I can work on the top of the lid and also work on hollowing out the inside of the canister.

After I've got the lid off, I'll hollow out in there. Once I get this finished, I can take the canister out, turn it around, put it back into the chuck, hold it by the top edge, and then finish off on the bottom; smooth it off. I can round it off; make a little base out of it - something like that.

I'll go slow and easy. This is my first time with brass, so lot of learning is going on. With sharp tools and lots of cutting fluid, go slow; make shallow cuts and make sure the speed is right. There are so many things to learn while you're doing this.

The Voice: How is brass different from aluminum?

Kevin Caron: Well, aluminum is much softer. I can cut aluminum a lot faster and a lot deeper. Brass, bronze and copper are very hard metals. I've been told that brass is gummy and gums up the cutting tool, but I haven't run into that yet; maybe it's because I'm going so slow.

I'm cutting making very small, shallow cuts, using lots of WD-40 to keep it lubricated; just going slow and being careful. This is the only piece I have, so I don't want to make a mistake and ruin it. I'm trying to learn and get something done at the same time.

You can see the nice little shavings that it makes, like a little spring. If I was making a doll it would make some nice red hair for a doll.

The Voice: What do you do with all that scrap?

Kevin Caron: All of this metal scrap that I've taken off of it already will go to the scrap yard. I can sell it by the pound to the scrap yard and get a little bit of my money back; maybe enough to buy a six-pack or something.

This is my aluminum scrap barrel from three or four different aluminum sculptures that I've done. It's almost completely full. At 50 cents a pound, I can buy another chunk of aluminum and have material for another piece of metal art.

Well, let me go back to work and I'll see you all next time.

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