Fluted Round Wood Columns

Round, fluted wood columns are easy to buy. But if you want to make your own, here's some advice. May 21, 2007

Does anyone have a source for round fluted wood columns? Preferably in cherry or maple. I would need half round, about 6-8" diameter x 8 ft long, 4 pieces. We're just in the designing/quoting stage, so the details can change.

Forum Responses
(Architectural Woodworking Forum)
From contributor J:
I don't have a source, but I have made them before. I used to be a foundry pattern maker, and worked for a shop that did some decorative iron lamp post work. Let me know if you want the general method we used.

From the original questioner:
Yes, if there's a good way to make them in house without too much specialized equipment, I'd be interested.

From contributor M:
Easy to flute. Just build a square box the same diameter with an opening in the top. Measure the distance between the flutes. Shim the sides to hold it in place. Flute down the length, then turn it until you reach the distance between and shim tight. Flute again and repeat all the way around. Once you get started, you'll see that it isn't hard.

From contributor T:
Try Somerset Column in Pa. They have done dozens of columns for me. Fax them off a drawing and they will fax you back a quote quickly. Upon approval, they send back an Autocad drawing for approval. Remember, it's not always what you make; it's how much you make at what you are doing.

From contributor J:
Contributor M's suggestion was clear as mud to me, but he may be on the same track I am. I would start by gluing up hollow, six- or eight-sided blanks, with solid plugs in each end. 1/2" holes would be drilled in the center of each end plug. I'd also build a long, narrow box, in which to suspend the blank. Holes would be drilled in the ends of the box so that 1/2" steel rods could be inserted through the box and into the end plugs of the blank, so that the blank could spin as if it were in a lathe. The long sides of the box would be tapered, shorter on one end according to the amount of taper I wanted on the column. For your handheld router, make a baseplate such that the router can be slid up and down the length of the box, with rabbeted edges to keep the router neatly centered. You can then use a large-diameter straight router bit to "turn" the blank round, slowly rotating the blank as the router travels the length of the box. That done, you can remove the column from the box, layout index marks on one end to help you place the flutes, then replace it in the box and cut each flute with an appropriate core-box bit.

Having said all of that, I wouldn't hesitate to contact the company contributor T suggested. My method is a fair bit of work, and leaves a surface that requires some careful hand sanding (pattern work is relatively forgiving of this). The company he describes will be using a CNC lathe, which is certainly the easier (if not cheaper) way to get it done.

From contributor M:
Contributor J, we're both on the same page, however your explanation was much better than mine was.

From contributor D:
The method described will give you a tapered column, however the classic column is narrow at the top, bulges toward the bottom, and then narrows again at the base. The Greeks figured out that the eye wants to see this bulging and you intuitively feel better about a column shaped like that. They call this "entasis" and it would be difficult to achieve with the technique outlined. I'd agree with the "farm it out" idea, as they certainly have the automated equipment to check your job.

From contributor J:
"...and it would be difficult to achieve with the technique outlined."

No, not at all. The long sides of the box can be worked to the appropriate curve, rather than a straight taper. From there the process would work just the same way. That said, I have the feeling that the curving profile contributor D describes is more appropriate for very large columns. On something 8' tall, it's not going to make much difference.

From contributor D:
You're right! I hadn't taken the time to think about it, but your method will work on classically shaped columns as well. Anyhow, I still got to use that obscure word that somehow lodged in my brain with very scarce occasion to use. Thanks!

From contributor V:
Five bonus points to contributor D for bringing entasis into the conversation. The formula for the curve is pretty complex, but comes down to a discerning eye and capable hand. Turning columns with proper entasis and proportion is very satisfying - anyone working for vocation or avocation should try it. Besides, the entasis is what separates us from the PVC pipe people (gag!)

By the way, building boxes is okay, but it is much easier to flute (or reed) a turning by building a router jig that sits on the lathe ways, holds the router horizontally at the centerline, and rides on the turning itself, following the contour.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor B:
In my opinion you have to have a lathe, large enough to do the columns on and it would be much easier to create a Jig on the lathe instead of creating a box and a top router plate just for this one project. I agree with Contributor V. This way you can do as many size columns (limited to your lathe of coarse) without having all of these jig boxes around - much, much better and versatile.

I am fortunate enough to own a 12' Oliver 20C pattern lathe with a carriage and router attachment and can do up to 105" and 20' in diameter columns (20” over the carriage/24” over the bed ways) and it can taper the columns as well by adjusting the tailstock further out. The lathe mentioned is designed for this type of work, and believe me, I know what it is like when you don't have the right tools to do the job and then try to fabricate material to get the project completed. More times than not you end up spending more time on creating the tool than you do on the project you want to complete in the first place.

I would have to say that Contributor V has the most practical idea for not just your current project but also for future situations that may arise. I have seen router jigs fabricated over lathes and I must say it is ingenious idea if you don’t have a pattern lathe with a carriage.