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Beall Collet Chuck
Getting a grip on small turning projects
Text, photos & video by Tom Hintz
Posted – 12-28-2006
Turning small projects like bottle stoppers, pegs and knobs are very popular. However, controlling those little pieces while turning, sanding and finishing has been one of the more daunting problems. The Beall Collet Chuck System is based on metalworking technology that when adapted for woodturning not only solves those problems but also offers safety and capabilities that free your small project imagination.
If you are at all familiar with products from Beall Tool, the finely machined pieces that make up the Beall Collet Chuck will not be surprising. In addition to high-end machining, quality materials and perfect balance, the parts of the Beall Collet Chuck fit together very well and function better than anticipated.
Using internal threads to attach the Beall Collet Chuck directly to the spindle rather than an insert or adaptor is an important design feature. This mounting system reduces the overall length of the Beall Collet Chuck beyond the spindle (measured on my JET Mini Lathe, 1X8 tpi) to only 2 3/16”! It also eliminates the runout those intermediary pieces can create. These features mean that the only sources of deviation or vibration left for the turner to deal with are in the straightness and rigidity of the wood itself.
The Beall Collet Chuck is available in a number of combinations or as individual parts. The Collet Chuck is available with 1”-8, 1 ¼”-8, 1 ½”-8, ¾”-16 or 33mm thread sizes to fit virtually any lathe you may have.
The Beall Collet Chuck Kit featured in this review came with the Collet Chuck (1”-8 that fits both my JET Mini Lathe and my Delta Iron Bed lathe), a double-ended spanner wrench and five collets, one each in ¼”, 3/8”, ½”, 5/8” and ¾” sizes. Individual collets are also available in 3/16”, 5/16”, 7/16”, 9/16” and 11/16” capacities. Metric and other collet sizes can be special ordered through Beall directly.
The maximum diameter of the Beall Collet Chuck (at the collet nut) is just under 2”. That alone makes this a much safer tool when working with small pieces as it allows far greater access to the piece being turned than standard chucks.
An even greater safety factor is the smooth, round shape of the Beall Collet Chuck. Unlike normal lathe chucks, there are no jaws protruding from its sides. While it remains a bad idea to touch the spinning chuck, an accidental bump against the Beall Collet Chuck will be far more surprising than injurious.
In the Shop
Before getting the Beall Collet Chuck, I used drill press type chucks (mounted on a Morse taper) when turning small object but found that the three narrow jaws concentrated pressure in small areas and frequently crushed the wood to some degree. That caused the piece to run out of line and even loosen up as the wood conformed to the jaws during turning. The spindle-direct mounting and radial grasp of the collet makes the Beall Collet Chuck far superior for gripping small tenons (or glued-in dowels) than any other chuck I have tried.
The remarkable stability of the Beall Collet Chuck allows turning the work piece faster, which makes getting a smooth, clean finish from the tool itself much easier. Something I didn’t expect was how quickly the wood sands to a fine finish. Eliminating even small vibrations and alignment issues appears to be responsible for this.
The grip developed by the Beall Collet Chuck is strong enough that in most cases, tightening the collet by hand is all that is needed. While turning a set of knobs, I alternated between hand tightening and using the (included) spanner wrench but found no difference in the stability of the piece during turning. That isn’t to say the spanner will never be required. In the weeks of intensive use for this evaluation, those occasions have yet to occur.
The range of collet sizes included in this kit allows using the best tenon (or dowel) diameter for the job to maximize the glue surface and overall strength. The grip range built into the Beall collets makes cutting tenons to fit simple. I found that using an open-end wrench as a gauge, sized to match the collet capacity makes this a very fast, accurate task.
Between the grip of the collets and the Beall Collet Chuck running dead-on true to the spindle centerline, you can turn surprisingly long, small diameter pieces without having to fight vibration. The only problems with flex come from the wood itself, not the Beall Collet Chuck. I turned several 3”-long pegs without using the tailstock to support the free end without problem. Using sharp cutting tools and good technique remain important but the Beall Collet Chuck holds the piece very securely and lets you concentrate on turning the shape you want rather than stabilizing the piece. When turning longer pieces I used the tailstock to support the free end, particularly for rounding and basic shaping but was able to remove the tailstock for the final cuts, sanding and finishing.
I also noticed that the Beall Collet Chuck grips tenons so well that surprisingly little length is needed. I turned several 2”-long oak pegs with slightly less than 3/8” of the tenon length within the collet. The pieces ran true, did not vibrate or loosen up with the collet tightened by hand. Obviously having more tenon length in the collet is a good idea but it is not necessary for the Beall Collet Chuck to function correctly in most cases.
While the Beall Collet Chuck did everything I expected and did all better than anticipated, I suspect it’s true range of capabilities will only become evident later as familiarity and experience with it grow. The ability to create knobs, pulls, pegs and more is just the start. Being able to match the wood, design and size precisely saves money while allowing you to refine your projects and add your own creative touch that makes your work unique.
With a street price of only $159.00 (12-18-2006) the Beall Collet Chuck Kit featured in this review is a remarkable value in the woodturning market. It’s not often that we find a product that works so well with a reasonable price tag. Its overall capabilities mean this one time investment will enhance your small project work for many years.
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