Making A Taper or Reamer

by Lambdafarm on May 5, 2011

One of the wonderful things about woodworking is the way you can bootstrap your way to better and better tools and in the process learn a great deal about the craft of woodworking.  I am transitioning from doing scroll saw work almost exclusively to working on bigger objects.  The first stop to a new fence, for example, is a shaving horse so I can cut the bark off the oak posts.  Then they will not rot as fast.

In the case of the shaving horse, I am using a plan that requires the tenons inside the bench portion of the project to be tapered.  This is done with wooden chairs and some other things.  A pilot hole is drilled and then a taper or reamer, the name seems to vary, is turned in like a corkscrew to create the correct taper.

As you can imagine, there is not much call for this any more in Texas, if there ever was, or even in the United States.  The examples I found were either shop made and not for sale or proper copies of old ones designed for use by people in those living history places.  These were priced accordingly — very expensive.  I do not do “very expensive.” Not, at least, without months of scrimping and saving.

Since I was working in oak, I decided to make a reamer out of a harder wood that grows wild on my place — osage orange, or bois d’arc, as it is called around here.  It is very hard and very durable.  It also has thorns and was used to make hedges to keep livestock in before the advent of barbed wire, which makes harvesting it a bit dicey.

Very old bois d'arc tree

Very old bois d'arc tree

bois d'arc wood (osage orange) waiting to be cut

bois d'arc wood (osage orange) waiting to be cut

I cut a sapling down that was about 2.5 inches in diameter.  Here you see a picture of an older tree, and the sapling once the bark had been peeled off.  The bark pulls off easily and can be removed in strips and woven into rope or cord.  The Native Americans used the limbs for bows and wove bowstrings out of the bark, hence the local French name meaning “bow wood”.


To construct a reamer, you need a cone that is approximately a foot long, with one end a point and the other end two inches across.  This forms a 12:1 taper, which was suggested for this use.  Some people use a 6:1 or 8:1 taper for chairs.  I have not gotten into chair making yet, or other furniture.

taper and left over wood

reamer and left over wood

finished reamer or taper

finished reamer or taper

Cutting a cone out of a cylinder with a bow saw is not very easy.  You cut a wedge in one dimension.  Then you stand that wedge on its’ side and cut another wedge.  A vise would help, but a stopping block and a C clamp does in a pinch.

Once the cone is cut out, it must be sanded smooth.  Use one of the pieces left over to craft a handle and drill a small hole through the top for that.  I cut a kerf into the cone and set a coping saw blade in it anchored with epoxy as a scrapper.  Then I burned the size measurements into it so I didn’t have to keep measuring.

Does it work?  Yes and no.  I did not get the cone perfectly cone-like when sanding, so it is a bit bumpy turning it.  The coping saw blade is really too fragile to scrape iron oak, but a hacksaw blade is too wide to fit.  I ended up using it more like a ram, tapping hard with a mallet, to make the hole taper.  That worked, but it took a lot of effort to wiggle the reamer free after doing that.  Wacking on the other side or the reamer is out because it would break the point.  So, maybe some design flaws for a wooden reamer, but it did perform the function it was supposed to and now I am working on making the tenons for the legs.  The bois d’arc wood is very pretty, too, but stains everything it touches when wet.

As a bonus, the pieces I did not use are serving as wedges for splitting logs.


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