Weekend Project: Autumn is the perfect time to get outside and add to your garden. In fact, you’ll probably have enough time to turn a garden dibbler and get outside to plant on the same weekend.
A garden dibbler is used to plant bulbs, tubers, small plants and sometimes seeds. They come in many different shapes and sizes. The garden dibbler in this article is a 9″ long by 1-1/2″ to 1-3/4″ diameter tapered round stick with a ball-shaped handle. It is used by pushing the tapered end into the garden soil to the depth required. Twisting it will help to loosen the soil.
Start by selecting a billet of wood approximately 11″ long by 1-3/4″ square. I like to use maple, but any wood will do, even a piece of construction lumber, as long as it’s fairly dry. Mark the center on both ends and mount the blank between a spur-drive center in the headstock and a live center in the tailstock of the lathe. Turn the blank to a cylinder approximately 1-1/2″ to 1-3/4″ in diameter using a spindle roughing gouge. Measuring from the tailstock end, mark the transition points on the blank at 1″, 7″, and 10″ and then continue the marks making rings around the cylinder.
Using a diamond-shaped parting tool, cut grooves at the 1″ point and the 10″ points to approximately 1/2″ diameter. These grooves will provide reference points for removing wood when turning the garden dibbler shaft and handle. Leave the end waste pieces on to distance your hands from the headstock and tailstock. Using a skew or a spindle gouge, cut a shallow curved taper from the 7″ point around the middle to the 1″ point at the tailstock end of the blank. Using a spindle gouge, make a ball shape at the 10″ point at the headstock end of the blank. This ball will be the handle for pressing the garden dibbler into the soil, so it needs to be smooth and comfortable. Some of the waste piece may have to be cut away to make room for the spindle gouge to shape the ball. Using a spindle gouge, make a shallow cove between the base of the ball to the 7″ point. Leave the handle shaft thick to provide stability and strength in the finished piece. Rough sand all surfaces to remove tool marks using 150–180-grit sandpaper.
Mark the depth rings on the tapered shaft 1″ apart and cut 1/4″ ‘Vs’. Do not make these grooves too big or dirt will get lodged in them when the garden dibbler is being used.
Reduce the diameter at each end to about 1/4″. Keep the pointed end rounded so it won’t break off when the garden dibbler is being used. Follow the rounded shape of the ball handle. Smooth the newly cut areas with 150-grit sandpaper and then finish sand all surfaces using 220- then 320-grit sandpaper.
Apply a coat of boiled linseed or another oil to seal the surfaces and let it soak in for a few minutes. Wipe off any excess oil. To remove the garden dibbler from the lathe, use very light cuts with a narrow parting tool and alternate between ends starting at the tailstock end. Alternatively, remove the piece from the lathe and cut the waste pieces off with a small saw. Sand the ends by hand and rub on a little linseed oil.
Start with a Cylinder
Turn the blank to a cylinder between 1-1/2" and 1-3/4" in diameter.
Mark transition points to locate the tip and the handle.
Taper the Shaft
Cut a shallow curved taper from the 7" point to the 1" point at the tailstock end of the blank.
Shape the Handle
Continue to turn the handle of the dibbler and fine-tune its overall shape. Notice no areas are turned smaller than 1/2" in diameter as strength is still needed for future operations.
Mark and cut the depth rings at 1" increments.
Finish it Up
After perfecting the overall shape of the dibbler, apply a coat or two of finish and let it dry. You can part the dibbler off or use a handsaw to free it from the two waste ends.