Tool rests are subject to heavy wear during everyday turning and will benefit from occasional dressing. It’s surprising to realize one day that there is a definite low spot in the center of your metal rest, to say nothing of a multitude of nicks and dents. The best tool for removing these imperfections is a large, single-cut mill file in either bastard or first cut (a double-cut file will not work for this process). Draw-file the rest by turning the file sideways and alternately pulling and pushing it over the rest, much as if it were a spokeshave. You’ll be rewarded with long ribbons of steel or iron.
Draw-filing also allows you to reshape a rest to your own needs. No two manufacturers make their rests quite the same, and the best edge shape is a matter of considerable debate. The illustration on the facing page shows my personal preference for a tool-rest shape. This design places the fulcrum point close to the work for good leverage and offers good support of the tool in all types of turning (unlike rests of flatter design).
Although the standard tool rest that comes with your lathe is adequate for most turning operations, it’s worth making special tool rests to speed up production work. Tool rests are quite easy to fabricate from structural steel. Use a short length of cold rolled steel of the appropriate diameter for the neck, and braze or weld a piece of flat stock to it at the proper angle. Once the rest is welded, draw-file the top to the desired shape. If you don’t have welding equipment, any welder can do the job for you at a nominal price. I’ve made 1 8-in.-Iong rests in this way, as well as odd-shaped rests for special situations. A handy shape is an S-curve: It allows you to turn the inside of a bowl from one end of the rest and the outside from the opposite end.