With the cost of hardwood these days, it can be prohibitive to turn anything on a lathe let alone practice. Many beginning turners and even the experienced move to the firewood pile for turning wood. While the practiced turners will have little trouble mounting the wood, beginners need a couple of hints to get started.
A lot of firewood will come in sixteen inch lengths and will be spilt in halves or quarters of the log. For spindle practice select a quarter log about three inches on a side with no splits on the end. If there are small splits they can be deal with in the shop. Cutting an inch off the ends will generally get rid of the small splits in a quarter section of log. If it does not, cut off another inch or get another piece of wood from the firewood pile.
As you examine the face of the quarter log you will realize that you can get about a two inch turning square from the quarter. For all intents and purposes divide the width of the quarter (three inches) by three and multiply by two. If you have a bandsaw you can cut the waste away to leave a rough square or it can be done laboriously with a hand saw. This is not a good cut to do at the table saw.
Another option is to remove the waste at the lathe. Starting at the corner of the section measure in an inch and up an inch on each end. This will give the centers of the two inch square. At the wood lathe choose one end for the headstock and the other for the tail. Center the spur center at the headstock on the center mark of the wood and hit it on the other end with a mallet to drive the spur center home. Some turners object to this for fear of hurting the bearings but this if a bearing will be hurt by such an event it is too light for woodturning.
Bring up the tail stock and center the tail center on the mark for the square center. Tighten the tailboard and advance the center to hold the wood firmly in place. Because of all the extra wood on the log section it will be very unbalanced. Learning to deal with it is a good exercise in lathe work.
Make sure, with the lathe off, that the wood clears the tool rest and tighten the rest down. Stand clear of the wood and turn the lathe on to its low speed to make sure the wood is secure in the centers.
Sharpen a roughing gouge and prepare to rough down the wood. The tool should be held firmly on the tool rest and held so that the tip is above the spinning wood. It will bounce on the uneven wood but not cut. The handle of the tool rests on the hip and the planned cut will be very near one end of the wood, usually the tail stock end. As the handle slides up the hip and the tip moves down the wood a chipping cut will begin as the tool nears forty five degrees. Cut towards the end of the log. After the cut is done move down the log a little and repeat. This continues until the other end of the log is reached. At this point move the tool rest in the direction the wood so as to give better control and repeat until the wood is round. Now it can proceed as any other spindle.
Firewood is a great source for practice wood and also for advanced projects. It is dry enough to work and provides an excellent supply of local hardwoods for woodturning enjoyment.