00 trembleur intro




Turning a trembleur challenges one’s skill and one’s nerves. One wrong move and you can spoil hours of work. But that’s nothing new for a woodturner. A trembleur is certainly within range of any woodturner. And it is easier than most new projects, as there is only one special tool that you probably don’t already have in your shop – the string steady rest. 

There are two different steady rests that are used for turning the trembleur. The steady rest that supports your stock as you turn beyond it; and the string steady that supports the finished turning. The Escoulen School normally uses a homemade steady rest with three rollers, and cut away in the front. It is a good design as you often need that gap in the steady rest to get your tool rest in there. The lathe bed gets crowded and you need any space you can get.


01 steady rest thumb


The competition trembleur is 1.2 meters long and the thin stems must be no more than 1.8 mm thick. But you don’t have to take that challenge on, at least not at first. Go for a 12 – 16 inch freestanding trembler – it will ‘tremble’ nicely for you.

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To make a trembleur, start with straight fine grained wood like maple or sycamore. Take a lot of time, care, and precision turning your stock down to a round cylinder. That would be my most important piece of advice from my little experience. You want your cylinder to run perfectly true. Cut your tendon with precision, mount it firmly in the chuck. Use the tailstock to be sure it is running true, and add your steady rest very close to the end.

I say all of that because I had a vibration problem as I started mine. First we tried adding a second steady rest. That didn’t seem to make a lot of difference. Then we tried a metal steady rest, the Oneway steady rest which is quite sturdy. That helped a bit, and by the time I had managed to make my way through about 1/3 of the length, it was running true and I was able to experience how it was supposed to run and cut - which was a joy and delight, even with the stress of turning those thin stems.

A trembleur has a series of traditional forms/objects/large decorations separated by a very thin stem. The idea as Jean-François explained it, is for the stems to disappear as you step back, and so see only the decorative objects. So turning a stem down to 2.5 mm is pretty good, 2 mm is better, and 1.8 is the true goal. Jean-François had a set of laminated cards with some of the traditional designs on them for us. You could then design your trembleur by shuffling the card into the order you want for a pleasant design.

02a objectcards thumb


You can also decide if you want your trembleur to stand or hang. Traditionally, the trembleur was made to stand (and tremble) but because many woods compress, it was found to be better in the long run to let the trembleur hang. You can do either perhaps depending on the wood you use.

The French use the bedan, a tool that the rest of the world isn’t too familiar with, but with practice you can get great control for taking super light cuts on those thin stems and getting it quite even. The bedan is used much like the skew, rubbing the bevel and only cutting in the center of the edge.

So with your steady rest in place and your spindle running true, you begin your first decorative object on the end of your cylinder.

03 starting thumb




But leave it still connected by a thick sturdy stem. Then you get that end sanded, for like any finial, once you finish a section you do not go back. That is especially true with these very thin stems; you can never go back and touch one of your objects, as it will twist that thin stem right off.

When you are ready you begin your first thin stem. You work only about an inch at a time.

04 thinstem thumb


This first object must be done with great care, as there is no support for it as of yet. You must reach over the work, around the steady rest and support your object with your hand as you gently turn that first stem. Here I aimed for under 2.5 mm for my first attempt (plus I knew I would have to transport it home on a plane).

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As soon as you have an inch or more (you still need room to work) completed, you stop the lathe and put on your first string steady. The Escoulen string steady rests are articulated so as to adjust to fit any size lathe.

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These string steadies are simply attached to the lathe bed with four magnets, which were more than sufficient. (Of course, that won’t work on my lathe with stainless steel ways, so I’ll have to go to something else.) Put the string steady in place, making sure that they as well as the steady rests are always perpendicular to the lathe bed. There are 4 pegs (wood screws) on the string steady, to which waxed nylon string is attached. Attach the string to peg one, wrap it around your turned stem and back to peg one. Continue with the string to peg 2, around the stem and back to peg 2. Do the same for peg 3 and 4 and tie off. This is all you need to support the turned object.

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With that first string steady in place, you continue turning your thin stem to wherever you want your next decorative object to be. Lightly and carefully sand your stem. Of course, you move your supporting steady rest down a little bit as needed. You want to keep it as close as possible for the support, so be willing to stop and move it often, just a small amount.

Here I have completed the first object and a second small object; notice I have two steady rests supporting the cylindrical stock in an attempt to have it run more smoothly.

08 2steadies thumb




Turn your next decorative object, sand, and then begin your next section of very thin stem. At this point you need to decide if your decorative object is running true, or if you need to add another string steady rest. Better to be safe than sorry. Some of the traditional decorative objects are small, others are large and are designed to be of the maximum diameter. You certainly want to place a string steady after completing any of the larger, more massive objects. A large decorative object is also usually designed to be the center of your trembleur.

Here I have added a second string steady in anticipation of the large heavy object that I was working on. Notice that we have switched to the Oneway steady rest for the greater support it added.

09 metalsteady thumb


Here I have completed five objects, large & small, and almost half of my trembleur. I am working on the central object, and have three string steadies supporting the completed objects. And while it was turning truly, I continued to use the two steady rests… just because.

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Turn, sand, support! Continue working your way down your stock until you have completed your trembleur.

Here I have completed my central object and have added two more string steadies.

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So I continued turning and have completed another small object and a large object. I also removed one of the steady rests.

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At this point I’ve added the sixth and final string steady and removed the steady rest and am ready to finish the final section.

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And here I’ve finished the final objects. I have, perhaps, crowded too many objects there and should have left more thin stems. I guess that comes from experience.

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Of course at that point your turning is so fragile that you cannot remove it from the lathe! The solution is to introduce it into a glass tube. You had, of course, slid that glass tube over your turned cylinder at the very beginning of this process to be sure that your outer diameter was correct and that all of your turned objects would fit inside your tube. Find someone to help you as you one by one cut the string on each string steady and gently slide your finished trembleur into the glass tube.

Here Jean-Francois is helping another student remove his trembleur.

15 removing thumb


We turned a small (1/2 inch) tendon on the very end of the trembleur. That tendon must be glued into the cap which you now turn to finish the end of your tube, before you can stand your trembleur vertical. Finally a base is turned that will hold your tube firmly. Remember though, that wood can still move, so don’t make your cap or stand too precisely tight, that the shrinking wood could break the glass – leave a little shrinkage room.

Congratulations your trembleur is done.

Here I am with Jean-Francois and my finished trembleur, 34 inches long. Also my practice trembleurs as examples of other possibilities.

16 mytrembleur thumb 17 alltrembleurs thumb


Other examples on display at the Escoulen School of Woodturning.

18 Trembleurs thumb


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Wednesday the 17th. Thanks for visiting Woodturners Unlimited.