There are a variety of ways to make a spiral groove wood dowel. Using a wood lathe will allow you to create consistent, even spiral grooves on a dowel with a little practice. A wood lathe will spin the dowel at high velocity for you, which gives you the ability to carve a groove quickly. Exercise caution when using wood lathes, though. Always make sure your lathe is grounded and that all parts are lubricated properly and in good working condition before attempting to carve a spiral groove in a wood dowel.
Mark the centre point of the dowel with an X on one end with a pencil. Use a tape measure to help find the exact centre. This will centre the live centre. Choose a dowel that is at least one inch in diameter; any smaller and it may wobble while working with it, which can be very dangerous.
Attach the three-jawed chuck to the spindle on the headstock of the lathe. Clamp the dowel in the chuck. Do not use the end with the X on it. If you are unsure how to attach the chuck to the spindle or how to clamp the dowel in it, refer to the owner's manual or contact the manufacturer.
Insert the live centre into the tailstock on the lathe and secure it in place.
Move the tailstock to the free end of the dowel. Place the live centre point exactly in the centre of the X that you drew. Tighten the tailstock and lock it into place.
Place the tool rest in the tool rest body and lock it into place. Use a long tool rest so you do not have to move it at all. You might not be able to make a smooth spiral if you have to move the tool rest. Make sure the tool rest is as close to the wood as possible without actually touching it.
Turn on the lathe. If you see any wobble in the dowel while it is spinning, immediately shut off the lathe. Either double-check the centre or check that the dowel is not warped.
Place the cutting or carving tool on the tool rest at the tailstock end of the dowel. The style of groove you want will determine which tool to use. There are rounded tools, v-shaped tools, and other types available.
Slide the tip of the tool into the spinning dowel slowly, while keeping it firmly against the tool rest, until it begins cutting. Continue until you have reached the desired depth.
Move the tool down the length of the tool rest, cutting into the dowel at the desired depth. Make it a smooth, consistent motion to ensure the spiral is evenly spaced down the length of the dowel.
Carve the spiral the length of the dowel as far as you can. Turn off the lathe, back off the live centre and remove the dowel from the chuck. Cut off the ends of the dowel with a saw where the spiral does not reach; use any saw as long as it makes straight cuts.
Sand the dowel until you reach a desired smoothness. A variety of sand paper grits may be necessary to get it smooth.
Thicker, shorter dowels work better. The thinner and longer they are, the more likely they will have warps or wobble while working on them. Practice makes perfect, especially when working on a lathe. It may take some practice to get a well-carved, even spiral.
Use caution when working on a wood lathe. Do not cut too deep into the wood or you risk it breaking apart and sending pieces of wood flying in the air. Use safety glasses and hearing protection when using a lathe; gloves are also a good idea. Always tie back any loose hair and avoid loose clothing. Wood lathes spin at high velocities. Make sure all materials or items that may get caught on the lathe are removed from the area. See References for hints and tips on using lathes.