This was an opportune commission to receive as it fits very neatly into my ongoing series about turning treen for the kitchen. It’s a traditional meat carving platter, properly known as a trencher.
A few weeks ago I was approached by a lady who asked me to turn something useful from a piece of wood that had been lying around in her father’s shed for many years. The piece was some 480mm long by 390mm wide and 35mm thick, and was apparently left over from some furniture he’d made some years ago. The wood is probably mahogany or a close relative: I’m not entirely sure.
After some discussion the lady asked me if I could make her a carving board. I was a little hesitant, saying that that type of item would be better made from beech or sycamore, but she was adamant and, after all the customer is (almost) always right! Here’s how I went about it.
Preparing the blank
There were a few end-grain checks in the piece that had to be cut away, and I also needed to remove a split running the length of the piece. This was easily done on my table saw, photo 1. Once the piece had been squared off I marked the centre accurately using the corner-to-corner method, photo 2.
I didn’t want screw holes from a faceplate showing on my finished piece, so I decided to mount it on a hot-melt glue chuck. Mount a disc of plywood approximately 150mm in diameter on a faceplate, true it up and cut a recess in it to fit your chuck, photo 3. Then drill a small hole in the very centre using a Jacobs chuck in the tailstock, photo 4.
Remove the plywood disc from the faceplate and insert a screw in the centre hole. Place the tip of the screw on the centre of the blank to locate the plywood accurately and stick it in place with the glue gun, photo 5. Allow the glue to set and mount the blank in your chuck on the lathe.
Making a start
True up the bottom of the blank and mark a line where the ‘wings’ of your board will start. I chose mine to be about 25mm in from the solid wood as the blank rotates. I also marked an area for a raised ring that will become the foot of the board, photo 6.
Next, cut a recess for your chuck and remove the waste wood between the raised ring and the recess using a bowl gouge, photo 7. The base can then be cleaned up using a square-ended scraper, photo 8.
Remember to use the scraper with the handle held slightly higher than the cutting edge – the opposite to the bowl gouge technique. You should aim to get fine shavings with the scraper; if you’re only getting dust, then you need to sharpen the tool.
A warning or two
When rectangular pieces like this are rotating on the lathe, it’s sometimes difficult to see the extremities, so I like to mark my toolrest with a piece of masking tape where the corners of the rectangle will pass it; you can see this in photo 9. Remember that if you move the toolrest while you’re doing the turning, you will also need to reposition the masking tape.
The other warning I should give when turning these type of pieces is to keep the whole of your leading hand, including your fingers, behind the toolrest. I know some turners who like to wrap their fingers over the toolrest when holding the tool. Don’t do this. If you do, sooner or later you‘ll get a very nasty rap on the fingers as the wood comes round and hits them.
Creating the wings
I then worked on the wings of the piece using a fingernail profile bowl gouge. This time keep the handle well down, photo 9, and try not to push into the wood. You should aim to put downward pressure on the toolrest and lightly caress the wood with the cutting edge. Photo 10 shows the same cut from a different angle. Note that the handle is held very low, the tool is almost right over on its side and the shaving is coming off just below the tip of the tool. The bevel is very lightly caressing the wood behind the cut.
Once you’ve removed most of the wood with the bowl gouge, you can clean up the surface if necessary with the square-ended scraper, photo 11. You’ll see that my stance is upright – less stress on my spine – and I’m holding the tool at the junction of the blade and the handle. The rest of the handle is tucked under my forearm to help absorb any pivotal force produced as the tool overhangs the toolrest. My forearm is also tucked into the side of my body. I find this the most stable way to use the scraper.
When you’re happy with the finish on the wings, stop the lathe and mark an arc at their widest point, photo 12. Now cut away the waste wood using a coping saw, photo 13, working just outside the marked line.
The edges of the wings can now be cleaned up down to the line using a spindle gouge, photo 14. Cut in from both sides of the edge to prevent any breakout, photo 15. This is a difficult cut because you’re cutting wood, then a lot of air, then wood again. There is a considerable amount of ghosting, but if you keep the tool handle low and avoid pushing the blade into the wood, you should achieve a good cut.
Sand the underneath of the board. I like to power-sand pieces like this, especially on the wings. I don’t like the idea of the wings coming round and rapping my fingers. Try to keep the pad of the power sander as vertical as possible but avoid contact between the wood and the top of the sanding disc, photo 16. By keeping the sander vertical, you avoid rounding over the leading edge of both wings.
Reversing the platter
With the underside complete, you can break the glue joint. I find a hot air gun useful for softening the glue to help the separation. Reverse the piece onto the recess on the base and clean up the top surface. This time I used a push cut, starting at the edge of the wing and cutting towards the centre. I dished this cut slightly so as to leave a raised area about 180mm in diameter in the centre. This area is obviously where the carving of the joint is going to be done, and I wanted it to be slightly higher than the rest of the board.
The other reason for sloping the wings inward slightly is to help any juices that accumulate on the wings to run into the gravy moat. This will be cut next. Mark the position of the moat, photo 17 – note the raised area in the middle – and make the cuts from both edges, as if you were cutting a cove on some spindle work, photo 18.
Cutting the rings
Mark the position of the rings next and make a cut either side of the marks. I used a modified parting tool to do this. I simply ground an old parting tool’s cutting edge at an angle to make a small skew. This enabled me to make these cuts at an angle so that the rings were tapered, becoming wider at their base, photo 19.
The long point of the modified parting tool cuts down the side of the taper and leaves a much cleaner cut than a normal plunge cut with a standard parting tool. Now use a spindle gouge or a square-ended scraper to remove the waste wood from between the rings, photo 20. I also made this area of the board slope gently towards the moat.
To allow the meat juices to run into the moat, the rings need to have gaps cut into them. I used the lathe’s indexing system to mark the location of these notches evenly, photo 21. Remove the board from the chuck and use a sharp carpenter’s chisel to cut the notches, photo 22.
Finishing the platter
All that’s required now is to give the platter a final sanding on the lathe and apply the finish. I power-sanded the wings but hand-sanded the rest of the piece. Note in photo 23 that I’m supporting my right wrist with my left hand. Both my elbows are tucked into my sides. This method of hand sanding is ideal and helps prevent putting any strain of the sanding hand. This is important if, like me, your hands and wrist aren’t as strong as they used to be. It also keeps my hand safely clear of the wings as they spin round.
The finish I use on all culinary items is liquid paraffin; alternatively you could apply a good food-safe finish such as Chestnut or a cooking oil such as sunflower or rapeseed.
Brush copious amounts onto the wood, photo 24, and let it soak in. A couple of coats will normally do to start with. You can then give it regular refresher coats every two or three months.
Time to put the oven on …