This project is unusual in that it involves two very different techniques – turning on three centres, and turning a composite block. It produces an unusual and very attractive piece
For some time now I’ve wanted to make a receptacle for holding sea salt and pepper and spices for seasoning fish and meat before cooking. I’ve put up with small ceramic dishes, but because these don’t have lids the contents of the dishes can soon become contaminated.
That’s why I came up with this project, but it can just as easily be used at a dressing table to house small items of jewellery, hair clips and the like, or in the office as a desk tidy. You could even play ‘hunt the thimble’ with your kids!
I made the lids from two contrasting woods, beech and purpleheart, but if you wish you can make them from a single piece.
A sticky start
Begin by cutting the wood for the lids. You’ll need three pieces of beech approximately 115mm square and three pieces of a contrasting wood of similar size. True up one surface of all these pieces – I used a disc sander – and glue and cramp them together, photo 1. Set them aside for the glue to cure and start work on the base.
Preparing the base
The base is a piece of beech measuring 345 x 140 x 50mm. It’s much easier to true this up now rather than later, and a planer/thicknesser is the ideal machine to do this. Once all six sides are true, divide the top into three rectangles, each 115mm wide. Find the centre of each of these rectangles and use a pair of compasses to draw a circle 90mm in diameter at each centre. When complete, the marking out should look like this, photo 2.
Screw a large disc of mdf or laminate-faced chipboard to a faceplate and mount this on the lathe. Hold the rectangular base against the disc and use the tailstock centre to locate the centre of the middle circle. Then use hot-melt glue to stick the rectangle to the disc, photo 3.
When the glue has cooled, check that the rectangle is held securely, remove the tailstock and bring up the toolrest. Rotate the whole piece by hand to make sure it’s not obstructed, reduce the lathe speed to about 500rpm and switch on.
The first cut
Use a bowl gouge to hollow out the first bowl, photo 4, and clean up if necessary with a round-nosed scraper, photo 5. Then sand the inside of the bowl. It’s important to finish this part before moving on.
Break the hot melt glue joint and move the rectangular base on the mdf faceplate so that the centre of one of the outer bowls is now centred on the tailstock’s revolving centre, photo 6. Glue the base to the faceplate again with hot melt glue. This time the block and faceplate are going to be considerably out of balance, and even on my very heavy VB36 lathe there was likely to be some vibration. The solution is to screw weights to the back of the faceplate, photo 7, to bring the work into balance.
Lower the speed of the lathe if necessary and cut the second bowl in exactly the same way as the first. I used my profile gauge to check that the two bowls were the same shape, photo 8. If you don’t have one, cut a template from stiff card and use this instead. Sand the second bowl, then repeat steps 6 to 8 to create the third bowl, photo 9.
Remove the base from the lathe, clean off any hot melt glue and give the whole piece a thorough sanding with a random orbital sander. I then finished my piece with a mixture of beeswax and liquid paraffin.
Getting a grip
When the glue-up for the lids is dry, remove the cramps, draw a 110mm diameter circle on each blank and cut them all out on the bandsaw, photo 10.
Photo 11 shows a method of holding work on the lathe that I often use; it works particularly well for small pieces like these. I hold the blank against the open jaws of my chuck and bring the tailstock centre up to hold the workpiece in place. It’s a friction hold, and I only use it in order to turn a proper chucking spigot, photo 12. If you use this method, remember to take very light cuts. You could, of course, hold the workpiece in a more conventional way, like a screw chuck.
Make the chucking spigot on the lid and mount this in the chuck. True up the base and side of the lid and then mark and cut a small tenon that will fit inside one of the bowls in the base, photo 13. My tenon was 90mm in diameter. Next, hollow out the interior of the lid using a bowl gouge, photo 14. Sand and polish the inside of the lid.
Next, make a jam chuck. Mount a scrap of mdf on a faceplate and turn a recess in it 90mm in diameter to fit the tenon on your lid, photo 15. This has to be a good interference fit. I also drill a hole right through the mdf so I can knock the lid off the jam chuck if the fit is slightly too tight.
Mount the lid on the jam chuck and shape the outside. This can be any shape you like, but I opted for a gentle ogee curve, photo 16. Sand and polish the outside of the lid, then drill a hole 8mm in diameter in the centre to take the handle, photo 17.
Repeat the lid-making process for the other two lids. Finally, use a spindle gouge to turn the three handles from the same contrasting wood, photo 18. Sand and polish them and glue their spigots into the holes in the lids.
I’m very pleased with the result, but the lady of the house has said that it’s far too good to use for condiments in the kitchen and has commandeered it for her dressing table! Ho hum…