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Turning A Wooden Place Setting

Hands On Nov/Dec 80

click to see larger viewFor most of us, it was our first woodworking project – turning a bowl on a lathe. But afterwards we went on to bigger and better things, and forgot about that simple bowl that once had us basking in the glory of our own accomplishment.

However, turning wooden utensils is more than just an educational exercise. Few woodworkers have mastered it; most of us are still trying and learning. But with just a little bit of practice, you can do simple, beautiful bowls, plates, and goblets.

The materials
Kitchen and dining utensils have to stand up under a lot of abuse. Bowls and plates are constantly banged and scraped with forks and spoons. Soup bowls and goblets have to hold both hot and cold liquids. And all utensils need to be washed again and again.

In general, close-grained hardwoods make more serviceable goblets, bowls, and plates than softwoods. They resist indentation and the density of the wood helps to repel moisture.

Oily woods do better than those with few natural oils. Teak and rosewood are permeated with oils that prevent them from absorbing moisture. With other woods, it’s advisable to apply a lavish coat of waterproof finish and hope that it soaks in. But this soaking is at best an imperfect substitute for a wood’s own natural, waterproofing oils.

In considering what materials to turn, you may have to make some tradeoffs. Cherry, for example, doesn’t have the natural oils that rosewood has, but it’s easier to find and a lot less expensive. Cedar, although it’s not a hardwood, is inexpensive, loaded with oils, and will not absorb odors from the foods it comes in contact with.

Laminating rings
click to see larger viewWhen you turned that first bowl, you probably used a solid laminated block of wood. And you scraped and scraped and scraped and scraped until the center was hollowed out and the sides were sloped. However, there’s an easier and more economical way to turn bowls and plates without wasting all that time – and wood.

It involves stacking overlapping concentric rings. These rings are cut with either a Bandsaw or jigsaw from a single piece of wood. After cutting, these rings are stacked in a cone-shape. Turning is faster because the shape of the object is partially formed.

To cut out these concentric rings, use a compass to make several circles on top of the board used. The circles will be cut out at an angle – that angle is determined by the shape you want your finished turning to have and the slope of its sides.

If you use a jigsaw, you’ll have to drill several 1/8" pilot holes to start the cuts. Be sure these holes are drilled at the same angle as the cuts you’re about to make. Tilt the jigsaw table at the desired angle, slip a 1/8" blade through a pilot hole, and cut. Repeat until you have separated all the rings. Fig. 1. Cutting the rings at a 30 degree angle on a jigsaw.

click to see larger viewThe rings needed to turn a bowl can be cut from a single board.

If you use a Bandsaw, split the board down the middle instead of making pilot holes. Cut out each half-ring with the Bandsaw table tilted at the proper angle. Glue these rings back together with waterproof glue.

Stack the rings one on top the other and glue them together with waterproof resorcinol glue. If you’re working with a dense, oily wood like rosewood or teak, wipe the gluing surface with paint thinner before applying the glue to get a better bond.

Be sure that after you’ve stacked the rings, all the grains run in the same direction. Laminating the grains perpendicular to each other will in some cases increase the strength of a piece; but n this case, it will also increase the likelihood of splitting out. Wood expands up to ten times as much across the grain as with the grain when it comes in contact with moisture. By running all the grains in the same direction, you insure that the laminations don’t fight each other.

click to see larger viewMounting
To properly turn bowls and plates, you need to mount your stock on a faceplate twice. The first mounting allows you to turn the outside and the base of the utensil; with the second mounting, you turn the inside.

Select the proper size faceplate or screw mount and attach a mounting block to it. This block should be solid wood with no cracks or checks. Center the mounting block and glue it in place with white or yellow glue and a paper spacer between the mounting block and the turning stock. Allow the glue to dry overnight before turning. When dry, turn the outside of the bowl to the desired shape. Fig. 2. Turning the outside of the bowl.

Separate the turning from the block by carefully wedging them apart with a chisel. The paper spacer will insure that they come apart cleanly and easily, without tearing wood away from the turning stock.

Replace the mounting block with another that will fit inside the turned base, glue it to the stock as before. Turn the inside of the piece, separate it from the mount, and clean off the glue with a chisel and a little water.

click to see larger view

Fig. 3. Turning the inside of the bowl.

Turning a bowl and plate
click to see larger viewThe bowl and plate pictured here were each made from a single piece of 3/4" thick stock – the piece used to form the bowl was 6-1/2" square; the one used to form the plate was 12-1/2" square.

click to see larger viewTo make the rings for the bowl, draw three concentric circles on the stock 3", 4-1/2", and 6-1/4" in diameter. Cut these on a 30 degree angle from vertical.

To make the rings for the plate, draw two concentric circles 9-1/2" and 12-1/2" in diameter, and cut on a 45 degree angle.

Laminate the rings, mount the turning stock, and turn the outside and inside contours.

click to see larger viewTurning a goblet
Unlike the bowl and plate, the best way to turn a goblet or utensil with nearly vertical sides is to use a solid block of wood. Cut or laminate a block 6" high and 3-3/4" on a side. Mount this using either the screw center or small faceplate.

Turn the outside of the goblet as if you were doing spindle turning – using the Tailstock and dead center. After you’ve shaped the outside, remove the dead center from the Tailstock and replace it with the chuck arbor. Mount the drill chuck on the chuck arbor, and a 1-3/4" drill bit in the chuck. With the drill bit stationary and the workpiece turning, use the quill to drill out most of the inside contour of the goblet. Afterwards, finish turning the inside as you did the bowl and plate.

Pad Finishing
After sanding the workpiece smooth, keep it turning. Dip a #00 steel wool pad in a non-toxic finish such as mineral oil or salad bowl finish. Apply the finish evenly and liberally to the surface of the utensil as it turns. Squeeze the pad gently to achieve a uniform flow of finish onto the wood. Keep the wood wet for at least 5 minutes, giving the finish a chance to soak in.

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Fig. 4. Pad finishing the plate.

Apply at least two coats of finish – you can apply the second one a little more sparingly tan the first. As the wood turns, the fine steel wool will buff the finish to a soft luster. Separate the piece from the mount, scrape away the glue, and apply a coat to the area where the mount mated to the utensil.

By keeping several turnings going at once, turning one while the glue on another cures and the finish on a third dries, you can turn four or more place settings in a few days. Your new place setting may not have the sentimental value of your first bowl, but you can be just as proud.


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