Weekend Projects – Carved mini hollow form

Monday 9 July 2018

Over the past two or three years I’ve started to make many more small scale hollow forms; typically, these measure 75mm wide x 75mm and go up to 100mm tall. I very much enjoy the challenge of hollowing such small forms but I also enjoy experimenting with different surface embellishments, such as texturing and applied surface decoration, as can be seen in this particular article. Maybe it’s because the pieces are small that I subconsciously feel I can experiment more, as I haven’t got as much to lose as I would in a larger piece. I’m not sure, but they are certainly relatively quick and fun to make, and if you find something that works on a small piece then you can feel more confident about applying that technique to a larger piece. Here, I used a piece of very old boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) and applied a simple carving effect to create a sense of movement in the final piece. The finished piece should measure 75mm wide x 65mm tall.

Tools used:

Straight homemade hollowing tool

6mm 45° shaft homemade tool

6mm parting tool

16mm bowl gouge


Mount the boxwood branch section blank between centres and rotate it by hand to check that it doesn’t foul the toolrest before turning the lathe on


Rough down the branch using the 16mm gouge – I use the 16mm gouge as I find the long handle more stable on irregular work, but you could use a spindle roughing gouge if you prefer


Using the 6mm parting tool, form a tenon to suit your chuck


Using the 16mm gouge, create a spherical based form. Different shapes will create different effects once carved, but experiment to find what you prefer


Here you can see that the piece is ready for hollowing – note the extra wood near the base which will add strength whilst hollowing


Start hollowing the mini form using the straight tool – see diagram for the hollowing steps


Check the wall thickness often and remember to allow sufficient thickness for the carving element. Here I left the wall thickness at around 8mm


Once the hollowing is complete, return to the outside of the form and remove the waste wood from the base area


Even though this form is to be carved, you still need to sand the piece; this is partly to help smooth out any ridges and also because part of the original form will still be visible in the final form


Using a pencil on the toolrest, divide the form into eight segments. You can use your index feature if you've got one, but I prefer to do it by eye


With the lathe turned off you need to cut through the small waste block near the base; this will separate the hollow form from the waste material


Next, you need to use a 50mm sanding arbor mounted in a Jacobs chuck to remove the waste nib from the base of the hollow form


I prefer to carve standing up, so here I taped some router matting to the toolrest to give me some comfort and somewhere to rest my arms. Note that my dust extraction is right behind the carving; this takes virtually all of the dust and debris straight away before it gets airborne. The next step, using a red – aggressive/coarse – typhoon burr or rotary toothed burr, is to use the corner and simply follow the pencil lines until you have a shallow groove


Once each shallow groove is cut into the hollow form and you are happy with them, gradually deepen them and working to the right of the grooves create an arc effect – as seen in step 15


This is what the piece should look like after you have removed material using the red burr


You can now swap to the blue – less aggressive – typhoon burr and refine the carving. Be very gentle at this stage and keep checking the profile of the piece to make sure you are happy with the curves


Your mini carved hollow form should look something like this after you have used the blue burr


Some woods are ready to sand after using the blue burr, but boxwood tends to be quite rough so you may need to use a Duragrit cylinder to help smooth the piece


I find that you really must hand sand these pieces to get the best results, but it can be a slow process. To help speed up the initial stages, use a Kirjes inflatable drum sander. Start using a 150 grit drum and very gently smooth over the curves


Starting with 180 and working up to 400 grit, hand sand the piece ensuring to pay particular attention to the sharp edges of the carving


Your completed mini carved hollow form in boxwood should look something like this one


1. Slow the speed of the sanding drum down; this will make it more controllable and more efficient

2. If you don’t have a rotary handpiece you can use rifflers and carving gouges to get the same results

3. Power carving creates a lot of dust so be sure to wear a respirator and use adequate dust extraction

4. During the sanding stages of the project, stop and run your fingers over the surface of the hollow form. You will often be able to feel an imperfection in the wood or an unwanted change in curvature easier than you could perhaps see it with your eyes

5. Hollowing through such small openings can take a lot of concentration so be sure to stop and take regular breaks

6. Add texture to the whole piece or every other segment with a small burr cutter mounted in a rotary carver

7. Ensure that you work in well lit workspace whilst you are turning and carving

8. Remember to leave an adequate wall thickness –

one which will suit the carved design you are aiming for