Finned Box

Monday 9 July 2018

Seeds for this box were sown many years ago, unbeknown to me at the time, when I first saw the work of Derek Bencomo.

I was drawn to finely carved profiles in bowls he has gone on to make his signature style, but it wasn't a manner of work I wanted to follow; until something clicked inside my mind, and a remnant of his style lodged in my memory sparked an idea I felt compelled to explore.

I often refer to my 'cranial computer' as something that stores away snippets of information I've seen that fester in the back of my mind, before manifesting themselves as ideas adapted to my own work. They may be elements of architecture witnessed in travels, rubbish bins that have a style typical of their local environment. This time a connection was made between Bencomo's bowls and my own boxes, but for me this was a major departure, and I would need to adapt many techniques I use to make this melding of styles a success.

Tools used: Rolly Munro Hollower, 25mm (1in) spindle roughing gouge, 10mm (3/8in) spindle gouge, curved scraper, 19mm (3/4in) skew chisel, 3mm (1/8in) parting tool, granny tooth scraper and diamond parting tool

Step 1

First, bandsaw a blank of yarran (Acacia omalophylla), or similar, and mount in a scroll chuck ready for turning. You could mount the blank between centres, turn it to a cylinder complete with a spigot, or go the quick way like I did. If you don't have a chuck you can use a myriad of ways – email me for details

Step 2

Mounted, you need to establish the rough form. Although it's hard to tell, the profile of the blank will form the outer shape of the legs once neighbouring wood is carved away. The flattened circular area seen on the right of the photo will eventually be the top of the box

Step 3

Remove waste material to expose the main body of the box. Use a carving gouge followed by a carving burr fitted to a rotary carving tool to refine the overall form

Step 4

Here you can see the scroll chuck and turned form transferred to a carving chuck which fits to the saddle of my lathe, allowing greater access to the piece of work. In this case I used it to sand carved surfaces and refine the lines of all intersecting planes that formed each leg. Sand from 120 through to 320 grit, always ensuring that you sand with the grain to reduce unsightly cross grain scratches

Step 5

Next, with the chuck and the box form remounted on the lathe, begin hollowing the interior of the box with a tool that allows you to undercut slightly – I used a curved scraper to finish off the inner walls and shape. You could use a range of other tools depending on what you feel comfortable with or what you have in your kit

Step 6

For the next step, once the inside of the box is sanded through to 320 grit, it is time to cut a rebate that a collar will fit into. I use a homemade granny tooth scraper for this particular step

Step 7

To make a collar, mount a piece of contrasting wood and turn a tenon to match the rebate of the box. I like to highlight that the collar is made separately and a change of timber colour does this perfectly, especially if it's the same as that used for the lid, as was the case this time

Step 8

Remove a large portion of waste material from inside the collar, round the part that sits under the top of the box and sand the inner portions to a finished surface. I have to confess that the 120 grit gouge helps to make this part of the collar curve smoothly, but more about this tool later

Step 9

Parted free, the collar is now ready for fitting to the box

Step 10

All parts of the upper surface need to be finished off as much as possible before fitting the collar, so the top of each leg is carved by hand to ensure a smooth transition in shape from tips of legs to the turned top area. Obviously a fair bit of elbow grease and sanding helps to make this possible, with frequent checks by judicious fingertips before all edges are eased with 320 grit sandpaper

Step 11

Once the collar is glued into place and shaped with a small gouge, you need to return to the 120 grit gouge to ensure the curve meets nicely with that established a couple of stages prior. The key here is to ensure the collar feels as though it flows smoothly from outside to inside the box. You won't see all of the profile but it must feel right when you run your fingertips along its surface. However, the outer portion must look like a very fine doughnut shape – refined, balanced, not too thick or overpowering – and a smooth flowing shape. The 120 helps here too

Step 12

Now, to enable further shaping of lower portions of the box it's time to remove it from the chuck, and make a simple carrier, again gripped in the chuck. You now need to turn a tenon to match the opening of the box with a parting tool and measure with a Vernier calliper so the box can slide on neatly

Step 13

The tailstock should press gently into the base of the box, which should lend enough support for unwanted material to be carved away…

Step 14

…to reveal the final shape of the legs as they sweep to the bottom of the blank

Step 15

To shape the ends of each leg, begin by cutting away unwanted material with a coping saw, followed by shaping with a microfile, and again using lots of elbow grease and sandpaper wrapped around fingers until all surfaces flow smoothly. It is impossible to stress how important it is to find a balance between what looks right and what feels right. Your eye will pick up imperfections in form but your fingers will often be even more discerning. For a piece of work to be a success, it has to look and feel right. And on the point of feeling right, the weight must match the form. If it's meant to be a delicate item, there's no point in it being heavy when you pick it up. Weight needs to match form, too

Step 16

I like to carve a small hallmark on the base of pieces where there isn't enough space to sign it, or if the timber is too dark for black ink to show up. A small veining tool or a jeweller's graving tool works well on dense timbers such as yarran

Step 17

To make the lid grip a piece of burl eucalypt, or similar, in a scroll chuck, trim down to size, make a tenon just slightly smaller than the collar, hollow and cut a fine 'V' with a skew where the tenon meets the underside of the lid. Sand to its finished state and remove ready for rechecking

Step 18

Make a jam fit carrier out of scrap material ready to accept the lid

Step 19

Shape and sand the top of the lid before cutting a 'V' groove to create a definition line that acts as a frame around the lid. I find this helps to focus the viewer's eye, especially if you're using a highly figured timber. Also, make a centre mark using a diamond point scraper for future reference when drilling a hole for the finial of the box

Step 20

Turn a piece of highly figured fiddle back or ringed gidgee, or a similar timber, down to form the finial. As this wood can be brittle, you need to support it with fingers wrapped under the toolrest and ensure the gouge is very sharp

Step 21

As it gets thinner and even more prone to breakage, it's important to give the wood lots of support. At this stage change to an overhand grip with the fingertips of your left hand pressing onto the back of the toolrest to ensure your fingers and thumb provide a firm but steady support for the spinning wood

Step 22

Sand through to 320 grit, now it's time to cut the base of the finial to a slightly domed form with a skew chisel, then using the indexing head, divide the base of the box into four segments. File a flute and rough sand between each mark to create something of an oriental spire-like form

Step 23

Cut a fine tenon of about 2mm (5/64in) with the parting tool before cutting it free with the skew. Support from fingers is imperative at this stage so all that hard work doesn't end up in the shavings on the floor

Step 24

Fine sanding and refining the finial falls back on hands and elbow grease. To separate the finial and lid slightly opt for a small bead made of a lighter mountain ash burl (Eucalyptus regnans) which is made by gluing a small off-cut to another scrap held in the scroll chuck using heat sensitive glue – it's quick, strong and easy to use for this type of task


With the bead shaped and sanded make a small centre point with a diamond pointed scraper ready for a hole to be drilled…

Step 26

…with a drill bit, matching the tenon on the finial, held in a pair of pliers before…

Step 27

….being cut free with a skew chisel. All that remains is to drill a hole into the lid on a pedestal drill so the finial and bead can be attached, the whole piece finished with polyurethane – wiped on and wiped off – and everything assembled once dry. Any maker doesn't set out to copy something that gives them inspiration, they aim to create their own development, their own version including elements that make the work unique to them but also pay homage to the source of inspiration. Learn from others and go on to develop your own creations – it's so much more rewarding than the alternative