Weekend Projects – Oak and padauk spinning top box

Monday 9 July 2018

Tools used:

13mm bowl gouge

10mm bowl gouge

10mm spindle gouge

25mm round-nosed scraper

3mm parting tool

Narrow parting tool


The box requires two small blocks of wood. The dimensions are not critical and can be varied to suit the timber you might have available. In this instance, the larger block is oak (Quercus robur) approximately 55 x 55 x 65mm and the smaller is padauk (Pterocarpus dalbergioides) 10 x 10 x 55mm


It is quite safe to grip a square section like this in a four-jaw chuck, as long as the chuck jaws do not protrude outside the body of the chuck. The square section is turned to the round with a 13mm bowl gouge, although a spindle roughing gouge can be used just as effectively


The long point of a skew chisel held flat on the rest is ideal for cutting a small, approximately 5mm dovetail spigot, on the end of the block. This allows the block to be reversed in the chuck and held even more securely


After cutting a second 5mm dovetail in the end, a section of the block approximately 15mm long, including the dovetail, is parted off. This will become the lid of the box. As far as possible, we want to avoid losing the grain match, so use the narrowest parting tool you have; this one is homemade from a machine hacksaw blade


Working about 3mm in from the edge, use an ordinary parting tool to cut a groove approximately 5mm deep. Ensure that the sides of the groove are parallel to the lathe axis. The bottom of this groove is the shelf, which the lid will sit on. At this stage, its width doesn't matter as it can be adjusted when the box is hollowed


Use a 10mm spindle gouge to bore a hole in the box and then widen it out towards the edges of the box. Note: the black ink mark on the gouge, used to indicate the required depth of about 35mm. Remember to maintain a curve on the interior of the box


Use a 25mm round-nosed scraper for refining the curve and smoothing the interior. Sharpen the scraper and then hone away the burr using a diamond hone or a whetstone. Arrange the rest so that the scraper is perfectly horizontal and its cutting edge is exactly on centre height. Keep the scraper horizontal as you take light cuts until the interior is smooth and nicely curved


Sand the interior, then seal and polish with beeswax and Carnauba wax to a soft sheen. Mark the position of chuck jaw number one on the outside, and remove the box body from the chuck. Marking the position of jaw one will allow the box to be replaced in the same position later on


Put the lid section in the chuck, gripping it by the dovetail spigot formed earlier. Using a small gouge or even a scraper, shape the underside of the lid to a curve forming a 'spinning point' in the centre. Sand and polish the pointed surface


Using a freshly sharpened parting tool reduce the diameter of the lid until it is a tight fit in the box body. Keep bringing up the box body to test the fit and work slowly, removing a little at a time. When a satisfactory fit has been achieved, remove the lid of the box from the chuck


Replace the box body, positioning jaw one with the alignment marks you made earlier. Push the lid into the body and make sure everything turns truly with the lathe on. With a drill chuck in the tailstock, drill a 6mm hole about 6mm deep into the lid. If the lid isn't tight enough to allow this, use a layer of tissue to tighten the fit until you can work on the lid without it loosening


Change the chuck to one with long-nosed jaws to make holding the piece of wood for the spire easier. If you only have one chuck you'll have to remove the box and replace it later. Use a parting tool to turn down the end 5mm until it is a good fit in the hole in the lid


Replace the box in the chuck and use a few drops of Cyanoacrylate to glue the spire into the box lid, bringing up the tailstock for support whilst applying gentle pressure. Take care not to overdo it or you risk splitting the spire. Use a small gouge to shape the top of the lid into the spire. Finish off with the round-nosed scraper, held horizontally on centre, to blend the curve of the lid into the curve of the spire. Note: the top edge of the box body forms part of this continuous curve


Use the long point of a skew chisel to shape the top of the spire at about 40mm from the top of the box. Take care with this cut and remove the tailstock before finally parting off the waste, still using the skew. This should leave a smooth top surface. Complete the sanding, sealing and polishing of the lid. When finished, pull the lid from the box and sand gently around its edge to ease the fit, if necessary


Again, use the long-nosed jaws to hold the box body by expanding them inside the box lip. If you can't do this, mount a piece of scrap wood and turn a spigot to hold the box body as a tight jam fit. Note: the tailstock giving added support. Use a spindle gouge to shape the sides of the box to a gentle concave curve


Finally, remove the tailstock. Very gently, because the box is not held very securely, remove the spigot with a small bowl gouge, taking very light cuts. If you are unsure about doing this, leave the tailstock in place and remove the final small stub with a sharp knife at a later date


Aim to form a slightly concave base on the box so that it will sit firmly on a flat surface. Sand, seal and polish the whole of the box body


Here is the finished box. Note how the lid is flush with the sides and blends gently into the spire


When the box body is turned over, the concave base makes a handy platform to spin the top on