Samurai Helmet Box

Monday 9 July 2018

Alan Thomas turns this quirky Samurai helmet box

It's funny when and where inspiration strikes. There I was watching Tom Cruise doing his Samurai warrior impression when I started to take more interest in the costumes of the Samurai rather than following the plot of the film. In particular, the fantastic designs of the warriors' helmets prompted the thought “great box!” The shapes, colours and scope for design of these wonderful pieces of armour were just crying out to be recreated in wood.

I started off by drawing out a suitable design – nothing too fancy – that would give me some idea of what I needed to consider before turning any wood. What I finished up with was basically a bell-shaped box lid fitted over an egg-cup shaped 'head' with a portion of the bell cut away to give an opening for the 'face.' As long as the proportions of the two pieces look right, the design possibilities for this project are endless.

The project makes an end grain box and is best made from close grained hardwoods. Using contrasting colours makes an impact even before any embellishment has been added.

Tools used

10mm (3/8in) spindle gouge, spindle roughing gouge, 3mm (1/8in) parting tool, small round-nosed scraper and small square-end scraper.

Step 1

Take a 75 x 75 x 75 x 90mm (3 x 3 x 3 1/2in) block of padauk (Pterocarpus dalbergioides) and for the 'head' you will need a piece of African blackwood (Dalbergia melanoxylon) 38 x 38 x 55mm (1 1/2 x 1 1/2 x 2 1/4in). Keep lathe speed at around 2000rpm throughout this project. Mount the helmet timber between centres and reduce to the round using the spindle roughing gouge. Square off each end with the parting tool and start to shape the helmet with the spindle gouge, as per the drawing. Form a tenon on the 'dome' end to suit your chuck, and when you have shaped the helmet, sand through the grits to 400/600

Step 2

If you are going to add carving or texture to your helmet do it now, because after hollowing out, the wall thickness will probably be insufficient to give enough support to allow you to do this adequately. As you can see from image 1, the second helmet has had a few V-grooves added and after the piece was finished I used gold coloured wax to give a neat effect to the piece. Apply your choice of finish – here I used a cellulose sander sealer diluted 50/50 with thinners to give a good penetrating coat, then paste wax on a pad of '0000' wire wool to cut back the surface. Lastly, buff up with a soft tissue to give a nice satin sheen. SAFETY NOTE: NEVER USE CLOTHS ON REVOLVING WORK

Step 3

Reverse the piece into your chuck jaws and bring up the tailstock (if you need to) to make sure everything is running true, and hollow out the helmet up to just below the dome part using the spindle gouge. If you look at the drawing you will see that there are two square-cut recesses below the dome part of the helmet, the base (head) is then fitted into these recesses. As with all box joints, a good fit is required if the head is to remain in the helmet when the box is picked up. Using either the parting tool or a square-ended scraper, cut the recesses then remove the waste wood inside the dome with a spindle gouge or a round-nosed scraper. Sand and finish the inside of the helmet as per the outside, but do not sand the surfaces of the square cut recesses. Leave the square recesses with a tool finish as this will give a better friction fit between the helmet and the head

Step 4

You now need to cut out the opening for the 'face.' Ensure you are clear about how the cutting needs to be done before proceeding, as the cut to produce the 'peak' is not square but angled down towards the base at approximately 60°. Leave the helmet in the chuck whilst you cut the opening as this makes handling the piece easier. I used a diamond cutting wheel fitted to my Axminster multi-tool, but a small coping saw or even a junior hacksaw could be used. The finer the blade, the less tear-out will occur. The amount to be removed is roughly one-third of the circumference of the helmet and it is worth taking your time to get the proportions right. Whatever method you use to remove the face piece, some hand finishing is always required. After cutting out the face piece you may want to set the helmet aside for a while to allow the stresses that have been released to settle. Remove the helmet from the chuck and replace it with a piece of scrap wood, which will be used as a jam chuck. Reduce to the round with the spindle roughing gouge so that the helmet fits over it, then form a tenon to suit the recesses inside the dome

Step 5

Fit the helmet over the jam chuck and bring up the tailstock to give some support, but don't use too much pressure as it is easy to split the piece. Now you can remove the holding tenon and finish the top of the dome, carefully blending in the shape and finishing, as before

Step 6

Put the wood for the 'head' between centres and reduce to the round with the spindle roughing gouge. Mark off the proportions from your drawing and form a tenon on one end to suit your chuck

Step 7

Mount in the chuck and reduce the diameter to fit inside the helmet up to the first of the recesses. Carefully measure the size of the tenon required to fit into the inside recess and form a tenon. A good fit is needed here if the 'head' is to stay in the helmet when the box is handled. Once a good fit is achieved, hollow out the piece with either a spindle gouge or a round-nosed scraper. Sand and finish the inside, but do not sand the tenon. Wood on wood contact is required to give a good friction fit. Shape the outside to the profile of a head, then sand

Step 8

Remove from the chuck and replace with the scrap wood you used earlier for the helmet. Form a tenon to fit inside the head. This should be a snug fit as you are relying on the friction to drive the piece. You could use tape to reinforce the grip, if required. Reverse the head, fit over the tenon, complete the turning, then sand and finish. Note: the 'head' should not project below the helmet otherwise the box will not stand properly

Step 9

To add decoration to the helmet I decided to add chatter work to a disc, which would then be attached to the helmet to mimic the style of other Samurai helmets I had seen previously. I used my homemade chatter tool to do this. There is enormous scope for both design and decoration on these boxes, so let your imagination run free