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Springtime Snowdrops

Monday 9 July 2018

On looking carefully at a bunch of snowdrops growing in the garden, it became apparent that this could be a suitable project for some fairly straightforward turning but developing the skill of thin wall turning, very fine diameter turning and some steam bending.

The material used is sycamore (Acer pseuodplatanus), for the large flower – thin walled – and is held in a normal four-jaw lathe chuck.

For the developing and small flowers a drill chuck is used; the reason for this is that a lot of woodturners may not have reducing jaws for their particular chuck. The profile of the petals is achieved by chain drilling and careful paring with a scalpel;

the stalks are small diameter turning with some steam bending, using a simple jig, and the leaves are either profiled by sanding and steam bending, again using a jig, or curved veneer laminate. After assembly, the flowers are positioned in an elm (Ulmus procera) burr disc.

Step 1

Start by facing off the end of the cylinder. Bore with the 25mm (1in) spade drill to a depth of 8mm (5/16in). Mark 20mm (3/4in) lengths on the cylinder. Next part to a depth of 20 x 20mm (3/4in x 3/4in). Partially turn the external profile, then check with template 1. Use the skew chisel to produce a finished part profile. Using the 10mm (3/8in) round-nosed tool, hollow the inside of the profile. Check that the wall thickness is 1mm (3/64in) here

Step 2

Use a light source to 'see' the thickness; dark rings will indicate the thick areas

Step 3

Now reduce the main profile and stem in stages until the stem diameter is down to 8mm (5/16in). You should now have the finished external surface. Continue the internal profiling, checking the thickness of wall as you go along. Again, use a light source to 'see' the thickness

Step 4

Drill to a diameter of 2mm (5/64in) by 10mm (3/8in) depth. For strength purposes, it is advisable to leave this solid for as long as possible

Step 5

Using an indexing aid, protractor or best guess, with the toolrest as close as possible to the profile, pencil in three horizontals at 120 degrees intervals. Use the petal template to draw the petal profiles. If you roll the card template around your finger it will fit the profile more easily. The petal profiles are now completed and the waste indicated. Next, you need to chain drill around the petal profiles asnd remove the waste…

Step 6

…now you can sand the edges of the petals; I use two discs of 180 grit abrasive glued together, mounted on a mandrel, powered by a 12V mini drill. Next, you need to true the base edges of the petals with a series of Swiss files. Very carefully profile the cone end before cutting off with a sharp knife or fine saw blade

Stamens & buds

The stamens and buds for the springtime snowdrops are very simple to create and the diagram opposite shows clearly what is required for this step. You need to make sure you're careful and take multiple, delicate cuts to get the shape you're after – too heavy a cut puts too much pressure on such a delicate piece and you risk snapping it. The sizes given are close to real-life examples but even in real life there are variances. Also, make sure you sand as much as possible before removing the piece from the waste section. It is easier than doing it later

Making the developing snowdrop

Step 7

Next, turn to the profile shown in the drawing above. Drill the inside to remove the waste. Shape the internal profile using the special boring tool which is effectively a holder for small scraping tips. Tips are clamped in place and there is a side stabilising arm to prevent the tool rotating in the cut. These can be made from bought HSS or carbon steel rods. Make repeated light cuts, checking the wall thickness as you go

Step 8

Use the internal sanding dowel for this step. Again, light pressure is required

Step 9

Use the light source to 'see' the thickness. I use a Jacobs chuck and employ the three chuck key holes as a guide for marking the developing petal. Place a dowel in the vertical key hole, draw a horizontal along the profile, turn the chuck to the next vertical position, draw the line, then repeat

Step 10

You can now draw the petal profiles and indicate the waste. Next, chain drill the waste areas. Cut with a scalpel between the chain drilled holes and lift the waste with a scalpel. Trim the edges of the petals with a scalpel. True the base edges using a selection of Swiss files

Step 11

You can now carefully sand the edges with a disc sander

Step 12

Drill through the cone base, and then cut off

Making the stem

Step 13

For the next step in this project, roughly round off the end of the snowdrop square section to fit in a chuck. Once chucked and supported by a revolving centre, turn to a diameter of 3mm (1/8in). Now you can very carefully reduce the end of the stem to the following dimensions: 2mm (5/64in) diameter x 3mm (1/8in) long. To turn to the 1.5mm (1/16in) diameter, it is essential that you use your fingers here to support the material and take very fine shearing cuts. I prefer to use the skew with a very sharp edge for this particular step

Bending the stem

Step 14

Here is the bending jig in place, together with the wedge and plastic support strip

Step 15

Next, you can now check the position of the wedge

Step 16

Place the stalk in a small glass dish, supported on a ring of plastic pipe. Add 150ml of water, cover with cling film and microwave for three minutes. Wedge the stalk between pegs B and C and clamp the wedge

Step 17

When cool, remove the stalk from the clamp and hold to the radius required by an elastic band. Very carefully allow a drop of CA adhesive to fall on the bend and allow to set. Now carefully remove the surplus glue

Making the stalk & leaves

Step 18

The stems of the snowdrops are very simple to create. You can use similar techniques as described earlier but much more care needs to be taken as the extra length will create quite a lot of 'whip.' Turn to a diameter of 4mm (5/32in). To produce the taper point I find it better to work away from the chuck, again supporting the tool and stalk with the fingers on the toolrest. Steam the long stalk and gently curve to the desired shape. Sand a flat on the inside on the tip of the curve of the long stalk


For the leaves you can use ash (Fraxinus excelsior) or a similar veneer. To do this, you need to cover one side of each veneer with masking tape, and on one of these draw the profile of the tapered leaves. Next, you need to glue and wrap the veneers around a piece of plastic pipe, held in position with pieces of masking tape

Step 20

Next, you can cut through the formed veneers with a scalpel to the profile of the leaves marked. Once cut, sand to clean up the edges

Step 21

For the ash strip leaves take an ash strip measuring 6 x 2 x 120mm (1/4 x 5/64 x 4 1/4in) and refine the shape on a drum sander. I use a 150mm (6in) diameter sander, but a smaller one can be used if you prefer. I use 180 grit abrasive to do the shaping

Step 22

You need to continue to refine the shape of the leaves until you are happy with the result

Step 23

Once the leaves are shaped you can steam them or if they are flexible enough, mount them straight in the finger board to create the bend needed for a realistic appearance

Step 24

Now you need to carefully sand the ends of the stalks and the leaves so that they fit really close; this may mean that the leaf ends require further reduction in width. The short bent stems will require cutting to a suitable length, and tapering on the outside. Glue the leaves to the stalks and using spring clamps to hold in place, allow to set until they are fully dry. Glue the short stems on the inside of the long stalks, flat taper to flat taper. Glue the stamens of the snowdrops into the flower heads followed by gluing the flower heads onto the ends of the short stems you have created. Lastly, you need to turn a disc of elm (Ulmus procera) burr, and drill to accommodate the ends of the stalks – I find that a slight angle gives a good effect here. The springtime snowdrops are now complete