Fine Finial Turning

Monday 9 July 2018

Finials are a great way of decorating your lidded pots. They can be added as an additional piece, made from a contrasting timber, or formed as part of the lid in one piece. The finials should have crisp definition and be wider at the bottom than the top. To assist in achieving this, turn the timber into a taper before starting the finial shaping.

I personally prefer to add a separately turned, contrasting timber finial giving an additional element to the turning. For this, turn the lid and drill a small hole to receive a finial, taking care not to drill too deeply that you go through the lid. Select the contrasting timber, ideally a small pen blank, to be used and mount in a chuck with 25mm pin jaws fitted. Pulling up the taildrive for initial support, turn the small blank into the round. Taper the timber down towards the taildrive and start with your desired shaping. The 2-3mm of timber at the end will be waste so take this into account when starting the shaping process. When the tip of the finial has been turned, remove the taildrive and refine the shape; a skew chisel can be used to form crisp detail. You now need to sand this small section, taking care not to round over the crisp edges you have created.

The finish left by the tool does not require aggressive sanding so start sanding with a piece of 240 grit abrasive or finer and finish with 600 grit. If you intend to turn a very fine finial it is also advisable to apply friction polish at this stage. Don't over apply the polish, as too much will result in rings of wax spoiling the finished item.

Continue shaping the finial, a small section at a time, sanding and polishing as you go. As the finial becomes finer the turning may begin to wobble, so a little support will be required. Place your finger behind the piece of timber and your thumb in front, with the tip of your thumb touching the top of the toolrest to hold your hand steady and prevent any mishaps. Take small controlled cuts using your finger and thumb support to counteract the pressure being applied by the tool. When using your hands to support the delicate finial make sure that your arm is well clear of the chuck and you are not wearing loose clothing; I wear a turning smock with short sleeves so I know I am safe.

When the finial has been turned, sanded and polished you can then cut a spigot the correct size to fit the hole drilled in your pot. Gently part the finial off and glue in place with CA adhesive.

For a finial as an extension to your lid, shape the lid and reduce the diameter of the section of timber to be used for the finial, tapering to a point. Turn in the same manner as the independent finial starting at the tip and working back towards the lid of the form, gently supporting the finial with your finger and thumb as required. Sand and apply polish as you progress.

The opening shot of the zebrano (Microberlinia brazzavillensis) lidded pot with ebony (Diospros spp.) finial shows how it is possible to turn a fine finial; the thinnest part of this finial is just 1.5mm diameter. This particular piece is a decorative item rather than functional due to its delicate finial.

Step 1

Mount a suitable piece of timber in a chuck with pin jaws attached and bring up the taildrive for support. Using a spindle roughing gouge, turn into the round and create a taper reducing from the chuck end to the taildrive. This will help in the shaping of the finial

Step 2

Using a 6mm fingernail profile spindle gouge, shape the tip, taking into account the hole created in the end by the taildrive. Here I have drawn a pencil line to show the amount of waste wood

Step 3

Use a skew chisel to form crisp detail. Raise the toolrest slightly higher than you would for other turning tools; this will give you more control. Line up the bevel of the skew chisel with the timber so the bevel supports the cutting edge; use the longer point to do the cutting

Step 4

When the top section is almost complete remove the taildrive and using your finger and thumb, gently support the tip and turn to a crisp point

Step 5

Starting at 240 grit abrasive or finer, depending on the quality of finish left from the tool, remove any tooling marks and then sand through the grits finishing with approximately 600 grit, taking care not to round over any of the crisp detail

Step 6

Apply a coat of friction polish with the lathe stationary. With the lathe running at approximately 2,000rpm buff to a shine with a piece of kitchen towel, using your fingers for support if needed

Step 7

Gently work down the timber, 25mm at a time, forming the required shape, again using your finger and thumb for support. Warning: ensure you have no loose clothing; sleeves/arms must be kept out of the way of the chuck at all times. The thinner you turn the finial, the more out of balance the timber will be when rotating. Sand and apply friction polish as you progress

Step 8

Turn the final section, sand to a finish and apply the friction polish. Using a set of callipers and a parting tool, cut a spigot, the correct size to fit into the hole drilled in your lid, before parting off the finished finial