My first ever woodturning workshop was with Cindy Drozda last weekend. The topic? Learning to turn a finial box.
When Cindy came to demonstrate at the woodturners guild of NC, I was thrilled! During her demo two evenings before my class, she shared her process for turning a finial box. This was a great intro for me because I was able to see the full process before I took a swing at the project.
While I’m no stranger to the lathe, I’d never had much interest in turning boxes. I like bowls, hollow forms, platters, and vases (unless the holiday season is upon us and it’s time to start turning ornaments) 🙂 Aside from that, I don’t usually go for small trinkets and such, but this was about to change.
Saturday morning finally arrives and I get packed for class. Upon arrival I’m thrilled to get going! We do a brief intro about our turning experience, how long, what projects we’ve made, and what we hope to get out of the class. I’ve been turning for more than 6 years at this point and have yet to make a box. I felt like an outcast at some of the responses, such as “What, you really…you’ve never turned a box?” Very traumatic…
The class was structured so that Cindy would turn a little and then we’d go off and do our work. Cindy comes around to everyone to answer questions and prevent little blocks of wood from flying across the shop. No blocks flew that day!
This project involves lots of jam fits. These are used to create an inlay for the lid to sit into along with fitting the foot to the bottom of the box. Additional jam fits are used during the turning of the box. So, needless to say, if you don’t know how to make a jam fit, you will by the end of the class!
We started out making the lid, which is integral to the finial. I enjoy making finials and usually strive for “stupidly thin” as my wife and friends lovingly tell me. 🙂 I think I like this one!
With the finial & lid complete, it’s time to part them off from what will become the box. It’s easy, just don’t screw up 🙂
Now it’s time to start the inlay. The size of the inlay is determined by measuring the size of the lid which was just turned plus however much inlay material you want to “frame” the lid. Squaring up the freshly cut end allows me to friction drive an accent wood that will become the inlay. Leaving this top hat shape allows you better control when gluing the inlay to the box. The sides of this must be parallel.
Next up was to cut a recess into the box to fit the inlay. This is determined by measuring the inlay that was just turned with calipers and transferring that measurement onto the box. Here’s a good shot of the scribe line before cutting the inlay recess.
The trick here is to cut a recess that has parallel sides. Easy, right? Well, Cindy showed us her method of using the bed of the lathe to help aim the tool. Basically, before advancing the tool, sight down the length of the tool as you’re standing perpendicular to the bed. You want the tool to be parallel with the bed. Once that’s done, slowly advance the tool about 1/32″ into the wood until you get close to the desired size. Once the inlay will almost press in, take full depth (desired depth of inlay) cuts until the inlay will turn in the recess without much slop. She’s using her Drozda Signature Square Recess Scraper to cut this recess.
Here Cindy is using a thin parting tool to remove the inside of the inlay. This little piece will become the foot of the box, but before removing it, you need to turn a little recess in the center where it will attach to a tenon on the bottom of the box. How clever!
Back at my lathe, I’ve removed the piece that will become the foot and it’s time to add a little shape to the top of the box! After that, I’ll turn town the thickness of the inlay to a jam fit with the lid so that I can turn the lid with the box and smooth out the transition between the box and lid. Yeah, I’m going to jam the lid (with delicate finial) into the box and turn it. What could go wrong?
I skipped a few pictured because I got a little carried away making progress on my box, but you didn’t miss much. Before hollowing the box, I open up the lid fit so that the lid slides into place with almost no resistance.
I used a Drozda Signature Hooked Scraper to hollow out the box before cutting away the lower portion of the box. Leaving this extra mass in place gives me more stability while hollowing the box. The negative rake design of this tool allows hollowing to be very controllable an without any white knuckling needed. I’d highly recommend this tool if you make many boxes or small hollow forms. Next up is to part off the box with a thin parting tool with enough material to form a small tenon on the bottom.
Now guess what? Another jam fit! This one needs to be tight enough to drive the box once the foot has been glued on. With the bottom of the box shaped, it’s time to turn a small tenon on the bottom for the foot blank to glue onto. Cindy advocates using tape to help hold the box onto the jam chuck at this point. It would really be a shame to throw that box across the shop floor. All that’s left is to turn the foot and sign it!
Whew, what a day. It was hard to believe that the class went from 9-5!
I thought this was a great class to reinforce the same finial turning techniques I use when making ornaments. I refined my finial techniques originally by watching Cindy’s YouTube videos. While these are great and get you 90% of the way, nothing substitutes for hands-on teaching!
A I mentioned earlier, I’d never turned a box before, so why not take the opportunity to learn the process right from a professional turner! Apparently, I got the final lid fit just right, too. It feels like a little cushion of air supports the lid as it’s removed and placed into the box.
A huge thanks to Cindy Drozda for coming to the Woodturners Guild of NC, sharing her knowledge, and allowing me to share her FinialBoxPrep handout with all of you! Learning from Cindy was a great experience and I’d encourage others to take advantage of any similar opportunities.