A Triptych in Oak


A Triptych in Oak
Andy Coates uses scrap piece of oak to form his turned triptych

Andy Coates uses scrap piece of oak to form his turned triptych

10mm long-ground bowl gouge
10mm parting and beading tool
2mm parting tool
Texturing tool
Carving gouge
Burrs on a Dremel or similar drive
Strip of Formica
Abrasives 180 to 400 grits
Gilding pastes
Danish oil
PPE: facemask, gloves, dust mask/respirator

Wood is an increasingly expensive material and for the woodturner, this ought to mean getting the most out of the stock we purchase. Like most of you I am often guilty of saving offcuts and odd scraps for that day when ‘they’ll come in handy’. The truth is, of course, that this day rarely arrives and we can become buried under piles of oddments, none of which we can bring ourselves to reclassify as firewood. Considering the escalating cost of the material, this is probably no bad thing,
but we do need to make an effort to use these choice off-cuts unless we are willing to sacrifice substantial storage space.
When I was asked to do a triptych as  a project, I decided that this was an ideal opportunity to use at least one of these offcuts. I had a length of oak (Quercus robur) 1195 x 75 x 25mm, that was left after a job. It was really only fit for finials, or pen blanks: as oak is not ideal for the former and would require some time to machine for the latter, I decided to use it to make the triptych wall piece.

‘Triptych’ simply means ‘three parts’, and is usually used when describing three-part art or religious icons. Historically, the three parts would have been hinged, creating a central panel and two wings. In this instance, my intention was not to hinge them, but that isn’t to say that you couldn’t decide otherwise; as ever, this project should be looked upon as a spring board for your own imagination and experimentation. Using oddments of wood in this way can not only make some space in your storage bins, it can lead you down new and exciting pathways in your turning. 

1. Having selected a suitable piece of wood, you need to cut it in to three equal length pieces. When placed side-by-side, the diagonal measurement should be safely within the swing of your lathe. Depending on your personal aesthetic preferences you may wish to prepare these pieces by planing and/or abrading the pieces prior to turning. My personal preference is to leave them in the rough-cut state as the saw cuts can add interesting texture. They can always be cleaned up later if you change your mind.Once you have your three component parts, prepare them for mounting on the lathe as a single plank. There are several options for this. If your boards are small, light and fairly flat, you might consider batons screwed across the back

2. A safer method is to set the three boards onto a backboard and secure each with three double helix woodscrews to half the depth of the boards. Once the board is fixed, mark across the corners to find the centre. Using a compass, scribe a circle to match a faceplate ring to fit your scroll chuck. Secure the faceplate ring with double helix woodscrews. Ensure the screws are deep enough to make for a secure hold, but be aware of the depth to avoid cutting through to them from the face side of the completed workpiece. You might also consider altering the spacing or position of the boards to create different effects after turning

3. Mount the workpiece on the scroll chuck and tighten the chuck. Ensure that the workpiece does not foul the bed bars, and set the tool rest to the front, as close as is safe to do so. If you have a remote control pod for your lathe, set it in front of the tool rest. If you do not have this facility, ensure you are able to cut the power to the lathe quickly and safely, should the need arise. It is useful to rotate the workpiece and mark with a pen where the longest point passes the tool rest as a reference for cutting

4. Clean up the face surface: you can use a pull cut using the wing of a long ground bowl gouge, taking light and controlled cuts. Ensure you have bevel support for the tool. Work fluidly towards the outer marker you made on the tool rest. Remember that at four points in every rotation there will be voids where the tool is not in contact with the wood: take great care while turning these areas

5. Alternatively, if you are confident, you can make a push cut from the outer marker towards the centre

6. Once the surface is clean and true, begin to cut the wings away until you have a complete raised circular central boss. This area is where you create the decorative features, in contrast with the surrounding flat wings

7. At the outer edge of the central boss cut a bead 25mm wide using a 10mm parting and beading tool. Use only the corner tip of the tool and take light cuts

8. Next define and cut rings of different widths across the workpiece, leaving a small central boss that can be domed. Here you can see that I have used a texturing tool on one of the rings. You can add texture or designs as you wish on eachof the defined bands

9. With the lathe stationary and the headstock locked, use a sanding arbor on a drill and abrade the flat surfaces to your preferred level of finish

10. Next, use a wood ageing product to cause an ebonising effect on the outer ring. You could also use a vinegar and wire wool mixture to create a similar effect. To add further texture use a cone-shaped burr in a drill. The cone allows for holes of differing diameters to be made

11. From this point, the steps are entirely up to you. You can use a range of stains, acrylics, or other colouring mediums as you feel appropriate. If you would like to mirror my design, use a red alcohol stain here

12. On the central boss use a Spanish copper gilt paste. Between each of the decorative bands, cut a 2mm parting cut to define each area. This can also add contrast between different colours and textured areas

13. On the band with the hole texture, apply another guilt paste (antique green) using a finger to rub across the top of the surface to avoid filling the holes. Add a further band of red towards the outer edge. Continue to build up colour until you are happy with the finished look

14. Allow the stains and gilt creams to cure properly. Once cured, the guilt
can be burnished. This is best achieved with the lathe stationary

15. Once burnished, oil the whole face with Danish oil. Apply liberally and then remove excess and allow the oil to cure. Three coats will be needed. Once dry, remove the triptych from the chuck, remove the backboard and fill and abrade the screw holes. Mark the dead centre of each board 25mm from the top and, using a Forstner bit, create a hanging hole on each of the three boards

16. Should you have followed my design in making your own tryptich, your final piece should look something like this.

Alternative designs
Some other ideas to complement your projects using oddments in this manner:
• Off-lathe decoration using rotary tools, burrs, cutters
• Addition of other materials such as metal leaf, metal plate, pins, nails and/or hardware
• Addition of found objects
• Scorching and wire brushing
• Presentation of component parts in an order other than that which they were turned
• Mount on a pedestal, cojoin with metal rods or taught cables
• Mount on an ebonised backboard within a conventional picture frame

The picture below  shows a departure from the norm, using similar principles to this project.

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