Conical Decorated Box


Conical Decorated Box:
Andy Coates transforms a purely decorative object into a functional box.

Andy Coates transforms a purely decorative object into a functional box

The esteemed Editor of this periodical recently paid a visit to my workshop for a pre-arranged meeting and a catch-up. For three hours, we happily did what perhaps comes most naturally to the both of us – we chatted about woodturning. One of the problems with being a self-employed woodturner is you invariably spend the majority of each day alone, standing behind the lathe, and your outlook can become occluded so any opportunity to discuss your craft, demonstrations, have casual meetings, or, as here, a planned discussion, can prove beneficial.
While on the visit, our Editor noticed some pieces I make from large oddments, which have variously been referred to as ‘bombs’, ‘bullets’, ‘shells’ and ‘things’ which is basically just a large tapering form, decorated, or not, in a variety of ways. Aside from incidental use as a door stop, they serve no purpose whatsoever, but I like them, and they sell so I make them from odd lumps that are unsuitable for anything more complex. Our Editor suggested that, perhaps, they would make an interesting box so here I am making one. Although I have previously covered boxes in these pages, this one is slightly different, more difficult to hollow, and the shape requires some care.   

Plans and equipment
• Block of ash (Fraxinus excelsior) – 100 x 100 x 300mm
Equipment used
• 10mm bowl gouge
• 25mm skew chisel
• 10mm parting and beading tool
• 2mm parting tool
• Deep hollowing tool of choice
• Jacobs chuck with 8mm twist drill bit
• 25mm Forstner bit
• Strip of Formica
• Abrasives 180–400 grits
• Cellulose sealer
• Masking tape
• A range of paints, stains, waxes and finishing products
• PPE: Facemask, gloves, dust mask/respirator

1. Mount the block between centres. I prefer to use a ‘steb’ type drive and a revolving ring centre. I find this combination safer and it has the added advantage that the workpiece can be removed and replaced precisely. Rough down and turn a 90mm tenon to suit gripper jaws

2. The large tenon will provide superior support for the increased difficulty of the hollowing process. Remount the blank in the gripper jaws and bring the tailstock up for support. Next turn a 60mm tenon to suit standard C jaws. Make a clean cut along the blank to ensure it is true. Check for faults that could be potential problems

3. Proportion is as important with boxes as it is for any other project. If you struggle with proportion then a simple 1/3–2/3 rule will help, but a simple homemade Golden Mean Gauge can be a boon. Here I used the gauge, the 1/3 rule and used the midpoint between the two marks as my parting point. Using the 10mm parting tool cut down to produce a 28mm tenon, 10mm deep. You need to ensure it is parallel and abrade to a finished surface at this point

4. If using callipers ensure the ends have been filed to rounded tips to prevent catches. Take care abrading down such a narrow channel. Before parting off the top section you can begin some rough shaping using a long ground bowl gouge on the wing. Take care cutting across the recess. Aim for a gentle curve from chuck
to tailstock ends and leave a mass of wood at the tailstock end for support later

5. Part off the top section at the headstock side of the 10mm tenon and use a 2mm parting tool. Removing the tailstock supportjust prior to final parting will enable parting through in one cut. Now transfer the diameter of the tenon (28mm) to the surface on the base piece. Using a small parting and beading tool cut the 28mm diameter, 10mm deep recess to accept the tenon on the top section. At this stage it helps to make the fit as tight as possible. It can be finessed with abrasive later on to provide a slacker fit. Remove some of the centre to allow a test fit

6. Fit the top section on to the base and bring the tailstock up to support it. Apply gentle pressure with the quill. At this stage, the surfaces of the two halves will not match, so continue rough shaping using the long-ground bowl gouge until they are continuous. Using a 25mm skew chisel begin to refine the shape. Aim for a gentle curve rather than a straight, flat line. At this stage do not remove the waste at the end of the top section; this is required for support while hollowing the top section of the box

7. In order to complete the top section you need to ensure you know where the eventual tip will end inside the waste section. Visualise where it will end (slightly rounded rather than pin-sharp is preferred) and make
a mark on the waste section. This may be within the tenon section if necessary

8. Remove the top section and remove the chuck, complete with the base section. Using a second chuck and C jaws mount the top section. Using a twist drill in a Jacobs chuck, drill out the top section. Check the drill bit width to ensure the depth is correct to prevent breaking through the tip

9. Hollowing a tapered hole of this depth (80–90mm) is best achieved with a long-ground 10mm spindle gouge. Cut on the bottom wing with the flute pointing to 10 o’clock using a sweeping cut backwards from centre outwards. Abrade the interior to a fine finish, seal and apply the final finish

10. Remount the base section in its chuck. Using a 25mm Forstner bit on an extension bar in the Jacobs chuck, drill out to a depth of 160–170mm. Withdraw the cutter at regular intervals and remove shavings from cutter and interior to prevent the cutting binding and locking in the hole

11. Hollowing an expanding tapered interior through a 25mm hole is not easy. Use the deep hollowing tool of your choice, preferably a small-headed tool, and take light careful cuts, working deeper to a wall thickness of about 5mm. The base is tricky due to the depth and narrow access, but try to aim for a flat surface. Abrade using a pad on a stick

12. Remount the top on the base and bring up the tailstock for support. Do not apply too much pressure as the tip may shatter. Begin to remove the waste down to the line of the form. Take light cuts and work carefully. Match the surface curve to the already finished section. Use masking tape to secure the top to the base section prior to completing the tip section. Apply the tape counter to lathe rotation. Using a 25mm skew chisel complete the tip, aiming for a slightly rounded end

13. Next you need to decide which areas you want to colour, and which to leave natural. It helps to have a coloured section helping to disguise the joint. Mask off the areas you want to remain natural. Using ‘stretchy’ masking tape helps to get around the curves neatly

14. Allow the aerosol paint to fully cure and then remove the masking tape. Even with careful masking, edges can be irregular. Tidy up with the tip of a skew chisel. Cut a very shallow ‘V’ cut to define each area. Scorching in the cut with Formica creates definition

15. Using a point tool or the tip of a freshly honed skew chisel, cut irregular very shallow decorative lines in to the coloured sections. Design is entirely personal, and you may even decide to omit this stage, but, as ever, it is contrasts that we are creating to provide visual interest

16. Remove the base section and mount a piece of scrap wood. Turn a jam chuck to suit the 28mm recess. Mount the base on to the jam chuck and apply gentle tailstock pressure. Remove the 90mm tenon using light cuts. Abrade the base and off the lathe remove the remaining central stub with a craft knife and complete abrading

Alternative decorative techniques
Simple ‘V’ cuts can provide a pleasing visual effect, but that doesn’t mean there are not a multitude of further options for decorative effects. Here I have briefly detailed six potential alternative techniques that do not require exotic tools or finishes. Explore, experiment and play to find one that suits your tastes. I hope these ideas foment a spirit of exploration and experimentation and provide some inspiration for your decorative work.

Simple carving tools, electrical powered reciprocating carvers or traditional hand carving tools can provide a vast range of decorative techniques. You could even use a sharp pen knife in the style of chip carving. Here I have used the simple device of carving through a spray painted surface to reveal the natural wood beneath. Irregular patterns seem to work well, but you may prefer something more structured and accurate. Any ‘fluffing’ of the edges can usually be dealt with by using a fine abrasive or nylon pad

Using the same acrylic spray paint another section was masked, painted, and allowed to fully cure. Using a rotary burr in a Dremel or similar device irregular holes were cut through the painted surface. By using a ‘ball type’ cutter, and cutting to varying depths, holes of differing diameters can be achieved with a single burr. Once again I prefer an irregular pattern, but there is no reason you shouldn’t plan and mark out a regular pattern. When creating panels of this nature it helps to confine the area to be worked (post- or pre-cutting) with a ‘V’ cut, preferably scorched in to provide visual definition

This option is akin to the last, in as much as it uses a burr. Here I left the section natural and used a ‘cone’ type burr. It’s one I use solely for this purpose because it’s essentially ruined the first time you do this! The cone allows for holes of differing depths, which results in holes of varying diameter. In this instance, however, I purposely push the burr in to the wood forcefully, which results in the burr scorching the wood due to the resulting friction. Clean the burr with a brass brush after use

On this section I used white gouache and paint. The gouache is applied thickly, trying to create ridges and furrows, and force dried with a heat gun. Acrylic spray paint is applied and allowed to cure; the latent heat in the gouache speeds this stage up. Once cured simply abrade through the high spots to reveal the white gouache underneath. You could even use sgraffito designs, which I have discussed in a previous article (Woodturning 286). The finished surface is best sealed with an artists’ sealer to protect the finish

Both sections were wire brushed using a rotary brush in a power drill, working with the grain to remove summer growth. The left-hand version has been filled with gold gilding paste and cured prior to buffing with a soft lint-free cloth. The right-hand version has been over-painted with Vitrail glass paint. This medium provides a translucent coloured finish. As a final option I lightly abraded over the top of both sections and used a permanent marker to top the texture with black ink


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