Ornamental Turning Made Easy – more


Ornamental Turning Made Easy – more:
Chris Hart uses his Petal pattern to decorate a trinket box.

Final cut box lid

I attempt to illustrate the versatility of the system by demonstrating how the same pattern can be used with differing scales to enhance turned work, while not being the focus of the piece, but also adding a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’. Furthermore, I hope to illustrate the transformation of a straight-sided plain box both in terms of wood and form, into an intriguing piece.

Decorating the base of a trinket box
Petals is my name for this pattern I’ve created. My motivation for decorating this piece on the bottom of a piece of work is mainly because of woodturners worldwide. Typically, the first thing turners do when they pick up a turned object is look at the bottom to establish if it has been finished properly…  surprise surprise!
The petal design is applied to the base of the trinket box from part three and is a most effective pattern that looks complicated, but is in fact one of the simplest and it’s very often made by children when they first encounter a compass. The petal pattern consists of eight overlapping circles truncated by the edge of the base to form a series of decreasing arcs. The diameter of the base is 72mm, the circles are 39mm with a 19.5mm radius and the divisions are 8 x 45°.
Once the body was complete I reversed it into expanding chuck jaws. The bottom needed to be flat to achieve an even pattern (not dished as normal), so care must be taken. I used a negative rake scraper constantly checking flatness with a straight edge. Next I cut the base to 72mm diameter; it’s important to recut the base after re-chucking to ensure concentricity. I then marked the exact centre with the toe of a skew chisel, which is again just as important for concentricity and setting up. 

I did not use geometry to determine the diameter of the circles, but instead relied on a paper sketch with a compass. The circles are in fact truncated at the point where the cutter crosses the edge of the rim, therefore setup was relatively simple. The reason for this is because the sketch I made gave me the diameter of the circles as 39mm, therefore the radius of the cutter was adjusted to 19.5mm. I then aligned the point of the cutter with the centre mark using the compound table adjustment. Fine adjustment was made by marking the intersection of the cutter and the edge of the base. I then rotated the table 45°, checking the two arcs meet on the edge. Fine adjustment, if required, is done by lengthening or shortening the arc of the cutter, but always remember to realign the cutter with the centre of the base after each adjustment. It’s now just a case of cutting the circles. 

Truing the base

Finding the centre

Aligning the cutter on the centre point

Marking the point where the cutter intersects with the piece

Second cut on petals

Final cut on petals

Brick pattern holly box
To demonstrate the technique of decorating cylindrical objects along the axis of the lathe, I chose a piece of holly (Ilex aquifolium) for its close grain and its ability to hold fine detail to make a small lidded box. To add a little more interest I decorated the underside of the lid with the petal pattern.
After turning and hollowing a straight-sided box I mounted it on to the unit; the first operation was to ensure the box was parallel to the lathe bed, enabling the cutter to be presented to the workpiece at 90°. This is achieved by mounting a square in a chuck then aligning the workpiece to it.
The cutter is a truncated point, which is inserted into the side slot of the boring head producing a scallop cut. The setup is 12 cuts at 30° intervals. The first cut is at 0° on the rotary table leaving a small gap between each cut. The image (top, middle) shows the first row of cuts progressing; when the first row is completed the work is advanced by 5mm. The second row is offset from the first by 15°, therefore the second row of cuts commence at 15° on the rotary table which will align the cut in the middle of each cut in the preceding row, creating a ‘brick effect’. This pattern is completed with each row alternating by 15°.
The whole setup, with the work completed, can be seen in the photograph (middle row, centre). The cutter profile and the ‘crib sheet’ crib sheet show the setting for each row, but I covered up the row that was not in use to avoid confusion. Be sure to note the cutting edge is facing upwards, indicating the direction of travel is clockwise, so cutting downwards negates the possibility of unscrewing the chuck. Also, with the work on the far side of the centre visibility is better. 

The lid is treated in the same manner with two rows, the first offset from the first. Leaving the lid mounted and the chuck in situ I set up the petal pattern in the same way as the base of the trinket box base. The tool was a very sharp point tool, the cuts very light being only .02mm deep and gives a very delicate pattern. No matter what branch of woodturning you favour or your specialty, all the pieces you make are profoundly affected by your choice of wood, how well you sand, how the piece is finished and with what.

Squaring the workpiece

Truncated tool bit

Cutting the first row

Cutting the second row

The final cut brick pattern

The overall shot showing the crib sheet

Cutting the rim of the lid

The first cut of the petal pattern

Progressing the petal cut

The finished petal pattern box lid

Choice of wood
Ornamental turning is just decorating turned items, therefore it makes perfect sense to start with plain blanks. Highly figured, burr or wood showing medullary rays are best avoided, because the inherent character of the wood will conflict with the applied pattern, meaning neither will be enhanced. Notwithstanding that, for those of you with a penchant for colouring your work, thoughtfully designed and applied this will add a new dimension to ornamental turning.
Close grained hardwoods without prominent rays produce the best results. Timbers that are a bit woolly, fluffy or produce tearout, particularly end grain, are best avoided.
Bearing in mind that what is, in effect, engraving on wood gives an indication of the qualities of the best type of timber. I suggest starting with the most common of English hardwoods only moving to expensive exotics once the basics are understood and mastered.
I have limited my choice of woods to those I have used in this series of articles, all of which are eminently suitable for ornamental turning, plus a couple that I use on a regular basis.

Ash (Fraxinus spp.) is a wonderful timber used worldwide, from heavy construction work to small turned boxes, but sadly ash is under threat from chalara (Ash dieback) – the full impact of which is still unknown. Fortunately here in North Wales, where ash is the predominate species, few cases have been reported. While not suited for very fine decoration, because the coarse grain precludes it from holding fine detail, it is excellent for bowls and platers where the
rim will hold a coarser pattern, particularly olive ash (Fraxinus genus). This is not a separate species, however on occasion heartwood takes on the appearance of olivewood, hence the name, but several examples are illustrated throughout this series. It’s also great for ebonising, but my personal preference is for an oil finish.

Beech (Fagus sylvatica) for me is the most versatile of all native grown timbers and I have used beech for internal doors, kitchen cabinets, tops and workshop jigs, etc. Being hard and close grained, beech is ideal for ornamental turning, from boxes to bowls. Beech holds fine detail and can be oiled, waxed, lacquered or buffed, they will all enhance its appearance. This timber is readily available in kiln dried boards and woodturning blanks.  

Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens), although not used in this series of articles, any article about fine detail turning would not be complete without its inclusion. Its ability to hold fine detail is legendary and unsurpassed and using sharp tools, together with a good technique, sanding may be unnecessary. When boxwood is first encountered one would be forgiven for thinking they have arrived in ‘turner’s heaven,’ it’s my first choice for thread chasing. Of course there is a downside; boxwood takes forever to season and it is prone to splitting, staining, fungal infections and spalting. Unfortunately, boxwood is also only available in small diameter pieces, limited quantities and it’s expensive. 

Holly (Ilex aquifolium) is a fantastic wood for ornamental turning. Being hard and close-grained holly holds fine detail, and it is definitely one of my favourites. The downside seasoning is virtually identical to boxwood. Because the colour is white, finishes and the exposure to UV rays will darken and yellow the piece with age but a wax finish over a couple of coats of melamine lacquer will help.

Oak (Quercus robur) – ‘heart of oak are our ships’ and so goes the sea shanty that epitomises the versatility of English oak – it is used for everything and everywhere, including ornamental turning in North Wales. While the grain is not close enough to hold very fine detail, with very sharp tools good results can be obtained. Oak is an ideal wood for decorating medium to large boxes, bowls and platters and I am currently experimenting with decorating small hollow forms. Oil is the traditional finish, but I sometimes use beeswax over oil and lightly power buff with a very soft wheel. 

The mention of yew (Taxus baccata) in some woodturning circles invariably invokes fierce debate. It is most definitely a ‘marmite’ wood, you either love it or hate it. I think the debate is polarised because the living tree is actually toxic. I am in the ‘I love you’ camp when it comes to yew as it is another one of my favourites. However, I do treat yew with the greatest respect when machining, cutting or sanding and I always wear a mask when I’m using dust extraction at the source, together with a workshop filtration system. I once milled a large quantity of yew in to woodturning blanks and each piece threw up a surprise; some were good and some were bad. The combinations of bark inclusion, heartwood, sapwood and pippy burr are all the most attractive, however, totally unsuitable for ornamental turning. The best choice is a piece of heartwood with straight grain. Yew is a joy to cut and will hold fine detail. For small pieces I favour a buffed wax finish, but for larger pieces I use oil.  

Simple ornamental turning does not require any special sanding techniques. The cuts or ornamental parts cannot be sanded without spoiling the crisp edges produced by a sharp cutter, therefore all the sanding is completed prior to the ornamental process. That said, the very nature of the items will be subject
to scrutiny by anyone picking it up for a closer look, so a good finish is essential. No matter how much oil or wax is applied and polished, it will not disguise poor sanding.
One aspect of sanding prior to applying decoration is where the decoration is formed by full circles, a completely flat surface is required to present to the cutter at 90°; in this case a sanding block will preserve integrity of flatness. On occasions the cutter will leave fluffy or woolly edges, but a very light touch with 600 grit over the whole surface will remove this.
The choice of abrasive is important, therefore it’s prudent to test various brands for yourself. Most of the quality manufacture’s sell starter packs with a couple of sheets of each grit; it’s worth trying these to find which suits you the best.

Where to start? Remember, the first sanding is to remove any tool marks so choose a grit that will remove them quickly; too coarse and more marks will be added than removed, too fine and it takes forever and may not remove tool marks and will generate heat. Subsequent grits are to remove marks left by the previous grits, go through the grits sequentially. I usually sand to 600 grit and I like to stop the lathe after each grit to examine the result before progressing to the next grit. A light touch is required when sanding and if the tooling is good, less sanding will be required. For example, a 120 grit with a heavy hand can alter the shape on a small item in a matter of seconds.

When I am satisfied with the sanding  I use a tack cloth to remove the fine dust, then I apply a coat of cellulose sanding sealer diluted 50/50 with thinners, which enables it to spread and dry quickly. Sealing at this stage prevents marking or soiling the piece while handling for decoration, particularly with light coloured woods.

Applying sanding sealer

Brushing in microcrystalline wax

Buffing the trinket box base

The finished base trinket box base

The finished petal pattern on the underside of the box lid

The finished brick pattern box

Microcrystalline wax is a product I have been using recently, which was developed by the British Museum many years ago to protect artefacts. In addition to wood it is used to treat leather, marble, ivory and more. I have found two types of microcrystalline wax: one is soft and the other is hard. I apply it with kitchen roll or a toothbrush to access into the ornamental cuts, again buffing on a dedicated wheel, finishing by hand brushing or with a micro buffing wheel. The finish is a very pleasing soft sheen, which suits the work I produce. I used this method over melamine lacquer, which produced a durable sheen finish on the brick patterned box.
On occasion, I use a propriety buffing system comprising of three cloth buffing wheels individually mounted on a mandrel, inserted into a chuck mounted on the lathe running at about 1500rpm, used with a dedicated buffing compound. Typically these are tripoli, white lustre and pure carnauba wax. The first two are abrasives designed to remove very fine scratches and add a light polish, the third is wax which
is polishing the wood itself, highlighting the figure and grain. 

Care must be taken, applying only small amounts of compound and very light pressure, friction causes heat, too much heat will cause checking and increases the likelihood of the wheel snatching the work from the hands and propelling it against the wall or floor ruining the piece. I always place an old towel over the bed bars to prevent excess compound ending up on the bars, which is the most common cause of sticking banjos or affecting the locking mechanism.
While this method is good for the body of the piece, when it comes to the decorated area it presents an issue with the compounds becoming embedded in the decoration, but these can be removed with a toothpick then with a toothbrush or small shoe brush after each application. Three brushes will be required to prevent cross contamination, it’s also fiddly and time consuming. If I use this method then I miss out the first two compounds moving directly to the carnauba wax. I find the heat generated by the polishing mop will melt the wax (if applied sparingly) leaving just a little hand brushing.
Beeswax is another wax I use and a leading brand of shoe polish containing carnauba wax. They should all be applied sparingly, buffing by hand or a dedicated buffing wheel. 

Oil in its various forms is another finish I use from time-to-time. I believe Danish oil is the most popular in woodworking.  Oil is yet another product with many brand names for similar products. With any oil, several coats will be required with a light nib between coats, the drying time typically is between five and 24 hours. Oil needs to be applied sparingly with any excess wiped off between five or 10 minutes after application, as failure to do so will result in shiny patches. Oil will raise the exposed unsanded grain in ornamental cuts, particularly the end grain in box lids. Also, it may darken the end grain considerably so it’s always worth trying on test pieces first.  Only a small proportion of ornamental turned work is decorated, therefore, it is
only this that has special requirements when finishing but most of the item may be finished in the normal way.

I have only just scratched the surface (sorry, I could not resist the pun) with this series on simple, as opposed to complex, ornamental turning with the hope of introducing the craft to a wider audience, thereby increasing the opportunities for further development in applications, patterns and techniques.


1 Comment

  1. Such an awesome blog! All the information provided by you is really very helpful for all. By using tack cloth you can keep your project dust-free and it is useful for cleaning fine dust off a surface and gives you a smooth finish. Keep Posting! Keep Sharing!

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