Napkin Rings and Stand


Napkin Rings and Stand:
Colwin Way makes another dining table piece.

Colwin Way makes another dining table piece

This one’s a real favourite of woodturners and as a young apprentice 30 years ago I remember making these napkin rings in the hundreds, in many different timbers and designs. We used to make them in sets of mixed timbers, packed in presentation clear lidded boxes. Back then we used to use wooden jam chucks to take out the centre of the rings, but I want to show you what I use now that we have the benefit of modern woodturners’ chucks. Even though I’ve used a single timber for the rings in my set I still think it’s a good idea to mix the timbers up.
You could make a native set or an exotic set depending what timbers you have to hand and, of course, native timbers will differ depending on the country you live in. I’ve also given you an idea for a stand for the rings which is completely turned, but again change this to suit your ideas. Of course you may never use napkin rings or even napkins, however the ideas and methods I’m about to show you can be used on other things such as rings, bangles, or picture frames to name just a few.
I would aim this project at the novice turner even if your tooling skills aren’t up to scratch yet, use the tools that you are comfortable with; most people can pick up and use a scraper straight away, so do that. Even though my job is to teach the correct use of tools to beginners, you won’t find any scraper snobbery here.

Ok, so let’s have a look at the timber I’ve chosen to use for this project; to match the condiment set from the last issue I’m making the ring stand from yew (Taxus baccata), but the napkin rings themselves from a piece of log section, laburnham (Laburnum anagyroides). This will give a lovely contrast as we breakthrough the sapwood into the heart, from white to green. As always use what YOU have to hand or your favourite timber. Here I’m using a lovely piece of the laburnum; this particular piece has a very white sapwood, which I can get away with as the yew for the stand is made from solid heart wood. I wouldn’t want to have sap in both timbers as the project would look a bit confused.

The two pieces of wood for this project

The log mounted between centres ready to turn

• 20mm roughing gouge
• 6mm beading and parting tool
• 3mm parting tool
• V blocks
• Set of woodplate jaws
• Drill chuck
• 12mm sawtooth drill bit
• 35mm sawtooth drill bit
• Callipers
• 25mm skew chisel
• Sanding disc
• Rule
• Pencil


Personal protective equipment
I want to take a quick look at personal dust protection on the lathe and dispel a few myths. As an instructor I have to work by the book to keep people safe and, always at the beginning of each course, we spend time looking at PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and why we use it. I do hear a lot of comments about certain timbers being really dangerous and how careful you have to be, but to be honest I think picking certain timbers out as more harmful than others gives the assumption that some are harmless. Unfortunately, no timber out there is harmless and you need to treat all timbers the same and do whatever you can from stopping the dust from entering your lungs. Your first line of defence is a good dust extractor to directly take the dust you make away. Remember you create dust when turning not just sanding, so your extractor will need to be turned on all the time your working on the lathe. To talk dust extraction will be an article in itself, so my best advice would be to go for a dust extractor with a good airflow, good size outlet of around 100mm with fine filter in the description, chip extractors aren’t suitable unless upgraded to fine filter.
Looking at your personal protection, I prefer a powered respirator. These produce positive pressure on the inside making it very hard for dust to get in, they also prevent glasses from steaming up and the only option if you have facial hair. If at this stage you feel you can’t afford a mask of this type then there are plenty of half masks out there with disposable filters. If you do opt for one of these, make sure you check the seal for a good fit. If you’re getting steamed up safety glasses, that means dust will get in when you breathe. Option three would be a disposable paper mask; you must go for a paper mask with two straps, not a comfort mask. This means spending some money to get a good one. Unfortunately, if you have facial hair neither of the last two options will work and you will have to put your hand in your pocket.
My new extractor set-up is replacing my old extractor, which is struggling to keep up with the amount of dust and shavings I’m putting through it. The layout is all a bit crammed at the moment, but next month you will see the new layout, but you should be able to make out the hose coming from the extractor to the hose stand and then to a movable hose which I can move to wherever I want it.

Wearing my Evolution powered respirator with disposable filters

My new dust extractor setup

Napkin rings

1. First, rough down to a cylinder from the solid timber making sure to remove any of the soft bark before marking out with a set of dividers the individual width of each napkin ring. Remember to allow for the width of a parting tool cut when marking out. If you find it easier, mark one then cut with the parting tool before marking the next, as I’m doing in the picture

2. Here you can see the finished shape, two beads followed by two fillets with one large cove in the centre. You can also see how far to turn down with the parting tool. Now ready to sand and seal, be careful not to sand away your detail. Use a bowl gouge to do most of the shaping, but a spindle gouge or round-nose scraper will do the same thing

3. Now cut the rings apart and to do this use the bandsaw; you need to very careful when using this type of saw to cut anything still in the round, as they could skid and bite into the blade. A V block or sled is a really important part of the kit when cutting rounds and, as you can see, I have a wide selection I use for various cutting and drilling operations. If you are at all unsure or do not own a bandsaw, a safer option would be to use a Japanese pullsaw

4. At this point back in the day I used to use jam chucks for this next step, but now with my modern turning chuck, I find it far more reliable and accurate to use a set of wood plate jaws. In these jaws cut a dovetail recess to match the size of the napkin rings and as you see here, very easy to fit, leaving the front surface ready for turning

5. Before we start with the bowl gouge, drill out most of the centre with a 35mm sawtooth bit. Turn the lathe speed down to around 800rpm and drill to about 2/3 of the depth of the ring before turning it around and drilling from the other side

6. After drilling, work on shaping the inside with a bowl gouge or scraper. Use a 6mm bowl gouge with the flute facing to the right and the bevel rubbing the inner surface of the ring to give a gentle convex curve. This is the process you would use when cutting the inside of a bowl, but again if you’re uncomfortable with the bowl gouge, use a scraper to gently scrap to shape

7. When happy with the inside surface, sand and seal. This picture shows how much access the wood jaw plates give you; because the jaws are turned from ply the work doesn’t get damaged at all. It’s easy to sand around the edge and blend into the upper surface


8. The first step is to turn the two main spindles. I’m using yew for the stand. Start by roughing down to a cylinder with the roughing gouge. Use a friction drive to hold the spindle due to the size of the piece

9. These spindles are going to be fitted into blind holes in the stand sides, so we need to cut tenons on either end to match these holes. Drill a 12mm hole in a piece of scrap timber and match the tenon to this. Use a piece of scrap to test with, which can only be used a couple of times as every time you test a tenon you’re enlarging the hole. You need to have a push fit, not too loose that it wiggles, but not so tight it gets stuck half way

10. Here you can clearly see the tenons being formed with my 6mm parting tool and calliper. Take extra care here and make sure you check regularly as you can always take a bit more timber away, but I’ve always struggled to put it back on again!

11. When you’re happy with the tenons, tidy up the main surface with the skew chisel. Remember how the skew works, rub the bevel and cut with the lower half of the cutting edge. When the surface is good, sand and seal

12. The finished spindles ready for fitting to the still-to-be-made sides. Make sure they are exactly the same size up to the tenons, and long enough to take all four napkin rings when laid side-by-side, as they will sit on these bars when the stand is made

13. Now onto the side supports of the stand, again in yew as I want to end up with a stand width of 85mm. Start with a blank of 90mm. Clean up the outer edge by dropping the bowl gouge handle down, using the bottom wing of the gouge to draw across the surface, giving lovely ribbon shavings

14. After finishing the outside edge, look at the front face. Use a push cut to clean this surface before doing the same on the back, with a parting tool

15. While held in this same position turn to 2/3 the depth of this disc a hole measuring 50mm across. Also this is the time to put any decoration on the outside edge if you want to. I’ve put three beads on the surface using a 10mm skew to scrape. Again when you’ve shaped these areas, sand and seal

16. Back to the wood jaw plates again; enlarge the inner recess of the jaws to match the outer diameter of the stand which is 85mm. Hold the finished face of the stand in the jaws, giving you access to the other side and again use the push cut, before cutting through the centre and tidying up to your 50mm over all recess. Then sand and seal

17. Next, cut directly through the middle of the turning to produce two semi-circles which, when inverted, will be the legs to our stand. Once again use the bandsaw, but a Japanese pullsaw would do the trick equally as well. Be as accurate as you can but don’t lose any sleep if you’re not exact, as you can take small errors out on the sander later

18. We need to make sure the stand stands up straight, so use a sanding disc in the lathe and sanding table to lie the stand down and flatten off the feet. Occasionally put the two pieces side-by-side until you get both pieces the same size. Add a line running around the centre of one face to give a centreline to drill into, for the side spindles

19. Mark out the sides to drill – this is where this line comes in handy. Measure up from the foot 15mm, until it crosses this line and where they intersect mark a point with a pencil before strengthening this point with an awl

20. Next we need to drill a blind hole, so set your drill depth stop, to stop you before we go all the way through. Use a piece of scrap timber to make double sure you drill at the same place in all four points. Clamp this piece of scrap timber into position at 15mm from the foot to the centre of the hole you intend to drill

21. There we are, the two pieces fully drilled out and ready to be assembled with the side sticks. Glue the side stick in, either with epoxy resin or a good wood glue, making sure that while the glue is still wet, you firmly push the stand down onto a flat surface to true it up while drying

22. The stand fully assembled with the napkin rings added. Like I said at the beginning, this is just one idea for a stand so please don’t be restricted to just my ideas and put your own twist on it. I would choose a lacquer or a wax to finish this type of project, both of these are available or can be worked to either a gloss or satin finish


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