How to Make a Grolla


How to Make a Grolla:
Andrea Zanini turns a typical Italian goblet, known as a grolla.

Andrea Zanini turns a typical Italian goblet, known as a grolla

In this article we will discover a typical, and a little mysterious, Italian turning: the grolla. It’s a peculiar goblet which originates in Val d’Aosta (Aosta Valley), a northern mountain region, bordering Switzerland.
Its origins are very ancient and the name comes straight from the Graal. During the middle ages it was made out of silver and covered by complicated engravings. Very soon, cheaper wooden copies started to appear, which – among the population of the often isolated mountain villages – became a strong social adhesive. During meetings, people used to drink hot wine from the same grolla in order to strengthen the sense of belonging to the clan. The very same ritual was used within a family and the most important and adorned grolla was passed along from father to son. Centuries passed and the grolla lost its strong social importance, but remained as a symbol of the region. You can find it in many Italian houses as a souvenir, it is often used as a prize for sport competitions and it’s the protagonist of a peculiar version of the ‘game of the goose’. 

Plans and equipment
• Roughing gouge
• 10mm spindle gouge
• Parting tool
• Jacob chuck with 12mm drill bit
• Hollowing tool
• Calliper
• Blank – 300 x 130–150mm
• Blank for the finial
• Abrasives down to 240 grit
• Finishing oil

Safety sanding
Sanding the inside of a vase, or a turning in general, that has a narrow opening can be a tricky and even dangerous task. Don’t stick your fingers inside the piece, but take a small wooden stick, place a piece of paper on the tip and wrap with a strip of abrasive, firmly held in your hand.

A wooden stick, a piece of paper (or cloth) and a strip of abrasive is all you need to safely sand the inside of a box or small vase

Narrow spots
When turning small details in narrow spots a spindle gouge might not be the best choice. The wings can catch the wood and you might not have a gouge small enough. Using a skew chisel could come in handy solving many tight situations. When used positioned as a parting tool, it’s easy to handle and leaves clean surfaces.

A skew chisel is the perfect choice for turning small details or undercutting rims in tight spots

1. First of all you have to choose the right piece of wood. Traditionally the most used wood was walnut (Juglans nigra) or maple (Acer saccharum), mainly thanks to their resistance to heat and humidity. If you’re going to use the grolla to drink I would suggest maple, otherwise you can use the wood you like the most. Just consider that if you are going to hand carve some details, a very hard wood would make your life a little less easy. In this case, I picked a piece of olivewood (Olea europaea) because I really liked the grain and the measures of the blank (300 x 120mm) were just perfect

2. Place your blank between centres and rough turn until you have a regular 115mm diameter cylinder. Then, using a parting tool, true the ends and turn a tenon. A grolla is basically halfway between a goblet and a box, and this will be the tenon for the main body

3. Mount a chuck on the lathe and place the just turned tenon in the jaws

4. Using the parting tool, turn a small tenon. This will be used later on to hold the lid in the jaws. You won’t need a very deep tenon, 5mm will be fine

5. Using a parting tool, cut a deep groove at 50mm from the tenon’s shoulder. Finish the cut with a handsaw; it is much safer and you won’t accidentally tear the middle fibres of the blank

6. It is now time to shape the main body; you can do it just by looking at a template and eyeballing all the dimensions, but marking the measurements on the blank helps to remember all the details, especially when the working surface is limited and a tiny cut could erase an important bead

7. Use a sharp spindle gouge to remove material and shape the main body. Take your time and constantly check for proportions. The main curve where, once hollowed, the wine will be contained, is similar to an ordinary goblet but with a bevelled edge going outward

8. Drill a 12mm pilot hole using the tailstock and a Jacob’s chuck, then with a hollowing tool of your choice hollow out the cup-shaped par of the main body. You won’t cut through the end grain, so it is a fairly simple hollowing; be careful not to go too thin, especially if you intend to pour liquid in it

9. When you’ve finished the hollowing process, use a freshly sharpened spindle gouge to slightly cut an inward slope on the shoulder of the grolla’s opening. This will help the flow of the liquid from inside to outside of the container. Be careful not to leave any sharp edges, both inside and outside the rim. Then, sand the grolla using abrasive from 150 grit to 240 grit

10. Remove the grolla from the chuck and replace it with the lid. Using a parting tool and a calliper, carefully turn a tenon that will fit the opening on the main body. Since this isn’t a box it doesn’t have to be a perfectly snug fit, the lid just has to stay in place when turned upside down. Take your time and check often the fit using the other half of the grolla

11. Use a small spindle gouge to shape the half facing the just turned tenon. Do it now, because you will have to reverse chuck it and you won’t have enough space to work comfortably

12. Before taking it off the chuck, turn a small depression on the base of the lid; although not strictly necessary, it will finish the job nicely. You could add some details, which would be a sort of a nice hidden surprise

13. Here you can see the concave depression turned in the base of the lid. Don’t remove too much material because you will use this tenon to hold the lid in the chuck

14. Replace the lid in the chuck and start turning the other part. Every grolla has a thin collar that surrounds the finial (or, in this case, the place where the finial will be). It is a very delicate part to turn because it is
likely to crack and you have to operate in a narrow space. Don’t rush, and use freshly sharpened tools

15. To turn a finial use a small piece of contrast wood; I used a scrap piece of king wood. Place it in the chuck and turn a small 10mm tenon

16. With the tailstock and a Jacob’s chuck, drill a 10mm hole on the top of the lid and with a drop of glue, insert the finial blank’s tenon. Wait for the glue to dry and then shape the finial using a small gouge. When you’ve finished shaping, sand it using the same process as before

17. Grolla lids are always decorated with a crown-like ornament. Use an indexing jig to mark the guidelines and with a rotary tool carefully remove material. When you have cut all the ‘spikes’, use a small file or a rolled piece of sandpaper to lightly sand it

18. Remove the lid from the chuck and, closing the jaws, secure the grolla’s body with an expansion grip. If you don’t have jaws small enough you can easily turn a jam chuck with a piece of scrap wood. Use the tailstock to hold it firmly in place

19. Using the spindle gouge slowly and carefully remove the tenon. To improve the stability turn the bottom slightly concave and leave a small bit of wood that you will remove off the lathe by hand or with a rotary tool

20. Here is the finished piece. Traditionally, grollas had no finish and, especially if you intend to drink out of it, you should avoid synthetic finishes. I used a food-safe oil mixture to enlighten the grain. The style covered in the article is very essential and you can improve the design by adding all the details you wish  and make your personal grolla


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