Thursday 08 July 2010
Bob Chapman creates a bunny-shaped box complete with a fluffy tail from a piece of sycamore
Although I still enjoy making straightforward bowls, boxes and hollow forms, I've made so many of them now that they hold out very little challenge for me. Don't misunderstand, I'm not saying that things don't go wrong occasionally - of course they do - but most of the time I'm treading a well-worn pathway.
To introduce an element of experimentation and uncertainty into my work, I am becoming more and more interested in cutting up the initial shapes that I produce and then re-joining the pieces in an attempt to discover structural forms which appeal to me. I get inspiration for this in all sorts of ways, often from shapes I see around me, and sometimes from techniques that occur to me. When I see a new shape, the problem is 'how do I recreate that shape' and with a new technique the question is, 'what shapes might this lead to?'
Having made a winged bowl and converted it into 'standing circles' by cutting it in half (see Woodturning issue 186) I had thought about what might be obtained by cutting a winged bowl lengthways, and had made some simple models to help visualise the result. Using these models, I decided that a winged bowl with curved wings would make an interesting design, and would be quite stable standing on end without support. Studying one of the models, the wings curving upwards suggested a rabbit's ears, and from there it was a short step to the idea of a 'bunny.' The idea of making the bunny into a box arose from the need for a face to complete the bunny image. The bow tie and fluffy tail are, sadly, just memories of a misspent youth.
Tools used: 3mm (1/8in) parting tool, 10mm (3/8in) spindle gouge, 25mm (1in) skew chisel, 25mm (1in) scraper and 12mm (1/2in) bowl gouge
For this project you will need a piece of sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) 300 x 70 x 35mm (11 1/2 x 2 3/4 x 1 3/8in). Cut a short section 70mm (2 3/4in) long from one end and retain this for the face of the bunny. Mount the remaining 230mm (9in) piece centrally on an 8mm (5/16in) screw held in the scroll chuck. Gradually increase the speed to around 2000rpm
Use a 12mm (1/2in) bowl gouge to shape the concave side of the wings and roughly shape the outside of the bowl part. Make sure a smooth curve is achieved here, as you will not be able to refine this shape later except by hand sanding, as the lathe will need to be switched off for this part
Form a shallow spigot with the corner of a skew chisel to allow the piece to be reversed in the chuck. Note: the black line on the toolrest to remind me where the ends of the wings are as they rotate
With the piece held on the spigot, shape the convex side of the wings with the bowl gouge. As the blank rotates the thickness of the wings can clearly be seen and allows an even thickness of around 4 or 5mm to be obtained. Keep the toolrest close to the work and take light cuts
Use a 12mm (1/2in) bowl gouge to hollow the bowl and refine with a 25mm (1in) round-nosed scraper. The bowl is well supported by the chuck jaws and this operation is quite straightforward, but don't forget the wings are still there!
It's important that the cross-section of the bowl is semi-circular, and a cardboard template is a great help in ensuring this
The rim of the bowl must be flat as, later, it will be folded over and glued to itself. The mating surfaces are only about 4mm (5/32in) wide and must meet properly if the glue joint is to be secure
Form a jam chuck from scrap wood which needs to be shaped to fit the bowl's interior in order to reverse the workpiece again later
With the workpiece securely held the outside of the bowl can be shaped. In order to get an even thickness use another template, as this will ensure an even wall thickness of approximately 4mm (5/32in)
The outside of the bowl can be sanded with the lathe running, but don't attempt to sand the wings this way. Stop the lathe and hand-sand from 120 down to 400 grit. Sycamore is a pale-coloured timber but I particularly wanted to make a white rabbit. Give the bowl three applications of Rustin's wood bleach, taking care to follow the instructions on the box. Not only will this bleach the wood to a pale creamy white, it will also raise the grain and when sanded down again with 400 grit, a silky smooth finish is obtained
After carefully marking the mid-point, cut the bowl in half lengthways on the bandsaw. The saw is also used for the initial shaping of the ears. Note: you can cut off one of the ears and re-attach at an angle to give the impression of flopping forwards a little
Use a sanding disc on the lathe to refine the shape of the ears, rounding the edges and thinning the ears slightly towards the tips
Using a Dremel tool with a small ball-shaped burr attachment, texture what would be the inner surface of the rabbit's ear. This cuts through the bleached surface and the creamy brown wood underneath gives a pleasing contrast to the ear
Turning a shoulder on what would become the body of the box proved problematic; the bunny was clamped to a plywood base which was held on the vacuum chuck. Partially releasing the vacuum allowed the whole assembly to slide around on the face of the chuck until the correct position was found. The vacuum was then increased to grip the base plate in that position. A metal scriber attached to the toolrest was used to indicate the best position
Use a 3mm (1/8in) parting tool to cut a small shoulder on the front of the box section to take the bunny's face as the lid of the box
With the shoulder cut, sand the bunny's feet level on the sanding disc so that the box will now stand upright. Bleach the interior of the box again where the surface has been removed, revealing the darker wood below. Then, hold a small screw chuck in the scroll chuck and mount the 70 x 70mm (2 ¾ x 2 3/4in) section retained earlier onto it. This small block will become the face of the bunny and the lid of the box
After roughing the block to a dome shape, cut a small dovetail spigot in the front using the long point of a skew as a scraper
Reverse the block with the spigot held in the chuck jaws and form a parallel-sided spigot to be a good fit in the bunny box
Some trial and error is required to get a good fit. The lid must fit well because the box will be on its side and a loose fitting lid would simply fall off. On the other hand, a too tightly fitting lid will be difficult to remove. During this trial and error I accidentally broke off the floppy ear that had been attached with glue and decided to leave it off until I got the fit of the face right
With the fit now right, hollow out the face to about 6mm (1/4in) thick
Reverse the face into a small jam chuck made from scrap wood and shape the front surface to a rounded dome. Drill two shallow 8mm (5/16in) holes with a Forstner bit to take the bunny's eyes
The eyes are made from ebony dowel turned to a good fit in the holes. Glue short sections into the holes, return the face to the jam chuck and skim the eyes flush with the rest of the face. Next, a small drum sander in the Dremel helps shape the face. Rabbits actually have very narrow faces and the round shape obtained by turning needs modifying as much as the overall shape and thickness of the wood will allow. Use the sander to give the face a slightly flattened forehead and the suggestion of a nose. Where the face overlaps the sides slightly use the sander to blend the two together. Then, bleach the face to match the rest of the piece. Hand-sand the whole bunny to 400 grit and seal with cellulose sanding sealer. Rub down with steel wool and apply a thin coat of lemon oil, rubbing in with a cloth before allowing to dry. Sketch the bow tie on a piece of card and adjust for size before cutting out of a piece of ebony, which needs to measure about 8mm (5/16in) thick
Sand the bow tie and shape with a Dremel tool before sealing and polishing on a buffing wheel. Glue in place with a drop of Cyanoacrylate. The box is now complete