Wednesday 08 October 2008
Make and decorate all kinds of boxes with Tracy Owen
Boxes are interesting, useful items to make requiring only a few tools and a small amount of wood. With a little imagination there are endless shapes and forms that can be made.
Wood for making boxes needs to be well seasoned with a moisture content of 10 per cent or less as this will reduce any chance of the box components moving once it has been made. Even if well seasoned timber is used, there is still a chance that the box parts may move, especially with burrs and figured timber. This is because figured timber moves more than straight grain timber. Changing stresses in the wood, where the box is situated in the house and where there is a change in atmosphere, can affect it no matter how good a fit the lid is when you make the box.
Small boxes are usually best made from end grain timber. Native or exotic timber can be used as can small dry pieces of end grain burrs.
A good rule of thumb when making boxes is to allow two-thirds for the body and one-third for the lid. Boxes don't necessarily have to be small - they could easily be made into larger containers such as a ginger jar.
Boxes tend to be handled quite a bit, therefore, require a durable finish. Lacquers, oils or waxes could all be used but the choice is yours. My personal preference would be a lacquer or several coats of oil.
To start, I usually mount the piece between centres. A spigot at one or both ends is cut so that the piece can be mounted into the jaws of a chuck. This gives more freedom to work on it and I can part off the lid without any constraints. My preference would be small dovetail or gripper jaws - small being approximately 38mm-50mm (1 1/2in-2in). I often use jam fit chucks made out of off cuts of wood when making boxes, in particular when reverse chucking the bottom of a box to work on its base.
Glossary Rollover a term to view its definition
- Drive Centre
Also known as a four or two prong drive. The drive centre is attached to the lathe's spindle in the headstock, normally by a morse taper, but sometimes using a screw thread that matches the thread of the lathe's spindle. It supports the work at the headstock end and also provides the rotational drive to the workpiece. The Robert Sorby steb centre can also be referred to as a drive centre as it transmits the rotational force to drive the work piece round.
The components that support the workpiece when it is held between the headstock and tailstock - hence the term 'turning between centres'. 'Centres' is the generic term that encompasses four prong and two prong drives, steb centres, revolving centres, cone centres and ring centres. There are also specialist centres for specific purposes, for example, lightpull drive centres. The picture, from left to right shows a 2 prong drive centre, a revolving or live centre and a four prong drive.
- Parting Tool
As the picture shows, there are several different types of parting tool - three of which are shown here. On the left is a narrow (3mm) parting tool which is very useful when parting work where the least amount of grain mismatch is desirable, for example when parting the lid from the base in box making. The middle tool is a straight sided, standard parting tool and the one on the right is a diamond parting tool where the widest part of the tool is at the cutting edge. This can be advantageous when cutting deep grooves because it means less of the tool is rubbing on the sides of the groove. Parting tools primary task is to part wood off in spindle work but they are also used to cut tenons or spigots and grooves. They can also be used to cut beads.
As its name suggests, scrapers scrape the wood rather than cut it and generally leave a poorer surface finish on the wood than cutting tools. Unlike cutting tools, do not use the bevel rubbing technique with a scraper. In fact the 'bevel' is really a clearance rake and allows the cutting edge to come to a sharper edge. Sharpen or hone it often and take very light cuts with a scraper. You should get shavings; if you are only getting dust, resharpen it. Scrapers come in all shapes and sizes - square edge, round nosed, French curve, box scrapers and hardwood scrapers. The picture shows a 1/2 inch round nosed scraper.
- Skew Chisel
An extremely useful tool but has a reputation for being difficult to control. Certainly you can get some nasty catches with it but it is worth mastering. It is used mainly in spindle work and produces a very fine finish from the tool, requiring little, if any sanding. Planing cuts, peeling cuts and slicing cuts can be made with the skew as well as turning beads, coves and 'V' cuts.
Typically, the cutting edge is ground at 60 degrees to the axis of the tool - hence the term 'skew' and the tool has two bevels whose inclusive angle is anywhere between 25 and 45 degrees.
Skews are now made in three styles - rectangular section, oval section and rolled edge section.
- Spindle Gouge
Modern day spindle gouges are made in the same way as bowl gouges - from a round bar of M2 high speed steel with the flute milled out. The flute is shallower and more open than that of a bowl gouge. Traditionally spindles gouges were forged from a flat, rectangular sectioned bar and some manufacturers have started making a modern day version of this, commonly known as the Continental Style spindle gouge.
Like their name suggests, spindle gouges are used to cut details such as beads, coves and fillets on spindle work.
- Spindle Roughing Gouge
Spindle Roughing Gouge
This gouge is semicircular in section and the bevel is ground at between 35 and 45 degrees. The cutting edge is usually ground straight across. It is normally used in spindle or between centres turning for reducing a square blank to a round section - known as roughing down. This gouge is commonly known as a roughing gouge, but is more accurately described as a Spindle Roughing Gouge as it must not be used on faceplate work, e.g. for turning bowls.
- Rough boxes to shape first as this will enable you to dry timber of more than 10 per cent moisture content quicker. You will need to turn the wall thickness of the box two or three times, assemble the box to help keep its shape and then re-turn it once it is dry. You could experiment to see how it works.
- When using a spindle gouge to drill the centre hole, mark the gouge with tape or something similar to use as a depth stop. An alternative way of hollowing the base of a box with a gouge would be to use a Forstner or saw tooth cutter in a drill chuck mounted in a tailstock.
- Pay particular attention to keeping tools sharp as this will give you the cleanest cuts and reduce the amount of sanding needed. It will also reduce the chance of losing any detail.
- Always run the lathe at a slow speed to reduce any heat build up when sanding, particularly as exotic wood, and even our own native yew (Taxus), will heat crack very easily.
Choose well seasoned timber or rough to shape and dry the timber thoroughly as mentioned earlier.
- Boxes generally look good divided into two-thirds base and one-third lid with one or two exceptions. If the shape is a clam shell box or an egg-shaped box I would make the design half base and half lid. This is just a guide - there are no hard and fast rules.
Diagrams Click an image to enlarge