Mixed Exotic Wood Vase archive

Thursday 17 March 2011

Dennis Keeling makes this wonderful vase using a variety of exotic woods


One of the exhibits at the International Woodworking Exhibition at Alexander Palace this year was by Alan Funnell, who had made a vase from a mixture of exotic woods. Whilst it did not get a prize, it did cause a stir and everyone was intrigued as to how it had been made. Alan explained that it had taken him three months to make and he had used ebony (Diospyros spp.) stringing between each variety of wood to make the colours more distinct. He used cardboard templates to build up the design and then cut the wood accordingly. Beautiful.

The editor gave me three weeks to make this piece and I did not have my own dried wood to rely on, as I rarely buy exotics. A range of "kiln dried" coloured blanks were purchased from the local woodwork machinery supplier. I never trust kiln dried wood for segmenting without first drying

it in my workshop for at least six months - three weeks was a bit short. But, in my experience, as long as the blanks are glued up and turned to quite a thin wall thickness, they will usually be okay.

My design was not the same as Alan's, but it did enable me to create a mixed exotic wood vase in a short space of time with only basic turning tools and equipment. In addition to the turning tools pictured below, you will also need a planer/thicknesser, circular saw, mitre saw, bandsaw and a drum sander.

Tools used: Bowl gouge, spindle roughing gouge, straight-edge negative-rake scraper and a negative-edge side scraper

Step 1

Firstly, you need to glue disparate wood blanks together with a strip of ebony (Diospyros spp.) between them. Cut the ebony strips on the bandsaw and then sand on the drum sander to a uniform thickness - 5mm (3/16in). For this project you need to use yellow aliphatic resin glue - Titebond II - which enables end grain to be glued firmly. Use small clamps to hold the blanks in position but release the pressure after a few minutes so the wood is not stressed. You need to allow the glue to cure for eight hours before machining

Step 2

You then need to cut mitres in the composite blanks - some mitres need to be 45 degrees and others 30 degrees - to try to give the design a random feel. The sections then need to be sorted to enable contrasting woods to be glued together. Before gluing, bring the composite blanks down to a width of 75mm (3in) using the circular saw, the mitres can then be glued using ebony strips as separators. After the glue has cured - after about eight hours - machine one face and one edge of each composite blank on the planer to give the straight edges for gluing the composite blanks into a square section. Build up a square section with a hollow centre of about 40mm (1 5/8in) square to allow it to be mounted on the lathe. Glue the planed faces to the planed edges (see diagram)

Step 3

You need to use various clamps to hold the sections together - only planed faces and faced edges are glued together

Step 4

Then, square the ends of the composite off on the bandsaw to enable the composite to be mounted on the lathe

Step 5

Use a tapered wood face and end plates to mount the composite on the lathe

Step 6

Remove the rough edges of the cylinder using a spindle roughing gouge. Be careful to use full extraction here as some of these exotic woods can irritate the skin and the lungs (see Bud Latven's article in issue 212)

Step 7

Square-off the ends of the composite to enable them to be glued to the base and top ring

Step 8

Prepare a solid base by gluing it to a wooden faceplate with a paper joint

Step 9

You then need to glue the composite to the base using the Titebond II glue, and use the tailstock to hold it under tension

Step 10

You need to build the top ring using 12 ebony segments, 5mm (3/16in) thick, with a 15 degree mitre angle, 25mm (1in) in length and 15mm (9/16in) wide. These are then glued together in semi-circles, then sanded square and glued together as a ring

Step 11

Then, glue the top ring onto the top of the vase and centre using a back-plate mounted on the lathe's tailstock. Use a piece of foam to compensate for any irregularities in the timber surfaces

Step 12

After the glues has dried - leave a minimum of eight hours - the composite can be turned. I took the easy way of hollowing out the inside by drilling the composite with a 55mm (2 1/4in) sawtooth drill mounted in the tailstock. Use a lathe steady on the outside to support the composite and to keep it centred

Step 13

Use a negative-rake side scraper to remove the drill tool marks on the inside of the vase. This takes fine shavings and does not put any strain on the fragile vessel. Now the exciting stage: bringing the outside down to the finished shape. To get the maximum advantage from the random wood pattern and to lessen the effect of too many verticals, turn the outside to a slight barrel shape with the thinnest parts at the top and the bottom and the widest part in the middle. This will give the composite construction a pleasing effect

Step 14

Use a bowl gouge on its side in shear scraping mode to reduce the composite down to size. The experts would use a skew chisel for this job, but skew chisels and I don't work well together, and possibly, I'm not the only one

Step 15

Use a negative-rake flat-ended scraper in order to remove any slight undulations and tool marks. This will produce very light whisper shavings and will leave you with a very clean shape

Step 16

Starting at 120 grit, sand the composite both inside and out working up to 400 grit. Again, don't forget the extraction here. Then, remove the faceplate for the base. A paper joint only needs a sharp knife and a light tap from a hammer to separate cleanly

Step 17

You then need to reverse mount the composite on the lathe. Create a tapered jam chuck to locate the inside on the headstock and a small rotating steb centre on the tailstock. After a couple of attempts you will be able to find the exact centre of the base

Step 18

The base can now be hollowed with a spindle gouge to enable the vase to stand without wobbling. Remove the small pip left in the centre using a carving chisel, then the base can be sanded. Apply three coats of Chestnut acrylic satin lacquer. I did not use sanding sealer as it sometimes makes the colours in the wood run

Tegan Foley

Tagged In:

Vase , Dennis Keeling , segmented , exotic wood

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About The Author

Dennis Keeling has been turning for nearly 15 years, first as an amateur, and now as a professional turner. He is one of the leading exponents of segmented turning in the UK and is on the Register of Professional Turners (RPT). He has produced a DVD on segmented turning and undertakes demonstrations on segmented turning techniques both in the UK and USA.
Email: dennis@dkeeling.com


The design was governed by the sizes of the various exotic wood blanks that I was able to obtain. It evolved as the blanks were glued together. The finished design was based on 45 degree and 30 degree mitre angles, it was a random design to try and follow the original design by Alan Funnell

Time Taken & Cost

Cost of timber: £50 (approximately)
Time taken: 8 hours to make, elapsed over 2 days to let the glue dry

Exotic Woods Used

1. Ebony (Diospyros spp.)
2. Satinwood (Chloroxylon swietenia)
3. Cocobolo (Dalbergia retusa)
4. Tambootie (Spirostachys africana)
5. Pink ivory (Berchemia zeyheri)
6. Maple (Acer campestre)
7. Olive wood (Olea europaea)

Handy Hints

1. A yellow aliphatic resin glue like Titebond ll is great for gluing end grain
2. Grain direction could be a problem, I chose to have all the grain vertical
3. Try out your finish on some scrap wood first, as some finishes make the colours run
4. Take care with the joints, it is not good to see gaps afterwards
5. Slight blemishes can be eliminated by using coloured wax sticks

Woodturning Says...

You do not have to go out and buy loads of expensive timber for this project. A project such as this gives you a wonderful excuse to use up some of the scraps and offcuts we all seem to accumulate in our workshops. There are no specified sizes of pieces to use here, so each piece takes on a unique quality according to what is used. This is a wonderful project to test your skills, so why not give it a go?

This vase by Alan Funnell was featured in issue 211 of Woodturning magazine

Diagrams Click an image to enlarge