Staved Biscuit Barrel archive

Wednesday 5 October 2011

Dennis Keeling explains the process for creating a traditional staved biscuit barrel as well as showing you how to make a stave cutting sledge for the bandsaw


When researching for my book, I discovered that segmented turning has been around in the UK for 200 years. The turners of Tunbridge Wells produced some beautiful mixed woodwork from as early as 1606 and started segmenting in the 19th century. Their 'Tunbridge Ware' was world famous for its intricate designs. We had the arts and crafts movement in the 20th Century and the creation of 'Cambridge Ware' - simple multi-coloured segmented vessels - for household use such as condiment sets and biscuit barrels. A lot of this old craft disappeared but is now being slowly revived by the modern 'Segmenters.'

In my previous articles on segmented turning I covered closed and open segment construction. I also covered block-work construction with the mixed wood vase and laminate construction in issue 222. So in the next series of articles, I will be covering stave construction, starting with parallel and then looking at tapered in the next issue.

Tools used: 20mm (3/4in)bowl gouge, hollowing tool, teardrop shear scraper, straight-edge scraper, round-nose scraper, spindle gouge and parting tool

Step 1

Attach the boxwood runner to the base with three M4 countersunk bolts in slots in the MDF to allow lateral adjustment. Drill and counterbore two holes for the coach bolts to hold the sliding fence. Position the sledge on the bandsaw and adjust the runner and

the fence

Step 2

Once the sled is constructed, make some staves out of scrap wood to see if everything is working OK. Tilt the bandsaw to the 11.25 degree mitre angle and cut eight staves from a piece of scrap 15mm (9/16in) thick deal to test the sledge

Step 3

The staves need to be positioned alongside each other and joined together using a piece of duct tape. By picking up the centre stave, the rest will fall into a semicircular tunnel on a flat surface so that the angles can be tested. Next, you need to check the mitre angles of the bandsaw pieces; it's a bit trial and error but very worthwhile before starting to cut valuable material

Making the biscuit barrel

Step 4

Firstly, dimension the lauan on the circular saw. You then need to face and edge on the planer and bring down to thickness on the thicknesser. Next, cut the sections on the circular saw - it's important that they are of consistent length and thickness

Step 5

You can then cut the whitebeam separators oversize on the bandsaw to a length of 7mm (9/32in). The extra oversize will be needed for accurate sanding. Next, you then need to flatten the separators and size to 5mm (3/16in) on the drum sander. It's important that they are a consistent width and all the saw marks are adequately removed

Step 6

Cut the separators to length on the mitre saw. Cut the first mitre edge on the bandsaw sledge as close to the outside edge as possible. Adjust the fence to the width of the staves plus 2mm, which will allow for sanding. It's important that the fence is parallel to the blade slot

Step 7

The next step is to cut the staves by turning the wood over after each cut you make; this will give you the opposite mitre. While sawing, make sure the staves are securely held by the toggle clamp

Step 8

Clean up the staves on the disc sander - with the widest face down for maximum support. The staves are longer than the radius of the sanding disc, so they should be presented from the left-hand side of the disc sander and gradually moved along past the centre. Hold down securely here; this will stop them being lifted off the base-plate

Step 9

Now, you need to check the alignment of each of the staves by sticking eight together with duct tape, and then place the halves on a flat surface

Step 10

When all the staves have been cut and any errant staves subsequently trued up, the barrel can be dry assembled - before gluing up - with the separators fitted to check its accuracy

Step 11

Be careful here to only apply a light cover of glue to the separators, as too much glue will make them warp from the excess moisture in the glue. Cut a piece of 18mm (3/4in) MDF for use as a temporary base for the biscuit barrel. Drill a 3mm (1/8in) hole in the centre of the MDF plate for centring to the wooden faceplate later. After the staves and the separators have been glued up on the MDF base, fit elastic bands around the barrel to align the staves and force out any excess glue. Place weights on the top of the staves to push them down and place a piece of foam between the weights and the staves

Step 12

Once the glue has grabbed, remove the weights to allow air to circulate inside the vessel. Leave the rubber bands on for 24 hours as the vessel will retain a lot of moisture with the glue-up

Step 13

The design calls for two segmented rings to fit at the top and bottom of the staves. These are constructed using the same whitebeam strip used for the stave separators. Set the mitre saw up for an 11.25 degree mitre angle and cut the 32 segments

Step 14

You can now glue the segments into eight piece semicircles. When cured, the semicircles can be trued up on the sanding disc and glued into circles. After four hours or so, they can then be brought down to size using a drum sander

Step 15

Now support the barrel on the tailstock for gluing the base to the faceplate using a piece of scrap MDF and a piece of foam. With the top gently supported on the tailstock with a MDF cone, true up the side of the barrel to take the lathe steady. Clean up the top edge and flatten to take a segmented ring. Apply aliphatic glue to the top of the barrel and the segment ring as the end grain quickly absorbs the glue

Step 16

Use a flat end plate, made from MDF and mounted on the tailstock, to centre the segment ring and hold it in position while the glue cures. Before the solid base is glued to the segmented ring, the bottom of the barrel needs to be tidied up and cut back to size. Use a hollowing tool to bring the inside to the right dimension and then use a round-nosed scraper to tidy up the edges

Step 17

Clean up the segmented disc and make the surface flat using a bowl gouge, ready for the gluing of the solid base and wooden faceplate

Step 18

Now centre the solid base and the wooden faceplate on the tailstock and glue to the segmented ring

Step 19

Carefully prepare a new runway on the barrel to take the lathe steady. With the lathe steady in place, remove the false base with a parting tool

Step 20

Clean up the top of the barrel and level ready for gluing on the other segmented ring. As before, apply glue to both surfaces and centre and support the ring on the tailstock using a flat MDF disc separated by a piece of foam - this will ensure even pressure

Step 21

With the barrel supported on the lathe steady, the inside can now be hollowed out. If you do not have a lathe steady, then the same support can be achieved by gluing four supporting struts to the outside of the barrel while it is still straight-sided. Use a hollowing tool to remove the bulk of the inside of the barrel. You can now tidy up the inside with a round-nosed scraper followed by a teardrop shear scraper

Step 22

After the inside has been hollowed, the barrel can now be supported by the tailstock with a conical jam chuck made from MDF. The outside can be brought down to size using a bowl gouge - starting from the middle of the barrel - and working down towards the rims. When the final shape has been obtained, any light tool marks can be removed with a flat-nosed scraper with the nose down and the heel up. The barrel can finally be parted off from the wooden faceplate with a parting tool

Step 23

The biscuit barrel now requires a lot of careful sanding. Rotary sanding may remove all the tool marks but the sanding rings show up. It's best to sand down the staves with the grain. Apply one coat of sanding sealer, denib and then apply a further three coats of acrylic satin lacquer to the outside of the biscuit barrel. Leave the inside bare for the biscuits. Mount the top on a wooden faceplate and turn down to size. The inside needs to be prepared first, slightly hollowed, and should be a reasonably tight fit to the barrel. Reverse chuck and turn the top - again, this needs to be hollowed. Centre drill the top to take the knob fixing screw. Turn the knob from a small piece of whitebeam using a fingernail gouge, and then centre drill for the fixing screw

Woodworkers Institute

Tagged In:

traditional , Dennis Keeling , segmenting , staved , biscuit barrel

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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.

Additional Tools

For the sledge: 5mm (3/16in) drill, a countersink drill, a 20mm (3/4in) Forstner bit, pozidrive screwdriver, 10mm (3/8in) wood chisel, circular saw, bandsaw, disc sander and drill
For the biscuit barrel: circular saw, planer, thicknesser, bandsaw, stave sledge, disc sander, drum sander, lathe and lathe steady (optional)

Materials Needed For Making The Biscuit Barrel

The dark wood staves are cut from some offcuts of lauan (Shorea cantorta) - a hardwood from the Philippines used for window frames - but any straight-grained hardwood will be suitable
The lighter wood separators and the knob are cut from whitebeam (sorbus) - a tree from my garden that had been planked and dried - but any straight-grained contrasting coloured wood, like sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus), for example, would be suitable

Materials Needed For The Sledge

Base board: 18mm thick MDF - 480mm x 350mm
Fence and clamp board: 18mm MDF - 220mm x 170mm
Guide: 480 x 15 x 3mm strip of hardwood - I used boxwood
Horizontal toggle clamp: 70mm reach
7 x M4 x 30mm countersunk machine bolts, nuts and washers
2 x M8 x 50mm coach bolts nuts and washers


The design was developed using a computerised CAD system - 3D Design Pro and WoodturnerPro. See plan and cutting list above. It is a 16-stave design with separators. The 16 staves will give a stave angle of 22.5 degrees which means a mitre angle of 11.25 degrees

Time Taken & Cost

Time taken: (sledge) 2 hours; (biscuit barrel) 8 hours spread over 5 days to allow the glue and finish to dry
Cost: £20

Cutting Sled Construction

The cutting sled is constructed of MDF and is designed to run in the sliding mitre fence machined slot in a bandsaw table. Bandsaws vary in size so make the sled and corresponding guides of a size to suit your requiements. A dense hardwood strip is used for the runner/slide bar to fit in the bandsaw guide slot. This is fixed to the underside using countersunk bolts. The MDF base-board must have a narrow cut for the blade to just past the centre of the base-board; the strength of the uncut part will be needed to hold the base-board together. Note: the cut is angled to allow the bandsaw table to be tilted to cut at various angles of tilt as necessary. At the end of the central cut a 20mm (3/4in) hole is drilled to allow the table to tilt and the blade to cut centrally at all times. A smaller top fence is made from 12mm MDF that is able to slide via slots onto which is fitted a toggle clamp to hold the wood stable whilst cutting

Diagrams Click an image to enlarge