Tunbridge Ware Box archive

Friday 14 October 2011

Dennis Keeling takes influence from ancient Tunbridge Ware and creates this lidded box using offcuts of Corian


Incorporating pictures into turned vessels is very popular with segmenters in the USA. But it was also made popular nearly 200 years ago by the turners of Tunbridge Wells in England and Sorrento in Italy.

Tunbridge Ware, as it is known today, was crafted by gluing thousands of strips of different coloured woods together to form a mosaic picture.

This is not like marquetry using a veneer; this is a bit like Blackpool rock with the picture going all the way through the glued up composite.

I thought I would revive this old tradition but instead of using strips of wood, I would use Corian which I had available in many different colours. A castle was a widely used design by the turners of Tunbridge as the ramparts worked very well with the mosaic pattern.

Tools used: Tungsten-tipped shear scraper, negative-rake side scraper, negative-rake flat end scraper, skew chisel and hand plane

Step 1

After trial and error I finally found that 3mm (1/8in) square strips of Corian give you enough mosaic components for the 40mm (1 5/8in) segment width. Start by cutting the 13mm (1/2in) Corian sheet into slabs which measure 300mm (11 3/4in) long. These can then be cut on the bandsaw into 4mm (5/32n) x 13mm (1/2in) strips. You can now cut the strips into 4mm (5/32in) square lengths. Use white, granite, black and green strips for the design. The door needs to be made from a strip of mahogany (Khaya ivorensis); the top then needs to be hand planed to give the apex - you can't plane Corian

Step 2

Clean up the 4mm (5/32in) square lengths on the disc sander, bringing them down to approximately 3mm (1/8in) square. They don't have to be very accurate. You will need over 100 square sections for this design

Step 3

I framed my early attempts in a 'U' shaped trough using 6.5mm (1/4in) white Corian, but this limited the size of the mosaic picture

Step 4

Construct a wooden trough from scrap timber and line with polythene sheet; this will enable the mosaic picture to be built up to the full width of the segment - 40mm (1 5/8in). Use white Corian strips 6.5 x 40mm (1/4 x 1 5/8in) for the top and bottom of the segment stack

Step 5

I found that gluing each strip separately into a composite proved an impossible task. It is easier to construct sets of glued-up strips:

Four across for the stone work and a thin strip of black glued each side of the middle of a wider strip of the same material to form the windows. Glue grey and white strips together to form the battlements. Use a white two-part epoxy glue to simulate mortar in the stone work and use a clear CA glue for the black windows

Step 6

Fix the wooden door centrally to the base piece of white Corian using CA glue, then glue the layers of brickwork using white two-part epoxy glue. Try to glue up the whole composite in one process - it gets difficult at the half way mark. Squeeze the segments along their length to ensure the glue is uniform along the length

Step 7

When the composite has been glued up, add the top strip of 6.5 x 40mm (1/4x 1 5/8in) white Corian and clamp the whole composite to get the air bubbles out and to square off the section. It took me four attempts to get this right; the first three versions came out too crooked

Step 8

After the glue has cured - usually after 24 hours – cut the ends off and clean up the section for cutting. Sand the sides flat on the disc sander ready for cutting the segments on the bandsaw

Step 9

Cut the individual segments on the bandsaw - they need to measure 15mm (9/16in) wide to give plenty of clearance. There

is enough length to get 16 segments from the one composite, which is enough for two boxes

Step 10

Sand the edges of the segments to the 22.5 degree mitre angle on the disc sander. Be careful not to sand too much; they should all be roughly the same size. Try to alternate the segment sides for sanding the mitre angle - it makes the box asymmetrical

Step 11

Before the segments can be glued together it's better to prepare the base. Mount a round piece of 6.5mm x 110mm (1/4x 4 1/2in) diameter white Corian on a wooden faceplate using a paper glue joint. Draw a 100mm (4in) diameter pencil ring on the top to show the centre for gluing up the segments of the box body

Step 12

Dry mount the segments on the base, using a rubber band, to ensure that they come together as a ring. Any badly fitted joints need to be re-sanded on the disc sander until they all fit together cleanly

Step 13

It's easier to glue the segments to the base and together all at the same time. Use white two-part epoxy glue between the segments and the base. Gently hold them in position using a rubber band. Do not clamp them otherwise the glue will be squeezed out of the joints

Step 14

When the glue has cured - usually after about 12 hours - the base can be mounted on the lathe and the outside turned. Use a tungsten-tipped shear scraper to gently clean up the edges and get the box running true. Have the lathe speed quite slow here - about 500rpm - this will avoid the Corian splintering

Step 15

Finish the outside with a flat negative-rake scraper. It's only the burr that is cutting so you need to re-hone the scraper several times to get a good finish

Step 16

Clean up the inside and bring down to size; initially using the tungsten-tipped shear scraper, then afterwards use a negative-rake side scraper. Use a skew chisel to clean up the bottom in flat scraping mode

Step 17

The top is made from a round disc of 13mm (1/2in) white Corian that measures 105mm (4 1/8in) diameter. You first need to glue it to a wooden faceplate using a paper joint; this will enable it to be easily separated later. Recess the top to about 5mm (1/4in) in size to fit the box using a flat end negative-rake scraper. Finally, bring the outside down to the same size as the box body

Step 18

Break the box away from its wooden faceplate and fit it to the top already mounted in the lathe. Hold it in place using a small steb centre on the tailstock. Clean up the base with a flat end negative-rake scraper and slightly undercut it to allow it to sit firmly

Step 19

Bring the outside of the base down to the same size as the box body using a tungsten-tipped shear scraper

Step 20

You can now finish the outside of the box, including the lid, using the negative-rake flat end scraper

Step 21

Sand the box using Abranet sanding discs - starting at 120 grit and working up to 1,000 grit. Finally, polish using a car cutting paste to give a semi-gloss sheen

Woodworkers Institute

Tagged In:

Box , Woodturning , Dennis Keeling , Tunbridge Ware

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About The Author

UK turner 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 and is a Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Turners, producing a DVD on segmented turning, undertaking one-to-one tuition in his well equipped workshop and demonstrating segmented turning both in the UK and USA.
Email: dkeeling@dkeeling.com

Time Taken & Cost

Time taken: 8 hours to make spread over 3 days for gluing and finishing
Cost: Cost of Corian plus £10 for the glue

Materials Required

Corian offcuts: White, grey, black and green
Strip of hardwood: In this example mahogany -
to form the door
Thick CA glue and white two-part epoxy glue


Make a sketch of a basic castle form and try to recreate it in strips of Corian. This project is a small round box with a lid and the design uses an 8-sided segment ring. I used the Woodturner PRO CAD package to get the dimensions of the segments.
The segment size would then set the size of the mosaic composite.
In this case the composite worked out to be 40mm (1 5/8in) wide x 50mm (2in) high x 250mm (9 3/4in) long. This gave me enough segments to make two round boxes

Handy Hints

1. Care should be taken when gluing up the strips; this will ensure that they are evenly spaced
2. Do not be too adventurous with your design - a simple design usually works better
3. Do not expect to get it right first time - I had four attempts!
4. It is important that you take care with the choice of glue that you use. So much of it is necessary for this project that it will become part of the finished design. I decided to choose a white two-part epoxy which looked like mortar in the brick-work
5. Do not worry about voids and air bubbles - they can be filled later with the aid of more glue
6. Make sure the Corian strips are of a consistent thickness - I used over 100 strips for this particular design

Diagrams Click an image to enlarge