Spinning Top Box archive

Thursday 23 September 2010

Great as a gift or a sophisticated toy, Bob Chapman turns this unique and tactile spinning top box from pieces of oak and padauk


The idea for this project came as a result of an email, which I received from a lady looking to purchase one of my spinning top boxes for her husband's birthday present. I decided to make a selection of boxes for her to choose from, four in total, and each in a different wood. The item in question is a small box in which the lid is fashioned as a spinning top. I have made these for many years and they proved to be very popular when I was doing craft fairs. The result is a smooth and tactile object, and the grain pattern and the two woods work very well together.

Tools used: 13mm (1/2in) bowl gouge, 10mm (3/8in) bowl gouge, 10mm (3/8in) spindle gouge, 25mm (1in) round-nosed scraper, 3mm (1/8in) parting tool and a narrow parting tool

Step 1

The box requires two small blocks of wood. The dimensions are not critical and can be varied to suit the timber you might have available. In this instance, the larger block is oak (Quercus robur) approximately 55 x 55 x 65mm (2 1/4 x 2 1/4 x 2 5/8in) and the smaller is padauk (Pterocarpus dalbergioides) 10 x 10 x 55mm (3/8 x 3/8 x 2 1/4in)

Step 2

It is quite safe to grip a square section like this in a four-jaw chuck, as long as the chuck jaws do not protrude outside the body of the chuck. The square section is turned to the round with a 13mm (1/2in) bowl gouge, although a spindle roughing gouge can be used just as effectively

Step 3

The long point of a skew chisel held flat on the rest is ideal for cutting a small, approximately 5mm (3/16In) dovetail spigot, on the end of the block. This allows the block to be reversed in the chuck and held even more securely

Step 4

After cutting a second 5mm (3/16in) dovetail in the end, a section of the block approximately 15mm (5/8in) long, including the dovetail, is parted off. This will become the lid of the box. As far as possible, we want to avoid losing the grain match, so use the narrowest parting tool you have; this one is homemade from a machine hacksaw blade

Step 5

Working about 3mm (1/8in) in from the edge, use an ordinary parting tool to cut a groove approximately 5mm (3/16in) deep. Ensure that the sides of the groove are parallel to the lathe axis. The bottom of this groove is the shelf, which the lid will sit on. At this stage, its width doesn't matter as it can be adjusted when the box is hollowed

Step 6

Use a 10mm (3/8in) spindle gouge to bore a hole in the box and then widen it out towards the edges of the box. Note: the black ink mark on the gouge, used to indicate the required depth of about 35mm (1 3/8in). Remember to maintain a curve on the interior of the box

Step 7

Use a 25mm (1in) round-nosed scraper for refining the curve and smoothing the interior. Sharpen the scraper and then hone away the burr using a diamond hone or a whetstone. Arrange the rest so that the scraper is perfectly horizontal and its cutting edge is exactly on centre height. Keep the scraper horizontal as you take light cuts until the interior is smooth and nicely curved

Step 8

Sand the interior, then seal and polish with beeswax and Carnauba wax to a soft sheen. Mark the position of chuck jaw number one on the outside, and remove the box body from the chuck. Marking the position of jaw one will allow the box to be replaced in the same position later on

Step 9

Put the lid section in the chuck, gripping it by the dovetail spigot formed earlier. Using a small gouge or even a scraper, shape the underside of the lid to a curve forming a 'spinning point' in the centre. Sand and polish the pointed surface

Step 10

Using a freshly sharpened parting tool reduce the diameter of the lid until it is a tight fit in the box body. Keep bringing up the box body to test the fit and work slowly, removing a little at a time. When a satisfactory fit has been achieved, remove the lid of the box from the chuck

Step 11

Replace the box body, positioning jaw one with the alignment marks you made earlier. Push the lid into the body and make sure everything turns truly with the lathe on. With a drill chuck in the tailstock, drill a 6mm (1/4n) hole about 6mm (1/4in) deep into the lid. If the lid isn't tight enough to allow this, use a layer of tissue to tighten the fit until you can work on the lid without it loosening

Step 12

Change the chuck to one with long-nosed jaws to make holding the piece of wood for the spire easier. If you only have one chuck you'll have to remove the box and replace it later. Use a parting tool to turn down the end 5mm (3/16in) until it is a good fit in the hole in the lid

Step 13

Replace the box in the chuck and use a few drops of Cyanoacrylate to glue the spire into the box lid, bringing up the tailstock for support whilst applying gentle pressure. Take care not to overdo it or you risk splitting the spire. Use a small gouge to shape the top of the lid into the spire. Finish off with the round-nosed scraper, held horizontally on centre, to blend the curve of the lid into the curve of the spire. Note: the top edge of the box body forms part of this continuous curve

Step 14

Use the long point of a skew chisel to shape the top of the spire at about 40mm (1 5/8in) from the top of the box. Take care with this cut and remove the tailstock before finally parting off the waste, still using the skew. This should leave a smooth top surface. Complete the sanding, sealing and polishing of the lid. When finished, pull the lid from the box and sand gently around its edge to ease the fit, if necessary

Step 15

Again, use the long-nosed jaws to hold the box body by expanding them inside the box lip. If you can't do this, mount a piece of scrap wood and turn a spigot to hold the box body as a tight jam fit. Note: the tailstock giving added support. Use a spindle gouge to shape the sides of the box to a gentle concave curve

Step 16

Finally, remove the tailstock. Very gently, because the box is not held very securely, remove the spigot with a small bowl gouge, taking very light cuts. If you are unsure about doing this, leave the tailstock in place and remove the final small stub with a sharp knife at a later date

Step 17

Aim to form a slightly concave base on the box so that it will sit firmly on a flat surface. Sand, seal and polish the whole of the box body

Step 18

Here is the finished box. Note how the lid is flush with the sides and blends gently into the spire. When the box body is turned over, the concave base makes a handy platform to spin the top on

Woodworkers Institute

Tagged In:

oak , Box , Spinning Top , Padauk , Toy , Bob Chapman , gift

Glossary Rollover a term to view its definition

Bowl Gouge , Parting Tool , Scraper , Skew Chisel , Spindle Gouge , Spindle Roughing Gouge , Lathe , Reverse Chucking , Spigot

Handy Hints

1. Honing the burr from the top surface of a scraper makes it much less aggressive to use and will allow much finer cuts to be made. Keep it horizontal with the cutting edge at centre height and use it with a light touch
2. Loose lids are allowed! My wife, who is not a turner, maintains that turners make boxes with tight fitting lids only to show how clever they are. She says that she does not want to have to use two hands to pull the box apart! She simply wants to lift the lid, drop in her earrings and replace the lid, all without moving the body of the box. Lady customers at craft fairs invariably agree with her, so be warned! Loose lids sell; tight lids put off potential customers. If the lid doesn't come off easily they put the box down for fear of breaking it. Most of the boxes I make have loose fitting lids - and it is quite deliberate
3. If you have to allow the chuck jaws to stick out from the chuck body, it is a good idea to wrap a couple of turns of brightly coloured insulating tape around the protruding ends of the chuck jaws. Not only will they help to remind you, but they will also cushion the blow if you forget
4. When parting off a section for a box lid always use the narrowest parting tool you have available. The less wood you remove in the cut the better the grain pattern will match from the body through into the lid. Ultimately, this will all add to the aesthetics of the final spinning box design

Design Influences

The inspiration for the design came from the earring stands I also made during my craft fair days, which had a tall spire on top for holding rings. It occurred to me one day that a small box could also have a ring spire on the lid and, after visualising that idea, it was only a small step to the spinning top design. The design has the added advantage that while women might see it as a box for earrings and rings, a man will more likely be intrigued by the spinning top aspect

Woodturning Says...

Boxes are fun to make and one can use off cuts of timber that do not cost a lot of money. Try contrasting timbers for the lid and base if you do not have enough to make a complete piece out of one timber