Weekend Projects - Seedpod-inspired box archive

Friday 22 July 2016

Nick Arnull takes inspiration from nature and creates and textures this seedpod-inspired box which is made from a piece of English sycamore


For some time I have had a fascination with seedpods and poppy heads. As a result, I have often saved images of these while surfing the internet. Those images inspired the box I am going to make this month. The key element for a seedpod is usually the large body which can often be quite bland but heavily shaped, in comparison to the much smaller top/stalk which is usually considerably more decorative and interesting. I have tried to convey the colours of autumn within this piece using an airbrush to apply artist quality inks. The texture and decoration is created using a high powered pyrography machine. The carving on the body is completed using a rotary handpiece fitted with a carving burr. This project is made using English sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus).

Tools used:

Tipped shear scraper

20mm square-ended box scraper

6mm square-grind bowl gouge

10mm round skew chisel

10mm spindle gouge

6mm parting tool

32mm spindle roughing gouge


1. Protect your eyes and lungs at all times, and work at a speed that allows you to feel both comfortable and safe

2. Always reduce lathe rotation speed when using wood that is not round and when using alternative chucking methods that you are not familiar with

3. Keep the toolrest between you and the work – NEVER let your fingers cross over to the other side

4. Protect yourself from dust when using rotary carving tools

5. When working with small items don’t take risks; it simply isn’t worth it


The first step is to select your timber, mount it between centres and make round using a 32mm spindle roughing gouge. You can then create a spigot at one end of the timber to fit into your chuck


Mark the length of the box and begin to shape the body using a 10mm spindle gouge


Begin to refine the outside shape using a freshly sharpened spindle gouge


Define the final length of the body using a 6mm parting tool


Remove some of the waste timber towards the chuck; this will give access when carving the body later on


Finally, shear scrape the outside of the box with a 10mm round skew chisel


Mark the diameter of the opening at 35mm and create a 5mm flat at the top of the box; this will later become part of the box joint


Begin to hollow out the inside of the box using a 10mm spindle gouge. Take care to avoid damaging the opening; this will need to be tooled accurately using a square-ended box scraper


Refine the interior of the box with a small multi-tipped scraper


Sand the inside and outside of the box at this stage. Apply sanding sealer to the inside only and de-nib

Shaping the outside of the seedpod box


Next, you need to divide the outside of the piece equally into 24 sections then divide this as in the drawing; this will create the 12 equal sections


Carve down the lines using a ‘V’ gouge to produce the low sections between the high points


Next, begin to soften the edges using a carving burr fitted into a rotary handpiece


Remove the waste timber on the opposite side to complete the rough shaping of the body. Try to maintain the position and direction of the carved line as work progresses


Begin to sand the carved areas; I use an old toothbrush that has been modified to accept hook-and-loop abrasives; this really does speed things along. Final sanding is best done by hand taking your time to achieve the best results possible. As you work through the various grades, use water to raise the grain, allow to dry, then re-sand. Once you are happy with the sanding, seal the outside of the box using acrylic spray sanding sealer


With the carving and sanding complete, reduce the spigot at the base of the box. With the lathe stationary cut it free with a fine toothed saw


Using the scrap wood left in the chuck, create a tight fitting jam chuck and fit the box onto this, then carefully remove the waste timber and refine the base of the box. Sand and seal at this stage

Turning the lid


Begin by mounting the blank between centres then create a spigot to hold the blank into the chuck


Mount the blank into the chuck and create the spigot to fit into the box opening. Dish the centre; this area will become the underside of the box lid


Reduce the box lid to a diameter of 65mm


The next step is to sand the lid rim and the centre of the lid


Create a tight fitting jam chuck, drill a hole through the centre of the jam chuck, reverse chuck the lid and turn the outer top profile. You can sand at this stage


Mark and turn a small bead at the centre of the lid then create a cushioned button at the very centre


Using a small drum sander, shape the edge of the lid working towards the line previously marked; take care at this stage to ensure a balanced design (see drawing on page 18 for details). Mark two lines at 5mm and 20mm from the outside edge. Using the indexing head, mark the 12 points around the outer edge of the lid. Simply insert a rod through the hole and gently tap the lid to assist with its removal


Mark the design onto the lid top and begin to burn the design using a pyrograph; this will become the boundary of the textured areas


Using a small ball tip, create the dimples in the surface of the top. The temperature will need to be quite high to achieve this technique. Use a soft bronze brush to remove any carbon, when the burning is complete and before beginning to apply colour

Decoration for the underside of the lid


Using a fish scale tip fitted into the handpiece, create the design around the top of the inside of the lid. Add a second row to add a visual boundary to the design. Then add a bead at the centre to give the design visual balance. Add the texture to the area using the ball-tipped handpiece

Colouring the box and lid


With the body jammed onto a tapered stick apply a base colour of Raw Sienna using an artist’s airbrush. It may take several layers to achieve an even coverage


Add shading and variation using Antelope Brown. This will add depth to the design. When you are happy with the colouring, you can leave it to dry. Seal the surface using an acrylic satin lacquer – multiple light coats are best here


Repeat the colouring for the lid. Placing the lid back into its jam chuck will make it easier to handle whilst painting. Allow to dry before sealing with acrylic satin lacquer


The seedpod-inspired box is now complete


1. Raise the grain of the timber when sanding; this will help you to achieve a better overall finish on the piece

2. Retain textured areas with a boundary

3. Always sharpen your tools before taking a finishing cut

4. Keep your colour palette to a minimum

5. Seal the surface before spraying with acrylic colours

6. Make use of jam chucks where possible

7. Think how an item might be removed from a jam chuck after being worked. For example, a simple hole through the centre would allow a rod to be inserted to aid removal of the item

8. Consider tool access when creating items with carved/decorated areas

9. Try to finish every part of a decorated box to an equal standard

10. Try working at a smaller scale when producing decorative items

11. Before starting a project, consider the chucking methods that will be used and allow waste timber for the project

12. Applying water to jam chucks will ensure that they hold a little tighter/better

13. Leave the wall thickness a little thicker if you are creating a carved surface

14. Look to nature for inspiration

15. Combine different ideas in a sketch/scrap book

Briony Darnley

Tagged In:

Nick Arnull , Weekend Projects

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