Canadian Woodworking

Build a textured tealight holder

Author: Rob Brown
Photos: Rob Brown
Published: February March 2013

This is the perfect project to introduce yourself to adding texture to wood.

The simple overall shape of the project, combined with the unadorned surfaces, allows you to add texture in a way that interests you. It can be tiny pin-holes covering the surface, cross-hatching with a sharp knife or, as I chose, a series of grooves made with a carving gouge. It’s a good idea to practice on some scrap wood first.

Any wood that is nice to carve is a great choice for this proj­ect. Maple, cherry and walnut are all good options, but I went with mahogany, which is also very satisfying to work with these hand tools. Though you can select a figured piece, it may get lost, or at least be unnecessary, if you add a lot of texture. While you’re out picking up wood, grab a package of tea lights so you can make sure they fit in the holes you drill.

The two long, straight sides, which meet with slightly curved ends, are what I thought looked nice, but feel free to play around with some different shapes to come up with something you like.

Simple Angled Cut
 With his bandsaw table set to 20¼, Brown trims the curved ends to size.

Felt, Not Seen
 Brown adds grooves in either end with a #6 x 13/16" gouge. When the holder is picked up it will be felt, but these grooves will rarely be seen.

Fast and Accurate
 Using a fence clamped to your drill press will speed up the process, as well as ensuring the holes are all equidistance from the edge.

Play With the Light
 After drawing two pencil lines on the surface to be carved, Brown added grooves to the surface. The light provided by the tea-light will cause these grooves to become even more visible during use.

Full Circle
 Brown continued the grooves around the sides with a #10 x 3/4" gouge. Notice the white ash backer board clamped in the vice, to reduce splitting on the far side of the workpiece.

Break out the Small Blank

Dress the blank to 13″ x 3 1/2″ x 1″ thick. Draw a centerline on the upper face. With a compass set to mark a 4″ radius, lay out both curved ends. Set your bandsaw table to 20¼ and trim the ends. Sand the two endgrain surfaces smooth.

Now Comes the Fun

Well … if you have sharp carving gouges, that is. If this is the first time you have used a gouge, take the time to sharpen it so it cuts as well as a sharp chisel. Otherwise, you will be very disappointed and frustrated. Clamp the workpiece firmly in a vise so its end is up. Use a gouge to cut short, evenly spaced grooves in the endgrain, stopping just before they exit the top surface. They don’t have to be perfectly parallel, or the exact same width or depth. I feel a bit of unevenness adds a more organic, natural look that lets the user know this piece was made by hand, not machine.

To contain the three tea lights, drill three 1 1/2″ diameter holes. If the holes are centered on the board’s width, they are somewhat lifeless, but if they’re slightly offset it adds a bit of tension and intrigue to this small project. After laying out the hole locations set up a fence on your drill press. With the fence in place, you’ll only need worry about adjusting the work­piece in one direction to drill the different holes. Don’t forget to set your depth stop so the holes are the same depth as the tea lights.

More Texture

Sand all the surfaces then break all the edges. I strongly urge you to not sand any of the carved areas, as the surface left by a sharp gouge can’t be improved upon. The grain is clear and the edges are crisp, creating a nice look and feel. Now more grooves are added midway between the end and one of the tea light holes. I drew two perpendicular lines on the surface, two inches apart, to help guide me as I went. I find the best grooves are made in one pass, but I will admit that this wasn’t always the case for me. Sometimes I had to go back and deepen a sec­tion of a groove so it looked similar to the others near it.

To protect against tear-out as the gouge exited the wood, I clamped an additional piece of wood between the trailing edge of the workpiece and the vice.

Holding the gouge at the correct angle takes a bit of prac­tice, but the learning curve is steep. The gouge reacts different depending on the species you’re using, as well. Once you fin­ish the grooves on the upper surface rotate the workpiece and add mating grooves on both sides, exiting on the underside of the tea light holder to hide any tear-out that might occur. I also added grooves on the underside of the piece, so light could pass through below the finished project.

A Nice, Simple Finish

I used one coat of an oil/varnish mixture to finish the piece. It provided a bit of protection to the wood and brought out the grain and colour of the mahogany. Two things it didn’t do was fill the pores of the carved wood, or add a heavy film to the surface, evening out any crispness.

Rob Brown - [email protected]

Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement. Instagram at @RobBrownTeaches

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