In this article I describe turning a piece of wood that is not round, and retains its square corners.
When the piece is turning at high speed the corners become invisible, so I always keep firmly in mind that the only thing allowed to extend past the tool rest is the tool. It is even more important than usual to stop the lathe before moving the tool rest and to rotate the piece by hand to ensure it is clearing the tool rest before switching the lathe on.
Most faceplate turning projects only require that you have one flat face on the blank for resting on the band saw table while trimming it round, and for attaching the faceplate or chuck. However, for this project it is important that you mill the stock for the blanks exactly square and flat on all surfaces.
In order to give enough depth for the candle hole the blank should be at least 1¼” thick, but gluing up some contrasting woods to achieve this thickness affords design opportunities.
Drill ⅞" holes
Cut dovetail recess
Finish and sign base
Round middle of top
Deepen hole for insert
Install brass insert
Prepare and Mount the Blank
• Cut the blanks to their finished dimension of 3¼” square.
• Mark the center points of one face of each blank.
• Using an awl, make a starting dimple for the Forstner bit.
• Bore a ⅞” diameter hole about ½” deep. This hole will serve as the chucking recess for mounting the blank on the lathe and also as the hole for the candle insert. If you are confident that all the subsequent steps are going to go exactly as planned you could bore this hole ⅞” deep now, but I usually leave that until most of the turning is complete.
• Mount the blank on the lathe. I use my smallest chuck jaws (in expanded mode) to grip the piece.
• Take a very light cut across the face to ensure it is flat, and then use dividers to lay out a ⅞” chucking recess for use when the piece is reversed.
Shape The Blank
• Use a small gouge to remove the bulk of the waste from the recess, and clean up the bottom using a small scraper.
• Use the toe of a skew chisel scraper to cut a slight dovetail angle on the side walls of the recess to fit the chuck jaws. Cut the recess about 3⁄16″ deep.
• Start to cut away the corners and curve the sides, cutting from the center out to the edges. This becomes an interrupted cut as you progress up the side and out to the edges, so you need to maintain control of your gouge. You need to decide the line of your cut and follow it regardless of whether there is wood in front of the gouge or not.
• On a blank this size you will get a clean cut at about 1500 rpm. At this speed the “shadow” outline of the corners is very faint – stop the lathe often to check your progress.
• Aim for a gentle S-curve from the base to the corners, leaving the corners about ¼” thick.
• Sand the piece. I use a 2″ power sanding disk in an electric drill. Slow the lathe to about 700 rpm, and sand progressively through the grits from 120 to 400.
• Sand the recess with hand held paper.
• Sign or initial the bottom of the piece.
• Apply your chosen finish. I use a mineral oil/beeswax blend.
Turn The Top Side
• Reverse the piece on the chuck.
• Take a light skimming cut to true the face up before starting to turn it to shape.
• Take a couple of cuts outwards from the middle to get some of the waste out of the way before starting to turn inward from the corners.
• As you cut inward from the corners, the shape of the rim starts to develop naturally as material is removed.
• Cut the rim to a consistent thickness. You can’t really see what is happening with the lathe running, so you need to stop the lathe frequently to check your progress.
• After the rim is completed, return to the central area and shape a round curve down to the ‘gutter’. Use a sharp round-nosed scraper to blend the inner curve with the rim curve.
Insert The Candle Cup Inserts
• Mount a Jacobs chuck in the tailstock and use a ⅞” Forstner bit to deepen the hole to about ⅞”. This leaves enough material under the bottom of the hole for you to clean up the dimple left by the pilot point of the bit.
• You may need to sneak up on the fit of the brass candle cup insert by making light cuts with a small side-cutting scraper.
• Sand the top face of the candle holder using a 2″ disk and electric drill. Keep the face of the sanding disk angled a bit so that it doesn’t catch on the corners. This usually will cause the leading edge of the corners to become slightly rounded over. After you finish sanding you can flatten these edges (and remove any small chip outs) with a block plane. Use a piece of 400 grit paper to ease the ‘sharpness’ on the top edge and corners.
• Rough up the sides of the candle cup insert with 240 grit paper and use a dab of medium viscosity cyanoacrylate to glue it in place.
• Apply your chosen finish.
All that is left now is to turn its mate, because candle holders always come in pairs.
Variation On A Theme
Rather than using a square piece of stock you can cut the corners off the blank before mounting it, so that it is an octagon. This is actually easier to turn and might be a good way to start if you’ve never turned a square piece before. The corners on an octagon are much closer together so you are not ‘turning air’ nearly as much. You can use a mitre saw set at 45° to cut the corners. Since I am not fond of getting my fingers too close to a spinning blade I make the blanks for octagonal holders at least 4″ square. As well, a smaller blank would not give as distinct a ‘scalloped’ effect to the edges.