Turned Wave Platter
Turning Project: Use your lathe to turn an offset platter with wave-like undulations on its surface. It’s easier than you’d think.
This project started, like most of my projects, by someone telling me I couldn’t do it on a lathe. As we all know, lathes rotate wood that is centered on a chuck, and you can only cut away wood while the piece of wood is evenly turning around that axis. This means you cannot make off-center cuts in the wood with the usual mounting.
I’m always up for a challenge and thought to myself, “How hard could it be?” Those of you who are on the Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement forum, and are familiar with my signature, know the rest of that sentence… “People do this every day.” After discussing the possibilities with a few of the members, I set to work to figure it out.
I’m like most of you; I have lots of great pieces of wood stashed away for that someday when I find the perfect use for it. I have been very lucky in the past and have bought lumber on the CW&HI forum and was able to find someone who could bring it to Manitoba. I have mostly maple, cherry and walnut, but a number of exotics as well. I make use of this wood in my shop for furniture, cutting boards and art pieces. I have boxes and shelves of “leftovers,” and we all know the leftovers can sometimes be better than the original meal.
I smile as I see lots of ghosts of past projects, but when I spotted a maple square 12″ x 12″ x 2″ I had an idea to make this offset platter. I wanted a heavier platter, and I didn’t think 1″ material would be beefy enough. You could use whatever wood you found that would make a big enough and deep enough recess for the dish you chose.
To lay out the blank, Chemerika marked the location of the center recess that holds the salsa dish, then worked forward from there, adding on enough waste material on the other two sides to make it safe to turn. Notice the piece of paper in the joints between the waste and workpiece.
In order to avoid driving screws directly into the workpiece, Chemerika attached a piece of plywood to the back of the workpiece that she could attach the face plate to. She included a piece of paper between the plywood and workpiece so she could easily remove it later.
Mounted and Ready
Now that the workpiece is ready for turning, mount it on the lathe, set your tool rest, and give it a spin.
With the center recess carefully formed, the waves shaped, and the surfaces sanded, you can remove the platter from the lathe.
Tap, Tap, Tap
A few taps of a well-positioned chisel will separate the workpiece from the plywood sub-base.
What comes first? The dish or the platter?
My dish size is based on a very nice pottery dish made by a talented local potter, Sue Devar. It’s easier to find the dish first and make the hollow to fit it rather than the other way around. A dish too big or too small for the wood you want to use will not look as good as designing the wood to fit the dish. Also you can finish the plate with the colors of the dish in mind if you want. I use aniline dye to get a complementary color that worked well. I know lots of people love things to look like they belong together. You know who I’m talking about here.
On my maple square I determined where the center of the dip dish recess would be and what the overall size would be. I wanted the recess to be the focal point of the platter and have waves around it to hold crackers or chips. I didn’t want the dish to overhang the edge of the platter because I want to reduce the tipping hazard. I marked the circumference of the dish bottom on the square of maple so I could see where the center of the built-up blank needed to be.
I then found some scrap wood and glued it to the sides of my maple to build out a square big enough to provide the waste block required for safe turning. Using scrap material of a similar density works nicely to keep the blank balanced as it rotates. I had some 2″ spruce, which is less dense than maple, but I’ll tell you how I overcame this difference shortly.
Turners often will attach two pieces of wood with glue, but with a layer of heavy paper between the two pieces of wood. It makes a solid enough glue joint to hold the wood together but is easy to get apart later. I save old poster-style calendars for the heavy paper, but any paper thick enough to separate the parts will work. The reason I do this is so I do not have screw holes or other defects in my project when I am finished. I used card paper between the waste and the maple for easier removal later on.
Trim and mount the blank
I cut out a round blank, with the dip bowl recess marks centered on it. I then mounted it on the lathe, by gluing on a round of scrap wood, again using heavy paper in between. I then could screw through a face plate only into the scrap wood on the blank and have no screw holes in my workpiece.
The density of the two different woods in the turning blank make it unbalanced. To help the blank run more smoothly, I screwed pieces of wood onto the back of the spruce parts of the blank until it was better balanced. If you loosen the belt on the lathe so the blank will turn freely on its own, you can see where the heavier part of the blank is, as it will gravitate to the lowest spot of the rotation of the lathe. If you keep adding or moving weights until the lathe will rest at any place in the rotation without moving, the balance is pretty close.
Turn the waves
When the blank has been turned so all sides and faces are resurfaced, with the rotation of the lathe we call this “trued up”. I then started to turn the platter. I started with the hollow for the dish, which was centered on the blank. I tested the fit of the dish as I went to ensure it sat in the recess nicely. I then started shaping the groves for the chips. With a little bit of math I was able to mark on the blank the approximate locations of the tops of the waves, as well as the bottoms of the valleys. Luckily the size of the chips doesn’t really factor in, as they just sit wherever they fall on these waves. I tried to make the waves look like they were spreading out from the center of the blank, like the natural ripples of water when a raindrop hits it. When done turning the waves, I sanded and dismounted the platter from the lathe.
Remove the workpiece
The paper between the plywood and my workpiece made the removal of the blank easy. Just a few taps with a chisel is all it took.
I used the band saw to separate the maple from the scrap spruce wood blank. These are straight cuts, so any saw could be used. The saw cuts should be in the spruce and not the maple. You might even be able to use a chisel to open up the joint along the paper line. Paper was sanded off the edges, and then the whole piece finish sanded and prepared for finishing.
I wiped the platter down with a wet rag to raise the grain, and when it dried I sanded it smooth with a fine grit. I find maple a little dull on its own, so I used a mix of water-based aniline dyes to make the plate a rich dark red/brown. Mixing colors is not easy for most of us. I try to use very small amounts of the dye powder dissolved in hot water. Writing down the colors and ratios used will help when you want to mix enough for your whole project. I keep sampling the color on a scrap of wood of the same species. I want to make sure I like it before I use it on my project. When the dye was dry, I coated it with a few coats of polyurethane to get a nice shiny finish, sanding between coats.
After I made the platter above, I thought the spruce waste pieces were just that…a waste. I was thinking there could be a use for them, as additional serving pieces. I glued up some birch I had to make a 24″ x 1″-thick, round lathe blank.
I followed the same steps to mount the blank on the lathe by gluing it to a waste block and screwing that to a faceplate just the same as the first platter. I turned the same pattern on the face of the blank, released the blank from the faceplate and sanded off the paper from the back. I followed the same pattern as the first platter, leaving the dip hollow on the center piece. I then cut up my turning into the three pieces, in the shape you can see. Now I have the chips and dip platter, plus two additional serving platters that fit together nicely.
The platters can be put together into one, very big, round serving arrangement, or it can be placed separately over a serving table. I had many people tell me what a great idea it was to have all the different serving options and it that fits into the cupboard nicely for storage.
So I think I can safely say that these platters can be done on the lathe, they can be made with little lathe experience or skill, they can be made from shop scraps, and they can adorn your next party table. They just can’t stop your spouse from eating all the chips.