Lathe Project: Turn a Small Lidded Box

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Turning a lidded box is a great lathe project. They make great gifts and are easy to create using basic turning skills. This woodworking class provides tips for hollowing the narrow, deep interior, creating decorative chatter on the lid and using a specialty chuck for the entire turning process.

Look for a chuck on which all four jaws move together, keeping your turning perfectly centered on the lathe. You should get one that is correctly threaded for your machine. Many chucks are made so that you can use different inserts with different threads in the body. To start, mount the blank, which should be about 2″ x 2″ x 8″ between the chuck and the tailstock. Advance the tail center into the center of the blank before tightening the jaws of the chuck to make sure you are dead center.

Rough the blank round, then dome the lid to shape. Keep the turning between centers. Shear a dome shape onto the end grain of the blank, shooting for the best surface finish to minimize the need to sand end grain. Use your thumb to brace the chisel so the bevel of the chisel rides against the cut.

A chatter tool allows you to intentionally add chatter marks to the end grain of a turning. There are many variables in the setup when using a chatter tool including: the rpm you use, how hard you push on the chisel, how fast you pull the chisel across the work, and how far the tool projects beyond the tool rest. Experiment with the chatter tool to see the different effects you can achieve. If you don’t like what you get you can shear it off and run it again. A chatter tool works best in hard wood and on end grain.

The easiest way to hollow the interior of the box is to drill it out. Create a lip on the bottom of the lid by setting your calipers to the outside dimension of the forstner bit. Use a parting tool to transfer this diameter to the project. Do final shaping on the outside of the box and lid and form the pull, or handle, on the top of the lid. You’ll need to get the tailstock out of the way to do the final shaping of the pull. It may be necessary to support the turning with one hand while making cuts with the other to avoid unwanted chatter.

Before parting the lid, do all necessary sanding. Don’t sand so much that you remove the chatter marks. Carefully part the lid from the bottom by cutting just below the lip you make with the calipers. Don’t let the lid fall to the floor as it comes free. Sand the bottom to clean it up.

The drill chuck should contain a forstner bit that fits in the tailstock to bore out the interior. Mark the depth of drilling on the forstner bit. Reduce the speed of the lathe so you don’t overheat the bit.

If you don’t mind the flat bottom left by the forstner bit, you don’t need to use a chisel on the interior at all. I prefer to use a round nose scraper to change the flat bottom to concave, which also removes the center dimple left by the bit. Sand the interior, but try not to remove too much material or you’ll affect the fit of the lid.

Check the fit of the lid. If it’s too tight, sand the interior lightly until you have a good fit. Be conservative with your sanding so you don’t compromise a good fit.

Before shaping the bottom, measure the depth of the inside, add 1/4″ and transfer that measurement to the outside of the box. This establishes the point where you can part off the box. Then shape a foot on the bottom of the box and sand the exterior. Be sure to include the lid when sanding the exterior so the lid and box are the same diameter.

Apply finish with the piece still on the lathe. Cover the bed of your lathe to protect it from excess finish. Finish the interior and exterior of the base, then put the lid on and add finish to it, too. Apply the finish with a paper towel, not a rag, so that if it catches it simply tears, without pulling your fingers into the machine.

Once the finish is dry, you can part the base. Don’t allow it to fall from the lathe. Sand the bottom of the lid and the bottom of the base. Apply finish to those areas and you’re done!

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