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Turning an Egg

by Curtis Turner
Round Rock, TX

An egg is one of the simplest turned forms. However, its simplicity belies the challenges this form holds for the new wood turner. There is a narrow range of acceptability in this form. An egg should not be too rounded, or too pointy. Everyone knows what an egg looks like. If you deviate from this accepted range of "normal," your egg will not look like an egg. This is very different from your other turned work. Your bowl, platter, or box is of your own design. These other items can take whatever shape suits your fancy. However, an ill-formed egg just looks like…well let's be nice and call it an artist's interpretation of an egg.

As a form, the egg is an excellent way to collect and display samples of wood species. The form clearly shows face, edge, and end grain. This form is very pleasing to young and old alike. It invites the viewer to pick up and hold the egg. The size of the egg can be very tiny (think humming-bird sized), up to dinosaur size. Egg turning is a good use for all those bits and pieces of interesting wood we just can't bear to throw away. A nicely turned egg from a showy sample of wood also makes a pleasant gift or display.

I was recently given a small branch of guayacan by a local saw mill owner. This wood has a deep green-figured appearance. Guayacan is also known as lignum vitae. This wood is incredibly hard, with a specific gravity of 1.37. No surprise, this was the hardest wood I have ever turned. This wood is so dense that when placed in water, it sinks without hesitation. Since the stock piece was rather small, a turned egg was the best choice for a project.

A great exercise

A benefit of turning eggs is the sheer practice of tool control it requires of the turner. Yes, the first few eggs will be a scrambled mix of mistakes. (Sorry, I couldn't resist the pun.) At least you are practicing with small bits of wood, and not wasting larger blanks. The egg can be turned with just a few tools. The most useful tools will be a spindle roughing gouge, spindle gouge and yes, the skew. Other benefits: Eggs can be turned on any sized lathe, and they don't take very long to complete.

Picking your material

I would recommend that you select a species of wood that is very cooperative for your first egg. Generally, cherry, walnut or maple would be a good starting point. Green wood would be fun to turn, but will likely distort as it continues to dry. Selecting dry stock will be your best bet. A good starting blank would be about 4-5" in length by about 2" square. This will be mounted as a spindle.

Get it round

For my egg project, I first turned the stock to round with the spindle roughing gouge. I turned the blank between centers, and formed a tenon on one end to mount in a small chuck. I used my Oneway Talon chuck with the #2 jaws for this project. Then I mounted it in the chuck. I brought up the tail stock to re-true the blank. Once the blank was round, I removed the tail stock.

Next, I started working on what I call the "fast curve," or the fat end of the egg. This is the fast curve because this curves breaks or slopes very quickly. I prefer to turn the fast curve on the tail stock side. I have better access this way. If the fat end were near the chuck I would have less room for the tool.

Note: click on any picture to see a larger version.

I switched to the skew and spindle gouge to shape the fast curve, after the bulk was removed with the spindle roughing gouge. This takes a bit of back and forth, first turning, then stopping, and then examining your work before going back to turning again. (See photos above.)

The middle

Once the end was complete, I continued to work from the middle to the "slow curve," or the narrow end, of the egg. It is important to keep a flowing curve to your form. There are no flat spots on an egg. I took time to examine my work as I turned, to ensure I was achieving a pleasing curve.

This portion of the egg can be turned with a combination of spindle gouges and a skew. The skew can be also used on its side as a scraper to blend the curve. (See photo above left.)

I turned the slow curve to about a 1/4" tenon and then sanded the egg. (See photo above right.) I sanded the egg up to 400 grit sandpaper. Then I further reduced the tenon. Finally, I cut the remaining tenon with a thin flexible flush cut saw.

Reverse mounting

Next, I reverse mounted the egg in a jam chuck. (See photo below left.) A jam chuck is simply a piece of wood that is turned and partially hollowed out to receive the project piece. I used an existing jam chuck for this egg. However, the chuck I used was a bit too large to hold the egg snugly. So, I added two pieces of paper towel to hold the egg with a friction fit.

I used the center point of the live center to help center the egg in the jam chuck (See above right.) Fortunately, I only needed to remove a small amount of material, and sanding was sufficient for completion. You may find that that you need to remove more material. If so, you will need a very snug fit. Perhaps even wrapping painter's tape around the egg and chuck will help hold the egg in place.


For this egg, I sprayed on a coat of sanding sealer. Once the sealer dried, I lightly sanded, first with 400 grit, and then with 1,000 grit. I then used the Beal buffing system to bring up a nice gloss finish. (see photo 7) You have many finishing options for this project. They range from no finish, to buffing with the Beal buffing system, to spraying on many coats of lacquer. For example, I once turned a large egg and rubbed on a gold leaf wax, and hid the "golden egg" for my kids to find in an egg hunt.

Turning an egg is a challenging project for many, but with a little practice you can turn out a dozen in no time. Have fun using up all those scraps you've been saving.

Curtis is 2012 President of Central Texas Woodturners, a member of the American Association of Woodturners, and a member of Fine Woodworkers of Austin. Curtis teaches and demonstrates nationally for Lie-Nielsen Toolworks. He also owns a studio where he teaches and works. Curtis lives and works in Central Texas with his wife and four young children. Take a look at his website at www.curtisturnerstudio.com or email him at curtis_turner@sbcglobal.net .

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