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Woodturning a Lidded Box - Part 2
By Temple Blackwood
Castine, ME

Click on any image to see a larger version.

In Part 1 of this series the goal was to turn a lidded box with the top turned from its original vertical orientation to sustain figured grain running through the piece from bottom to top. In the specific case of our sample box, the running lines of spalting line up smoothly and do not appear disconnected by the separation of lid from box.

This Part 2 article looks more specifically at turning the lid from a box-block in the inverted position. Working in this method allows the turner to do much more to embellish the underside of the lid before parting it off, reversing it, and fitting it to the body before shaping the knob/finial.


If you need a review of the lidded box turning process from Part 1, click here:

Inverted Lid Box

In the process of teaching new woodturners to learn how to turn a specific object, we work first from models trying to copy the design, discover the most efficient progression of tools and cuts, and refine the skills of riding the bevel, positioning the gouges, feathering the scraper, and maintaining the sharpness of each tool – all technical challenges that lie at the core of becoming successful.

As the students build their experience, the next major hurdle is the challenge of design, the challenge of creating an image of the end-goal visual look of the turned object.

This stage of creation typically stymie's the student (and occasionally all of us) because the blank "canvas" of a newly rounded block of wood offers an infinite variety of possibilities for shape and form and decoration, a wonderful if sometimes paralyzing reality.

On this occasion, beginning with the rounded blank and thinking about the underside of the lid being exposed, the turner has a great deal of control over what might decorate the inside of the box, that eventual surprising discovery that someone might experience when the box is opened.


In this box, a small acorn is formed using a finger-nail grind 1/8" gouge, a simple but easy shape to create because the end grain orientation is quite firmly attached.

The lid's underside is also slightly dished (concave) to reduce the lid's weight, to create more inner space in the box, and to protect the ornament.

Other choices for this might include attaching a small gem stone or other-media artifact, using the chatter-tool to carve the distinctive waves, or hollowing the lid more dramatically as shown in the box in Part 1.


The next step is to define the shoulder that will become the pressure fit spigot (tenon), which will form the tight bond into the body of the box (mortise).


Using the small gouges with the fingernail grind allows the turner/designer to form the thickness of the lid as well as to rough turn the potential final shape of the outside of the lid.


The cleaner cuts made at this point will help facilitate the final shaping and finishing.


The other advantage at this point is that the turner can preserve a ridge on the body that will help mark the point where the mortise in the body can be quickly sized to the lid's tenon when the lid is parted off and turned around.


After parting off the lid, use a sharpened scraper or apply a skew chisel on its side to accurately size the mortise to create an extremely tight fit for the lid. This is a critical point where stopping to test the fit is well worth the extra time.


A tight fit here will also allow further refinement to the shape and design details of the lid as well as another opportunity to add chatter. Chattered decorations and sharp design lines seem to always generate interest and comments.

In the demonstration image, the tailstock with a blunt live-center adds an important measure of support for the stress of the chatter tool.

Unless the blank is extremely dry, the later drying action of the box will potentially help seat the lid, and the lid itself will keep the box round as it dries and adjusts over time.


With the lid complete, the turner can dress the outside of the box and either alter (by beading or coving delicately) or sharpen the actual joint between lid and body. In the case of this sample, a simple friction polish completes the outside.


The next step is common to all boxes regardless of the orientation of turning the lid and its details – hollowing.

For this box, using a well-sized forstner bit to drill nearly to depth followed by a well- supported and sharpened side/end flat scraper (note the special tool-rest that internally can support the scraper) makes quick work of completing the hollowing process.


The inside bottom of a box like this might be flat (flat scraper), concave (rounded scraper – pictured), or some combination of each. Be sure that a concave design does not intrude on the slight dishing of the outside bottom, a last step.


The choice of how to approach turning the lid of a lidded box depends upon the turner, the vision of the final design, and personal preference.


As a demonstration activity for the public, this project offers an opportunity to capture the audiences' attention over a longer period while showing off a number of different simple turning skills.


Parting off the final box with a thin parting tool or even the specialized fluted parting tool can be a dramatic ending to a public demonstration. While this is relatively simple to do, the one caution is to understand the weakness of the end-grain as the parting diameter becomes small by keeping the tools sharp, avoid scraping or twisting, and anticipate the potential for pulling out the bottom, especially if the bottom is dangerously thin.

Lidded boxes are fun and challenging to turn, and the public's appetite for them in most woods and shapes seems endless. The infinite variety of shapes, forms, colors, and decorative detail makes this a wonderful and rewarding challenge to the turner/designer.




Located in Castine, Maine, Highlands Woodturning gallery and shop offers woodturning classes and shop time, a gallery of woodturned art, custom woodturning for repairs, renovations, and architectural installations. You can email Temple at temple@highlandswoodturning.com. Take a look at Temple's Website at http://www.highlandswoodturning.com/.

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