Highland Woodworking
Turning the Corner: Large Platters
By Temple Blackwood

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Turning the Corner focuses on using woodturning on the lathe as a way of enhancing cabinetry, furniture designs, and architectural installations. Each article also suggests an important woodworking book to read, reread or listen to, and a link to an appropriate article in The Highland Woodturner. Along the way, these articles seek to inspire woodworkers (cabinetmakers, carpenters, and housewrights) to extend their skills into basic, novice, and advanced woodturning while discovering for themselves this particularly sensual and spiritually rewarding dimension of working with wood.

In early September, one of my regular vendors referred another client of his to me when the client asked him where he could get a large, flat 19-1/2" tabletop with a shaped curb turned for him to copy a larger but old tabletop sample. We made contact, and he showed up a few days later with his lovely walnut blank already prepared with a glued mounting block we had discussed. I turned his top the following week.

When he returned to pick up his prize and the sample, he brought a friend with a similar challenge – to copy an existing 20" antique serving platter which had been damaged onto his mahogany blank. This one had no glued mounting block, and because it would be used as a platter/tray he wanted no marks on the bottom.

When we discussed the work, he decided to refine the curb-edge profile to make it more like his friend’s, a bit deeper and with a more dramatic transition half-cove with shallow steps.

The challenge of turning large diameter, thin disks on the lathe is to adequately support the work during the turning and flattening process. Because the wood is flexible, the turning must proceed from the outside in and must be supported throughout the process. With the bottom of the blank already flat, it was fairly simple to set up a jam-chuck arrangement using my oversized (18") plywood-with-cushion faceplate to provide the support, center and mount the work with a heavy live-center on the tailstock.

With the blank carefully bandsawn round, the mounted piece needs to be further trued using a 1/2" bowl gouge and the initial cuts of the profile edge and back roughed.

One of the key tools for making these large, flat, precise platters is the scraper. The pictured set of Sorby scrapers has served me well over many years and benefits from being high-quality, heavy, thick steel which has a burnished cutting edge that wears well. The significant weight of each tool prevents the tool from vibrating under the pressures of the cutting variable as the wood changes from end grain to side grain.

Using the differently shaped scrapers to copy the profile, mark a 1/64" stepped shoulder on the back (underside).

This is as critical as copying the precise profile (more by eye than by measure) of the original sample.

With the outside edge and rolled-to-step back shaped (notice how well the cushioned faceplate supports nearly the entire blank), the next challenge is to shape and form the top (front) and inner curb which will also ultimately establish the "depth" of the tray’s flatted surface.

In this case, the actual thickness of the tray will be 3/8" across the surface.

One fundamental aspect of using scrapers is to keep them sharp. Mine are sharpened first by cleaning off the old edge with a flat stone and then grinding (all at the same angle) using my 220 grit CBN wheel. The raised burr from the grinder creates an effective cutting edge.

With the outer perimeter tray-edge defined with its inner step-shoulder, the freshly sharpened 1/2" scraper becomes essential to define the modified inner half-cove that the client asked for.

A careful study of the sample, somewhat distorted by the thin, painted, yellow line leads to completing the profile and details of the curb and setting the pattern for flattening the surface.

The tedious process of removing the bulk of the surface wood to "flat" requires care and patience that begins with the 1/2" bowl gouge carefully applied to reduce the center core. This becomes less time-consuming with practice like so many skills, but cutting these large, single-board, high value blanks always requires intense concentration and frequent stops to measure and evaluate. Working always from the outside (thin) toward the inside center (thick), the larger diameter of the outside must be completely flat and finished before thinning the inner diameters to achieve a "flat" surface.

Once the inner support has been reduced to a small pin, it becomes even more obvious how important the full, cushioned support of the large back-mounted faceplate continues to be.

Sanding begins with turning on and positioning the dust-collector, followed by working through the
grits 80 to 320.

The final mounted sanding works well with the paper (320 then 400 then 600 finally 800) mounted on a flat block of wood to highlight areas of the surface that need a bit more work.

And the last step on the lathe is to carefully reduce the size of the jam-chuck pin to make the off-lathe surface finishing more efficient.

With the platter off the lathe and settled comfortably on the workbench, the final removal of the pin occurs by using a bench-chisel, bevel down, to cut across the grain (not with the grain). This cuts through any grain fibers that might want to lift a splinter beyond the planned work area. Glue plus wood dust repairs at this point will be more than objectionable and obvious.

The final sanding with the grain at this point further flattens the surface, blends in the center portion where the live-center pin was removed and allows for a careful check to be sure it is indeed flat. Another test of the flatness, assuming a level and flat workbench below, is a single marble pushed gently in any direction.

In both the case of the first tabletop and the case of this platter, the clients brought blanks for finished items slightly smaller than the original samples.

When the delighted client returned to pick up his new 20" mahogany tray and the sample, he brought with him the new challenge. He wanted yet a second copy turned using a roughed and warped 32" black walnut blank. This will definitely be an outboard turning project for its own day.

Click here to visit the Woodturning department at Highland Woodworking

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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