January 20, 2008

Cherry Wood Chalice

Filed under: Wood Work — sarah @ 9:39 pm

Wooden chalice

When I was about ten I helped my dad make this wooden cup. I then used it to drink mead from at our wedding and it sits there on display in our living room to this day. I couldn’t remember much of how it was made other than that it involved a lathe so I’ve again asked my poor old dad to write how it was done for me – here is what he’s done for me:


For turning you will need a lathe, which is a machine for spinning a piece of wood fast enough for you to use a chisel to cut parts off. OK I simplified it a bit (alright a lot).

First, select a suitable piece of timber.

I was lucky as I had been given a piece of cherry wood that had sat in a garden for several months seasoning.

A piece of wood from a tree comes complete with bark which has to be removed before you can start turning. This is easy if the timber is seasoned.

First make one end flat and about 90 degrees to the edge, i.e. the ‘sides’ that had the bark on. A hand saw is the best tool for this job.

Then draw some lines across the end to find the centre; you will also have to find the centre of the other end.

My lathe is old and cheap, so if yours is new and/or expensive some of the following may not make sense.

Place the log on the bowl turning plate. On my lathe this amounts to a plate with holes to enable you to attach the wood with screws. Once the timber is attached use the plate as the headstock. That’s the part that is fixed to the motor and spins the wood.

Next, slide the tailstock up to the log. This is a single point and should be pushed into the centre mark of the log and tightened.

At this point you are ready to start turning.

Start the lathe and begin turning using a large gouge. That’s the half round jobby, er, chisel.

The big gouge will remove the bark and enough wood to make the log round even though it will be a bit on the rough side. Regularly check to make sure that the tailstock is tight in the wood, otherwise whatever you are turning will tear out of the tailstock. Don’t ask how I know this will happen.

10 year old girls and even younger children quite enjoy this part of the process as it throws rather a lot of wood chips in all directions. Yes it is quite safe for children to do this, providing that you never ever leave them alone.

When there are no low points on the wood you can change to a skew chisel, which will enable you to obtain a much finer finish. A skew chisel is a flat blade with a cutting edge on the end that is angled.

Once you have achieved a smooth finish, stop the lathe and mark the dimensions of the chalice i.e. depth of the bowl, length of stem and the depth of the base, with a pencil. A short pencil mark is all that is needed as, when you start the lathe, they will appear as feint lines around the wood which can be drawn completely round by holding the pencil on the mark.

Now using the bottom point of the skew chisel you can begin to shape the piece by moving it either left or right and pressing the point to get a deeper cut and a nice smooth curve.

When you have achieved the desired shape for the chalice it should be completed with sandpaper. Medium rough texture first and then fine to give a very smooth finish. I chose a simple design suitable for a 10 year old. Sadly she thought it was far too simple. So I advise you to talk to your children and listen very carefully to what they tell you, then talk it over until you find out what they really want.

Remove the tailstock and place the chisel rest in the correct place and you are ready to shape the inside of the bowl using a small gouge. This is done by placing one half of the cutting edge close to the edge of the bowl and moving it to the centre. Do this until the required depth is reached, making sure that you do not cut the wall of the chalice too thin. Finish with sandpaper as before.

Finally I gave it two or three coats of yacht varnish so that it could be used as a drinking vessel. It seems to have worked.

Enjoy your turning.

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