applied turnings

applied turnings

First off – great turnings on the original cupboard I’m copying, and a great photo by Gavin Ashworth. There’s a really stupid debate among maybe 4 or 5 idiots about how these turnings were made. I used to get involved. No longer. Here’s how I made them on my pole lathe. Start with the maple blanks, glued up with a center strip between them.

making turning blanks

The function of the center strip is to engage the points of the lathe – and to keep said points away from the glue line. Way back when I turned a glued-up blank without the strip – it blew up before I was done turning it. The points are wedge-shaped. Tighten the blank in the lathe & stand back.

Here’s the centerpoint in that oak strip.


And then onto the lathe. The photo below is from one of the many other times I’ve written up this same subject.

lathe points on center strip of turning

The turnings are beyond my actual ability, but I can wrestle my way through them. This batch is 1 3/8″ in diameter, about 7 1/2″ long. I leave a section on one end to wrap the cord around.

easy does it

Then time to steam them so the hide glue lets go – this time of year there’s a fire in the stove most days. And when the stove is running, there’s always a pot of water on top of it to keep the shop from getting too dry. So I just rest them on the rim of that pot.


When they look like they’re opening up, I take a chisel to begin the split at the extra bit on the end. But I didn’t get the chisel in the photo.

starting the split

I don’t want to do the whole job with the chisel. It can be too wedge-ish and break the turning at the thin bits. So I switch to a thin knife – in this case a filthy putty knife.

coming apart

It’s a lot of fun getting a batch of these together. There’s eight of this pattern on the lower case of the cupboard.

two of eight

and they get painted black.

one set of turnings

there’s lots more of these to do. All different profiles, but lots of turning to come. Here’s a short video of peeling them apart.

(pt 23 Essex County cupboard project 2021)

14 thoughts on “applied turnings

  1. OK Now I see that you did get the little top to the urn on this. A ton of work, and very elaborate, idiosyncratic profiles.

    • And I remember when we were examining these cupboards with Alan Miller, he always made a point to identify which pairs were present. They’re close, but vary enough among the four pairs to be identfiable.

  2. And Alan Miller always made sure to identify each pair on the cupboards, because they varied enough to tell them apart. I never understood why the pairs would get separated, but now I see your line-up of eight, and obviously they could be scrambled when applied to the case.

  3. That’s interesting. I was assuming they were turned and then sawn down the middle (you’d have to eyeball it a lot and cleanup with a plane) with a rip saw.

  4. those are some lovely turned details! i had completely neglected when i saw them the first time that they’d be a nightmare to turn spinning on a center with the axis being a glue joint. i have seen flywheel diagrams from close to a millennium ago but i have no idea when the flywheel/treadle was combined with a lathe for the first time. was a non-reciprocating lathe used in the seventeenth century or did that not occur until later?

    • 17th century turners had access to pole lathes, treadle lathes & great wheel lathes. We don’t know much about day-to-day operations in any given shop. Artwork from the period, including woodcarvings, mostly show pole lathes.

  5. I like the hide glue and steam application to split the two halves. I’ve used newspaper in the joint with yellow glue. The paper splits just fine, but in your application, the turnings are fragile, so the steaming is a good method. And true about the center board avoiding a wedge action. Nice delicate turnings. As I often say, “the first one is easy to turn, making the other three look the same is a challenge”. I tried turning only once on a pole lathe. The work turns the correct direction only 50% of the time and balancing on one foot while the other is moving up & down takes a lot of getting use to ! I like your early woodwork. Have you ever looked into the woodwork by the Vikings ? That’s early, early !! WES

  6. And now you have a pattern!

    So, this is only worth the time to glue, because it’s being done as if pre-band-saw invented, right?

    Otherwise, you could just do a turning, and then split in two on a band-saw/table saw with some kind of jig to hold it?

    I’ve added small-turned columns to a standing desk before. But was full columns, not split, attached to pine blocks on bottom hidden by molding.

    • Sure – there’s many ways you could do them. But I’m trying to find a way that works with 17th century tools – and of course there was saws then capable of slicing this lengthwise, but then you have to plane the resulting surface. And see an earlier comment above – you need a way to hold the turned piece for both sawing and planing. There is no vice/bench dogs on a period English bench. This method I use isn’t foolproof, but it’s close. Very rare to lose one.

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