Floating display shelf
Split turning techniques make a fun and functional shelf.
Synopsis: These display shelves are made four at a time, glued up from a blank of four square pieces. Mark Gardner turns the glued-up blank into a pod shape, decorates it with beads or coves, splits it into four pieces, and ends up with four wall shelves. He adds a French cleat and a finish, and his floating shelves are good to go.
Bandsaw the blank, then turn it
When you get to the lathe, you’ll start by turning the blank to a cylinder. To speed that process, first cut the corners off the blank at the bandsaw with its table tilted 45°. Use a compass to lay out the largest circle you can on each end of the blank. Then use a combination square to lay out an octagon around the circle. Connect the points of the two octagons with lines along the length of the blank; they’ll guide the bandsawing.
After bandsawing the blank, mount it on the lathe and use a spindle-roughing gouge to work it down from octagonal to cylindrical. Once the blank is round, mark a centerline and both end lines with a pencil. I use a 1⁄2-in. bowl gouge to turn the waste at either end down to roughly 1-1⁄2 in. dia.
To create the overall football or pod shape, start with a roughing gouge and finish with a 1⁄2-in. spindle gouge. As you approach the final shape, pencil lines on either side of the centerline every 3 in. Using calipers, check the diameter at corresponding pairs of reference lines to determine that the form is symmetrical. Now reduce the 1-1⁄2-in.-dia. waste ends to about 3⁄4 in. dia., so they are just the pine filler.
I fine-tune the pod shape with a shear scraper. Then I lay out lines to turn either beads or coves. Here I’ve chosen beads, and I used 3⁄8-in. and 1⁄4-in. spindle gouges to turn them. I graduate the size of the beads or coves: They’re larger at the center of the form and get smaller toward the ends. When the beads are finished, I sand out any tool marks.
To split the blank, remove it from the lathe and rest it on a couple of sandbags on the workbench (I made some from the legs of old blue jeans, an idea I got from a mentor of mine, Stoney Lamar). After cutting off the waste bits at either end of the blank with a handsaw, split the blank with a wide, heavy paint scraper (not a putty knife). It is thin enough to enter the joint easily but stiff enough to pry the pieces apart. I’ve found that using a chisel for this task can damage the pieces, especially if a filler piece isn’t used. Place the beveled side of the scraper toward the pine filler. Give the handle several good knocks with a mallet and the piece should split on the paper in the joint. I usually have a wooden wedge or two on hand in case the joint needs extra persuasion.
From Fine Woodworking #291
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