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Woodworker's Gazette
Gazette Archive 12/24/01

Turning a Potpourri A Pictorial Article by Bob Hamilton

In this article I will attempt to describe how I turn a potpourri container. This one is built up using black walnut and butternut, but I have used many different wood species to make them. I turn them in two pieces and glue the parts together before final turning of the top. I find them to be fun and easy to make, and they make wonderful gifts. Click on the thumbnails for larger pictures of each step in a new window. Close the window to return to where you left off. I hope you find this of interest!

Click on the first thumbnail, then use the "Next step" link to follow along to the end. Click on "Return to index" to return here."

Photo 1: This is the blank ready for mounting on the lathe. I made it by resawing a 5/8" thick slice from a 2" thick butternut board 6" wide. I then glued a 5/8" thick piece of black walnut to the thicker of the two pieces of butternut. The butternut pieces are still oriented the same way they were in the original board. I usually start with boards 3 or 4 feet long, which yield 6 to 8 potpourri containers.
Photo 2: I use a screw chuck for the first mounting of the pieces. It requires a 9/32" pilot hole, which you can see in Photo 1. Here I am using the fingernail shaped end of a 1/2" spindle gouge to chamfer the edges of the hole which makes it easier to get started onto the screw chuck. I just hold the gouge vertically and rotate it in the hole.
Photo 3: I now have the top for the potpourri mounted on the screw chuck in preparation for turning a recess. This will be the inside surface of the top in the finished piece.
Photo 4: Here I have completed turning the recess and it is ready for sanding. I used a 1/4" bowl gouge to remove the bulk of the waste, then a wide, heavy round nosed scraper to fair the curve. Butternut is a quite soft wood and it is difficult to get a clean cut with a scraper.
Photo 5: The recess in the top has now been sanded and is ready for finish. I use a product called Clapham's Salad Bowl finish, which is a blend of beeswax and mineral oil. I rub it into the wood with the lathe stopped, then buff it out with the lathe running. I try not to get any of the finish on the gluing surfaces, but it is still a good idea to wipe them down with mineral spirits prior to gluing the top and bottom together.
Photo 6: Now the recess has been finished and the top is ready to be removed from the lathe. The outside surface of the top is not turned until after it has been glued to the bottom.
Photo 7: The bottom part of the potpourri is now mounted onto the screw chuck in preparation for turning the outside bottom surface.
Photo 8: I use my 4-jaw scroll chuck in expanding mode to mount these pieces for turning the upper surfaces. This picture shows the recess I have cut into the bottom in order to mount it on the chuck. I make the recess about 3/16" deep.
Photo 9: I have started to bring the workpiece down to round, cutting from the center out to the edges. I want to leave some slight flats at the top of the walnut layer to aid in aligning the top when it is glued on. That area is where you see the black mark in some of the photos.
Photo 10: I have completed turning the bottom and it is now ready for sanding. Sharp eyes will notice a slight gap along the glue line between the walnut and butternut. This blank came from the end of the original board and I must have gotten some planer snipe that I didn't notice during my original glue-up. I have worked some cyanoacrylate glue into the crack and sanded to get some sawdust for filler. I hope it doesn't show in the finished piece!
Photo 11: I have finished sanding the bottom and am now ready to apply the finish. There is still some white showing in the gap which is from the accelerator I used on the cyanoacrylate. I hope the finish will hide it. On the lathe bed you can see the 2" power sanding disk that I used to sand the inside of the chucking recess.
Photo 12: The finish has been applied and the white has disappeared. On the lathe bed you can see the 3" power sanding disk that I used when sanding the outside of the potpourri.
Photo 13: I have now reversed the piece and mounted it on the expanding jaws of the 4-jaw chuck to hollow the bowl.
Photo 14: I have marked out the size of the bowl opening by using dividers to measure the recess in the underside of the top and scribing the line onto the top face of the bottom. I am careful to allow only the left leg of the dividers to touch the workpiece while it is spinning.
Photo 15: Hollowing the interior of the potpourri is exactly the same as hollowing any bowl. I use the 1/4" bowl gouge to remove the bulk of the waste and then switch to a round nosed scraper to fair the curve. I aim for a wall thickness of about 1/4" and 3/16" over the chucking recess in the bottom.
Photo 16: The interior turning is now complete and it is ready for sanding.
Photo 17: The sanding is complete and it is ready to be finished. Again I try to avoid getting finish on the gluing surface.
Photo 18: The finish has been applied and buffed out. At this point I remove the piece from the lathe and glue the top on.
Photo 19: This photo shows the top glued on and the piece in clamps. The spring clamps are mainly to hold the piece in alignment until I can get the bar clamps and caul in position. The black match mark helps me maintain the same orientation of the two butternut pieces that they had in the original board.
Photo 20: The glue has dried and I have re-mounted the potpourri on the lathe for the final session of turning.
Photo 21: I have started to bring the top down to round. Again I am cutting from the middle out to the edges.
Photo 22: I used dividers to set the dimension of the top hole a little undersized and the 1/4" bowl gouge to remove most of the material, using a light touch as I approached "breakthrough" to avoid tearout around the inside face of the top. Here I am using a side-cutting scraper to sneak up on the final size of the hole.
Photo 23: I have now finished the turning on the top and it is ready for sanding. I am careful to not reduce the wall thickness too much in the area of the glue joint or I will wind up with another candy dish. :)
Photo 24: The top is now ready for the final application of finish. I recoat the entire piece inside and out at this point to cover any areas that may have gotten scuffed or dulled. Any glue squeeze out on the inside should peel off relatively easily since the interior was pre-finished.
Photos 25: The completed piece with the pewter lid in place.

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