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This article is from Issue 67 of Woodcraft Magazine.

A simple accent to give armchair nature lovers a breath of fresh air.

This project combines some unlikely ingredients –a glass test tube and some scrap lumber–to create a celebration of natural beauty that makes a great tabletop display. Inspiration came from the Asian art of flower arrangement, a “less is more” philosophy that favors individual sprigs and blooms over big bouquets. Incorporating curves, arcs, and rounded edges into the design acknowledges the curved forms common in Asian architectural styles.

I’ve made quite a few of these vases in a range of sizes, using a variety of different woods. The sizing and construction details I'll share here will enable you to create your own versions of this small but distinctive project.

Cut & Cold-Formed Curves

Draw, then saw the circular core. The curved trim is cold-formed on a clamping jig. Once the trim has been cut to final size, it can be used to lay out the curved cuts on the core. 

You can adjust the core’s size to suit your stock; 11⁄4"-thick stock suits vases up to 7". For larger vases, try 11⁄2"-thick stock. The test tube restricts the arrangement size, so you won't want a core larger than 10". Make the trim strips 3⁄4" wider than your core's thickness.

It’s OK to round up. Adjust the compass to make the most of your scrap. Saw, and then sand to your line. Save the centerlines for positioning the top and base.

Size, saw, and sand the core

After laying out the core on your blank, bandsaw the circle, and use a disc sander to erase saw marks. Hand-sand the perimeter through 220-grit, and then rout the edges with a 3⁄8" round-over bit. Finish-sand the core, but try to leave a hint of the layout lines. They’ll come in handy when positioning the top and base trim.

Create the base & cap with a bending jig

Put the core aside for now; it’s time to make the curved base and cap pieces. I do this using a process called “cold-lamination,” a simple way to persuade straight strips to follow a curve. All you’ll need is a stack of straight-grained strips, a jig, glue, and a few clamps.

Build the jig shown on page 62. (To make matching forms, I laminated stock to create the 21⁄4 × 31⁄2 × 91⁄2" blank, and then bandsawed an 8"-diameter arc.) To keep the strips from sticking, finish the jig with a couple coats of polyurethane and use waxed paper as shown in the drawing.

A simple form sets the curves Rip the strips. Make the strips about 1⁄4" wider and longer than their finished dimensions so that you can trim to final size. To avoid overtaxing the blade, rip half-way then flip to complete the cut.

To make the laminations, I ripped a 21⁄4 × 4 × 8" block of mahogany into a stack of 3⁄32"-thick strips. (You can substitute any straight-grained wood, but you may need to adjust the strip width to handle the curve.) A bandsaw is my go-to tool for resawing, but I used a tablesaw outfitted with a thin-kerfed blade and a zero-clearance insert for this small resawing assignment. It's faster and you get strips that require little clean-up. Cut four strips for each curve.

To assemble the trim, coat strips evenly with glue, then clamp them together between the forms. The strips have a tendency to slide under pressure, so keep an eye on the centerline and edges, and adjust as needed. Allow at least four hours for the lamination to dry. Remove the assembly, then repeat with the second piece of trim.

After making the curve, scrape and sand any squeeze-out from the edges, and then rip the trim to width. (I used my stationary belt sander and sanded to final width, but the trim is wide enough to rip at the tablesaw.)

To cut the trim strips to length, reposition the piece in the form and measure out from the centerline. Note that the top trim has square-cut ends, while the bottom trim is angled so that the vase can rest on a table top. Next, cut the trim twith a fine-tooth handsaw and touch up the cuts at the disc sander. Finally, hand-sand a slight round-over along all edges and ends and knock down the sharp corners.

Trace the trim. Use centerlines to align the top and base trim with the core, then make the curved cuts on the bandsaw.

Centerlines aid in assembly and drilling

Follow the lines to fit the parts

Using the base and top laminations as templates, align the centerlines and mark the arced cuts onto the core. (If you’re making several vases in different sizes, label the parts to avoid any mismatches.) Next, saw the bottom and top of the core and then check the fit of the base and top against the core. To sneak up on a perfect fit, you can apply sandpaper to the trim and use it as custom sanding block.

At this point, you can finish-sand the base and top. For added contrast, I dyed the trim black (dying the trim is easier before assembly). It took three coats to achieve an even ebony-like hue.

With the parts cut and colored, you’re ready for assembly. Carefully position the base trim so that its edges extend evenly at both ends and at the front and back of the body. I used spacers to center the core on the base when clamping. Repeat this step with the top trim, adjusting the spacers’ thickness to suit.

Combine the curves. The bottom form doubles as as a clamping caul. Shim the core to center it on the trim. 
Don’t forget the test tube. Use the bottom bending form and a stop block to position the vase. Bore through the top and core with a sharp Forstner bit.

Finishing touches

Boring the hole after assembly isn’t difficult, but to avoid a drilling mistake, set the vase solidly against stops, use a sharp bit, and start the hole slowly. To complete the hole, I attached the Forstner to a bit extender (See the Buyer’s Guide on p. 76). In a pinch, you could use a hand-held drill and a spade bit.

The fastest and easiest way to finish small projects is with a can of spray lacquer. I finished a batch of vases over a weekend, spraying, buffing, and recoating until I achieved an even sheen. Three or four coats should do the trick.


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