Three-Tier Platter

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This article is from Issue 102 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Dress up a table to serve in style 

There’s something about a beautifully designed three-tiered serving platter that’s classy, timeless, and certain to impress guests. In addition to its stacking functionality, it looks great as a dinner table or side table centerpiece, and serves for ideal presentation of desserts, chocolates, fruit, and other goodies. For that matter, it’s a wonderful platform to array flowers or small decorative items. Or, when not in play on the dinner table, use it in the kitchen to gain back some valuable countertop real estate. This is a great housewarming present, wedding gift, or simply a wonderful way to thank your favorite cook. 

An enjoyable turning project, this platter doesn’t require any specialized equipment beyond a big enough lathe—just standard turning tools and a lathe-mounted drill chuck. As for size, shape, and material, you have a lot of design leeway. Make the platters larger or smaller to suit your taste and needs; just be sure the base is wide enough to provide good support. I’ll show you how I turned this specific post shape, but amend it as you like. 

I’ll begin by walking you through the steps involved in making one plate. You can then use those techniques to turn the other plates, which are identical except for scale. Same for the different-sized posts that share a basic shape, with just a few differences which I’ll address. As for woods, the only important consideration is to use dry, stable wood for the platters to prevent warping. Other than that, have fun making this your own!

A stack of rounds

This 3-tiered platter consists of 3 plates, 3 posts, and a base. The stepped tenon on the lower end of the bottom post extends through the bottom plate and into a blind hole in the base. The stepped tenon on its upper end extends through the middle plate and into a hole in the lower end of the middle post. A stepped tenon at the upper end of the middle post extends through the top plate and into the lower end of the top post. A flattened sphere at the upper end of the top post provides a handle. 

Order of Work

  • Make the plates
  • Turn the base
  • Turn the posts
  • Finish and assemble


Start with the plates

Bandsaw the plate blanks from dry, stable 5/4 stock and the base blank from 12/4. Screw a 7" dia. × 3/4" waste block to a face plate. Mount the largest plate blank and true its edge and bottom before tackling the edge profile—two coves with a shoulder in between and a rolled rim—that all three plates share. Mark the small and intermediate diameters on the underside as well as the shoulder line on the edge. Turn the center shoulder to its mark before shaping the coves. Drill a 2" dia. hole through the plate and 1/2" into the waste block. Sand the turned surfaces. 

Pop the plate off of the waste block so you can flip it around and turn the upper surface. To remount it so that it is centered, you’ll need a jam chuck, which you can make by adding a center plug to the waste block. To make this plug, turn a short 2-1/8" dia. cylinder with a 2" dia. × 1/2" long tenon on one end. Glue the tenon into the waste block. After the glue dries, remount the waste block and turn the projecting section down to create an easy slip fit in the plate hole. Part the cylinder off at about 1/2" long. 

Double-face tape the plate to the jam chuck, reinforcing it with the base blank as before. Turn the outer bead, in the process creating a 1/8" deep recess across the accessible section of the plate. Remove the base block and continue the recess across the rest of the plate. Sand through 220 grit, employing a sanding stick to help keep the surface flat. When making the remaining two plates, use shorter sanding sticks. Also use the same jam chuck, turning down its tenon to suit.

True the edge and bottom. Mount the plate blank on the lathe by double-face-taping its upper surface to a waste block that has been screwed to a faceplate. Reinforce the connection with the tailstock, using the base blank to distribute the pressure. True the edge and as much of the plate bottom as you can access, removing as little material as possible. Afterward, remove the base blank and finish truing the bottom face.

Turn the center shoulder. Using a 1⁄2" bowl gouge, turn a shoulder halfway across the blank at the intermediate diameter mark. This will become the shoulder that separates the two coves. 

Turn the coves. Referring to the drawings, mark the limits of the upper cove. Use a 1⁄4" bowl gouge to turn the lower cove, moving from the small-diameter mark to the center shoulder. Then turn the upper cove, maintaining the 1⁄8" shoulder in between and stopping 1⁄4" from the upper surface.

Drill deep. Using a lathe-mounted drill chuck and a 2"-diameter Forstner bit, drill a hole through the plate and 1⁄2" into the waste block. You’ll use the waste block hole later to create a jam chuck.

Smoothing moves. Flatten the bottom of the plate using a straight stick with sandpaper stapled to it (80 grit on one side, 100 on the other). Follow up by finish-sanding the bottom surface and profile through 220 grit.

Topside work. After turning the rim bead with the base blank reinforcing the plate, remove the base blank and continue truing the upper face of the plate. 

Turn the base

Mount the base blank bottom-side-out between a flat or concave jam chuck (See onlineExtras) and a live tail center. Turn a tenon on the bottom face as shown. Then reverse the workpiece, gripping the tenon with a 4-jaw scroll chuck. On the edge, mark off the center shoulder height 1-3/8" up from the bottom, and add a 4-3/4" diameter circle on the face to designate the shoulder diameter. Also draw a 3-3/8" diameter circle on the face to indicate the outer diameter of the top bead. Create the center shoulder as shown, then rough-turn the 1/2"-wide top bead. Start turning the actual profile by rounding the bottom bead. Finish the shaping by turning the convex section, the cove, and the two top beads. Drill the 1-7/8" diameter mortise 1" deep, sand the surfaces through 220 grit, and apply high-build friction polish. Finally, reverse the workpiece, mounting it on expanding jaws in the mortise, and turn away the bottom tenon before sanding and finishing the underside.

Shape the bottom face. After truing the edge, turn a 1⁄4" deep recess with a 2" diameter tenon on the face, using a 1⁄2" bowl gouge. Also round the outer corner to begin shaping the lower bead. 

Cut the center shoulder. With the blank reversed and gripped with a scroll chuck, turn the square shoulder that extends from the center shoulder’s diameter line to its height line on the blank’s edge. 

Bead the bottom. After marking off the height of the bottom bead, turn the 1⁄8" deep step that defines its projection. Then complete rounding the bead.

Turn to shape. Switch to a 1⁄4" bowl gouge and turn the large cove and convex section that form the center portion of the profile. Cut from the smaller diameters outward. Be sure to leave the 1⁄8" shoulder that separates the two shapes. 

Finesse the shape. Finish with a 3⁄8" bowl gouge, including rounding over the top bead and finessing the transitional bead below it.

Turn the Posts

As with the plates, the posts share similar profiles, differing only in scale and the treatment of the ends. Begin by rough-turning the top post between centers into a 5"-long × 1-3/8"-diameter cylinder with a tenon on one end. Secure the tenon in a scroll chuck and drill the mortise. Re-engage the live center (in the hole) and mark off the major elements with a parting tool. Turn the piece to its final shape, starting with the bottom bead. Part off the post about 1/2" above the knob. Then make a jam chuck from the excess as shown. Reverse and remount the piece, finesse the profile, and sand it.

The middle and bottom posts are turned in the same fashion, but don’t require the jam chuck. Begin the middle post by drilling its mortise. Then add a stepped tenon to the top when shaping the piece. Make sure the fat section of the tenon is no longer than the plate is thick, and that the narrow section snugly fits the mortise in the top spindle. The bottom post has stepped tenons on both ends.

Mortise the top post. Using a lathe-mounted drill chuck, bore a 3⁄8"-diameter × 5⁄8"-deep hole in what will be the bottom end of the top post. Then true the bottom end or hollow it slightly.

Part and bead. After turning the lowermost 2" of the cylinder to a 3⁄4" diameter, use a parting tool to mark off the bottom bead, the center bead shoulders, and the knob. Finally, switch to a 3⁄8" fingernail spindle gouge to shape the bottom bead as shown here.

Finish the profiling. Continuing with the 3⁄8" gouge, shape the ogee between the two beads. Then remove some of the waste adjacent to the excess and use a parting tool to establish the cap’s 5⁄8" diameter. Finish up by shaping the knob, again with the 3⁄8" spindle gouge.

Jam session. After parting the post free, create a jam chuck by turning a tenon on the excess to snugly fit the post mortise. Slip the post onto the jam chuck, supporting the other end with a live center, and sand and finesse the profile. Finally, part off the waste at the top, and sand and finish that area.

Bottom post tenon test. When creating the stepped tenon at the bottom end of the bottom post, first size it to snugly fit the plate hole. Then mark off the step and use a caliper to gauge the diameter of the section that will fit the base, beginning with a small test cut at the end.

Assemble and finish

Although I applied only a high-build friction polish to the posts, I finished the plates with three coats of a solvent-based wiping varnish, since they may need occasional water cleanup. You’ll want to apply the finish before assembly. For efficiency, I employed stands made from scrap, which allowed me to finish both sides of a plate at once. With the stands at the ready, I held a plate bottom-side-up in the palm of my hand, and used a foam brush to finish the plate bottom. Then I inserted the appropriate-size stand into the hole from the finished side, inverted the plate, and rested it on its stand on the bench. I brushed the topside while reaching into the plate hole to steady the setup. Let each coat of finish cure before rubbing it out with 0000 steel wool and applying the subsequent coats. Also rub out the final cured coat. Then glue all the parts together, making sure the posts are plumb and the plates level.

Finishing set-up. To enable finishing both sides of the plates in one session, make three stands, each with a narrow-shouldered tenon that slips easily into its plate hole.

About the Author

Michael Kehs has come a long way as a woodworker since he spent his youth building birdhouses with his father in their home woodshop. The award-winning artist has been carving since 1980 and turning wood since 1986. These days, he lives in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where he also writes for American Woodturner, and the British magazine Woodturning.


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