Turn A Showy Finial

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This article is from Issue 26 of Woodcraft Magazine.

If you build classical furniture, you need this skill.

Designer/Turner: Craig Bentzley

Common among the traditional furniture styles stemming from the classical revival, turned wood finials serve as a crowning ornament for such pieces as our Colonial-style bookcase on page 24. While some are only turned, others take shape from both turning and carving as shown here. You’ve likely seen finials embellish grandfather clocks, china cabinets, and other classic case workpieces. Here, we focus on a turned vase and flame design and walk you through the essential steps from beginning to end.

Note: For this project, start with a kiln- or air-dried 3"-square blank measuring 9" long. For chuck and tools mentioned in the story, see the Convenience-Plus Buying Guide.

This easy-to-turn finial is the perfect adornment for our Classic Display Case on page 24.

From blank to rough-turned cylinder

1 Make a copy of the full-sized Classic Finial Pattern on page 76, and pin it behind your lathe work area for reference. Consider sizing the finial as needed to suit a project you may be working on and add key diameter dimensions.

2 Mount the blank in a Oneway Stronghold chuck using #2 jaws. Secure the opposite end of the blank with a bearing cup center in the tailstock. Using a 11/4" roughing gouge, round the one end of the blank as shown in Photo A at the recommended speed indicated below. Stop the lathe, change the blank end for end, and complete turning the cylinder.

Tool:  11/4" roughing gouge Speed: 300-500 rpm

3 mark the locations (with the lathe running) of the various elements on the cylinder (tenon, coves, beads, etc.) with a pencil and 12" steel rule as shown in Photo B. Use the dimensioned pattern as a guide.

4 Establish the diameters of the various elements on the cylinder by cutting to depth with a parting tool gauged by a set of calipers. Hold the tool at a slight angle at first and then level the tip as shown in Photo C. Again, use the pattern for reference.

Tool:  3/16" parting tool Speed: 1,500 rpm

Now for the shapely vase

1 Shape the vase and tenon portion of the finial by first removing the waste with a 11/4" roughing gouge. Use the parting tool to establish right-angle shoulders and handle any profiles without curves (such as the tenon). Create the vase shape with a 3/4" gouge as shown in Photo D. Move the tip from high to low, and keep the tip at a slight upward angle with the tool rest just below center.

Tools: 11/4" roughing gouge
           3/16" parting tool, 3/4" gouge

Speed: 1,200-1,500 rpm

2 turn down the flame portion to a cylinder of the finished outside diameter with a roughing gouge. Do this before forming the top of the vase. Now, laying a 3/4" skew flat on the tool rest that’s adjusted slightly below center, work the tool’s angled cutting edge from the top of the vase to the side, shaping a curved edge as shown in Photo E.

Tool:  3/4" skew Speed: 1,200-1,500 rpm

3 Shape the large cove between the vase and base/tenon using a 1/2" round-nose scraper, laying the tool flat on the tool rest for control as shown in Photo F. Again, keep the tool rest just below center. Arc the tip from right to left. Turn the smaller cove between the flame and the vase with a 1/4" round-nose scraper or a 1/4" spindle gouge. (If you use a 1/4" gouge, stay alert because small gouges are prone to catch your workpiece.)

Tools:  1/2" round-nose scraper 
            1/4" round-nose scraper

Speed: 1,200-1,500 rpm

4 CREATE THE BEAD between the flame cylinder and the vase with a beading tool as shown in Photo G or with a 1/2" oval skew. Using the beading tool, rotate the rod-like shaft counterclockwise and into the wood as you finely shave off the waste. At the same time, move the handle from left to right. Using the tools and methods above, similarly turn the remaining elements below the flame to their final shape and diameter, referring to the pattern.

Tool: Three Point Tool Speed: 1,200-1,500 rpm

Form the flame, sand, and finish

1 CAREFULLY SHAPE THE FLAME, working from wider to narrower widths, using a 11/4" gouge as shown in Photo H. Stop the lathe as you near the finished tip and reverse the turning, securing the finial tenon in the chuck.

Tool:  11/4" roughing gouge

Speed: 1,200-1,500 rpm

2 CUT OR PART AWAY THE WASTE at the tip of the flame, and then sand the finial, working from 120- through 220-grit sandpaper as shown in Photo I to remove sharp edges. Stain and/or finish as desired.

Tool:  120- to 220-grit sandpaper

Speed: 1,200-1,500 rpm


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