Black Walnut and Copper Vase

Wood & metal blossom together

Flower arrangements, whether dried or fresh, will add a bright spot to any room. But all too often the vase is overlooked. This copper and walnut vase-on-stand designed by senior editor Ken Burton is equal to whatever floral display it may present. And while any turned, carved, or otherwise constructed wooden vase can work for dried flowers, this beauty is watertight. The center vessel that holds the flowers is made from copper plumbing fittings available at any hardware store. It nestles between two shapely sides, and displays a colorful patina that is created by salting the metal and then fuming it with ammonia. The result contrasts beautifully with the dark tones of the black walnut. I learned some cool woodworking techniques building this piece, and had a lot of fun at it. I think you will too.

Order of Work

  • Cut cove
  • Plane outer curve
  • Cut joints and assemble
  • Make vase

A play of curves and a shop-made patina

This vase-on-stand composition consists of a copper pipe standing atop a chevron-shaped support that connects two sides via through-tenons. The sides’ coves are tablesawn, and their outside curves are handplaned. Opposing bevels crown the top of each, while the bottom ends are shaped with a bandsaw. The bottom-capped pipe is attached with a stainless steel screw though a neoprene washer to make it watertight. The pipe’s colorful patina is created using common household chemicals.

Start with the coves and holes

Mill a single length of 7/8 × 3-1/8 × 22" stock to yield material for the two sides. Set up your table saw as shown and make the cove cuts. Then sand them through 220 grit using a complementary sanding block. (See page 22.) Crosscut the individual sides to length, and then trim the edges if necessary to center the cove. Next, bore the decorative holes at the drill press as shown. Drill with the curved sides up so that any exit tear-out will be planed away when shaping the outside face.

You know the drill. Set up a stop block and fence on the drill press to locate the holes in the sides. Drill them with a 1-1⁄2 " Forstner bit, holding the pieces cove-side-up to minimize tearout.

Plane the outer curve and shape the ends 

Start shaping the outside surfaces of the sides by cutting two bevels on each piece to remove the bulk of the waste. Then hand-plane the surfaces to create a single, smooth curve. Trim the top ends and edges as shown before shaping the bottom ends on the bandsaw to create “feet.”

Round the curve. With the bulk of the waste sawn away, secure the side in a vise, and smooth the curves with a handplane. Cut with the grain to avoid tearout.

Cut the end bevels. Tilt your table saw blade to 45°. With the miter gauge to the right of the blade (on a left-tilt saw) bevel the top end, registering the cuts with a stop block clamped to the auxiliary fence. Then switch the miter gauge to the other side of the blade to cut the outer bevel.

On the edge. Tilt your blade to 15° to bevel both edges of the side pieces. Set your fence to leave a 1⁄16"-wide flat to run against the fence when cutting the opposite edge.

Cut the joints and assemble

Lay out the mortise lengths on the outside faces of the sides. Rout the mortises at the router table, and square their ends with a chisel. Mill the center support to size, then saw the tenons with a dado blade. Pare them to fit their mortises, chamfer their ends, and then bandsaw the chevron shape. Sand and glue up the parts before applying a finish—I used Danish oil. Finally, make the vase (see opposite) and attach it with a screw fitted with a neoprene washer to keep the pipe watertight. Note that you’ll need an unusually long screwdriver for the job.

Pare square. Square up the ends of the mortises with a small chisel. Then clean up the mortises with sand paper glued to a small piece of squared scrap.
Saw the tenons. Set up a 3⁄8" wide dado blade. Position the rip fence 5⁄8" from the outside of the blade to control the length of the tenons. Guide the piece with the miter gauge to cut the tenon cheeks, controlling the tenon’s thickness by changing the blade height. Reset the blade height and hold the piece on edge to cut the tenons to width.

Make the copper vase

To make the vase at the center of this piece, you’ll need a length of 1-1/4"-diameter copper pipe and two end caps—available at a hardware or plumbing supply store. Cut the pipe to length with a tubing cutter or hack saw. Drill a hole through the center of one end cap for the screw that attaches the vase to the support. Cut about 1/2" off the other cap to make a decorative collar for the vase top. Solder the cap on one end and the collar at the other, flushing its end with the pipe end. Polish the pipe before fuming it with ammonia as shown to create the patina.

Solder the cap and collar. Polish the solder contact areas on the pipe, cap, and collar. Then apply flux to the pieces and fit them together. Heat the assembly with a torch until the flux sizzles, then touch the solder to the connection, allowing it to fully encircle the joint. Wipe away any excess flux and solder with a rag. After the vase cools, polish it through 180 grit. Safety Alert: Clean up well before using a torch in the shop to avoid an unwanted visit from your local fire company.
Patina process. Wet the pipe and coat it with salt to hasten the copper/ammonia reaction. Pour an inch or so of household ammonia in a bucket and suspend the pipe over it. Cover the bucket with foil and check the progress after 2-3 days. When the patina reaches your liking, wipe the pipe clean and dry. A coat of lacquer or wax will protect the patina, or you can leave it unfinished to continue natural aging.
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