Steve Worcester © 1998
It seems only logical to create square turnings, after all, the lumber starts square, why round off all that perfectly good surface. The concept is simple, start square, and cut only on the face and back. In reality, round is easier, but in many instances, not nearly as striking. A square turning is as beautiful to view as it is rewarding to complete. The techniques in this article can be applied toward any square turnings, closed or open form, not just that outlined in this article.
I started doing square turning as a way to differentiate my particular art, oil lamps, from other wood turners at art shows where I sell. They are very eye catching and truly unique in their appearance always commanding a second glance and frequent questions about whether it is turned that way, or turned round and cut off. Let me tell you , they are indeed turned square.
The oil lamps use an insert available from Craft Supply in Utah, they are packaged 4 per box and come with lamp and wick, as well as oil and a refill funnel. They cost about $10 for 4 sets.
But first, let us talk about safety. Turning square will require considerably more attention to the placement of the turning tool and certainly more in hand placement. It is one matter to dangle your fingers onto a cylinder, where there are no sharp edges to catch, than with a square. Turning at 1000 RPMs, that’s 66 corners per second to subject your hands and knuckles to. At the very least, you get instant reassurance to keep your hands out of the way, and I don’t want to think about the other end of the spectrum!
Always be very alert, give the wood the respect and concentration it deserves, and never attempt this project or any other if you are too tired or have had anything to drink! Never wear dangling jewelry, tie back long hair, and tuck in or button up clothing articles that are loose and of course always wear eye and dust protection.
First choose a suitable piece of tight, relatively straight grained wood, approximately 6"square and at least 2" thick. The oil lamp insert is 1 3/8" tall at the shoulder and we want to have extra thickness for strength at the bottom. ( I have used many "tropical" species such as Bocote, Cocobollo ,Verawood, and have seen Redheart, Ebonies, Maple ,Maple burl used for square turning as well. For first go round use something not too figured or expensive as you are just learning. Save the expensive and exotic woods for when you can do them justice and are well practiced). One side needs to be flat and smooth, run through a planer of sander is fine. We will do a paper/glue joint so we will not need extra thickness on the bottom for chucking a tenon. For a waste block, I prefer a 1" or so square piece of Poplar cut to about 1" smaller all the way around than the piece we are gluing it to. Poplar is a good choice because it is hard enough for the screws securing the faceplate, but not hard enough to turn away when we want to work the bottom side of the piece.
The glue joint is quite simple, we will layer the waste block on top of the work piece, with a sheet of brown grocery bag in between. (A good reason to choose paper at the market). Cut a square out of the grocery bag a little larger than the waste block. Decide which side of the turning block is going to be the top and lay it face down. Using regular yellow wood glue, NOT WATERPROOF, and apply enough to cover where the paper will be and to allow for squeeze out. Now place the paper square on the center of the work piece and flatten it down a bit. Apply more glue as you did before and lay the Poplar backing wood over the grocery bag square. You now have two pieces of wood with grocery bag in-between and glue on both sides of the bag. Clamp the whole shabang together and position the clamps, one on each side, all facing the same way. You may have to apply less pressure on various clamps to keep the waste block somewhat centered. While it isn’t critical it is in the center, it is important that there is enough material for the faceplate to seat all around, and that the backing board is not hanging over the edge of the work piece. Once all the clamps are in place, turn over the piece, so it is resting on the four clamps, and the glue squeeze out runs down the edges of the backing board, not the turning block and down onto the newspaper you set down before. Wipe any glue off of the sides of the work piece now, as we will need these edges flat later.