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Bigger hammer

Little Box with Drawer

I made this little oak box with a drawer in it for my eldest niece's birthday present:


It's about 3 1/2" in diameter. The shape was intended to loosely resemble an Iron Age Broch, though the taper ended up very shallow (otherwise the tray on the roof would have been impractically small). The drawer is made from a solid block of oak with the inside hollowed out. I roughly shaped the front, then temporarily screwed it into the cylinder and turned it in the lathe to make the shape of the two parts match properly. The floor of the tray, although it looks in the photo like plywood, is actually a piece of solid hardwood I had lying around (probably mahogany). There's a hidden magnet in the back of the drawer that holds it closed. The finish is beeswax. Disappointingly it looks rather plain (the front of the drawer is nicer than the walls), unlike the bowl I made for my Dad from a similar random oak offcut.

I had a lot of trouble with the wood that I made the main cylinder from. It was a random offcut of air-dried oak that seemed OK (albeit very tough) when I cut the blank to size and turned the outside of it, but when I hollowed out the inside it somehow relieved the stresses in the wood which caused the walls to develop thousands of tiny cracks. The fact that I turned it cross-grain (mainly because of the proportions of the offcut and the shape I wanted the box to end up) almost certainly made matters worse. At that point I probably should have started again with a different piece of wood, but I was pressed for time and that was the only suitably sized bit of oak I had to hand, so I glued together the worst splits at the top edge and persevered with it. Frustratingly, more splits opened up when I morticed out the drawer hole, but I managed to glue them all back together fairly invisibly.



Oak is a funny wood. When they were rebuilding York Minster's South transept after the fire back in the eighties they discovered that the main oak beams which had been in place for several hundred years and had over two inches burned off the outside, had, less than three inches from the former surface (i.e. less than an inch from the carbon charred surface) a moisture content similar to that of a freshly felled oak tree. This is why the replacement oak beams were turned into planks less than three inches thick and kiln dried before being laminated back into beams of sufficient size to be used to rebuild the South transept roof.

Air dried oak will have a moisture content around 12 to 15% at the surface, given the diameter of your box there would be a moisture gradient towards the centre. As you turned the wood you set up stresses as you created a shape of differential moisture content, which because of the way you turned it would dry unevenly. There is no real cure but you can ameliorate the effect by keeping the part turned piece in a plastic bag in between turning sessions (this slows the moisture loss and gradually equalises the moisture content of the piece.

Another way this can be achieved is to use a shellac or cellulose sanding sealer to reduce moisture loss. You can easily sand or turn through as necessary. I particularly prefer to use a sanding sealer underneath wax on oak as oak and wax react together rapidly darkening the appearance of the wood.

Re: Oak

Oops,should have said. Nice job. Turning crossgrain that way is usually best done either with the skew or with scraper tools

Re: Oak

Thanks! I think I mainly shaped the outside with the 1/2" miniature skew because I hadn't bought the full size ones at that point. Facing the top and hollowing the inside was all scrapers (actually, I think I might have bored the centre out with my biggest drill bit first).

Re: Oak

That's interesting about the wax; I wonder if that's why the little oak bowl turned out so dark. I quite like it when oak goes a darker shade (without deliberately staining it) - I think it makes it look more 'aged'.

I wonder why they thought it necessary to go to the trouble of kiln drying and laminating the replacement beams rather than just using green wood as would have been used originally. Perhaps they were concerned about the effect on the rest of the structure if the new beams moved as they dried.