Turning a Fruit Platter - Canadian Woodworking Magazine

Turning Project: With proper planning and wood selection, you’re set to turn the perfect platter to present a beautiful, healthy afternoon snack – fruit.

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Turning a Fruit Platter



Photos by Allan Cusworth;  Lead photos by Rob Brown

Many turned platters are designed to hold crackers, cookies and other lightweight items. These types of platters are often made thin and light.

The platter in this project is designed to hold fruit. The turning procedure yields a more robust and heavier finished piece since it will need to stand up to a bit more abuse as it sits out on your counter or table. There are almost as many ways to turn a platter as there are woodturners. I cannot say that the procedure described here is the only way but it is the way I turn them. This is a compilation of ideas gleaned from books, Internet research and demonstrations by world-class turners, as well as my own trial and error.
 
Plan
In my opinion, every project starts with an idea. This platter is no exception. I suggest that a sketch or drawing be made of the desired edge and rim profile before putting any tools to wood. This way you have an idea of what you’re trying to achieve. This is an essential step if you are planning to make more than one platter of the same design.
 
Wood Selection
This project will start with a round blank of dry seasoned wood just a little larger diameter and thickness than the finished platter desired. I have selected a piece of AAA-figured Big Leaf maple, 12 ½" in diameter by 2" thick. Some turners prefer to cut a blank directly from a log so they can optimize the grain configuration. That is a great idea; however, the process contains a lot of details that are beyond the scope of this article so we’ll start with a prepared disk blank. These disks are available at most woodturning supplies outlets or can be purchased online.
 
Tools and Supplies
Please note that the chucking dimensions described are for a Teknatool/Nova Supernova® four-jaw chuck. If you are using one from a different manufacturer you will need to check the dimensions required for your chuck.

It is important to work safely when using any woodworking tools and equipment. When attempting any of the turning procedures described in this article, a face shield should always be worn, as well as a dust mask when appropriate. I prefer to use a face shield that supplies fresh air at all times. There are a number of these systems on the market; they are expensive but I feel my lungs are worth it.

Also, remember that a sharp tool is a safe tool, so keep your tools sharp!

A friction-type sander, a sanding pad in an electric drill or an orbital sander can be used to prepare the inside and outside surfaces for finishing. I prefer to use the hook-and-loop type of sanding disks that are made for automotive applications since they come in a greater variety of finer grits than woodworking sanding disks. For areas that require hand sanding, I use a cloth-type sanding media that is more flexible than sandpaper.

Finishing materials are a matter of choice. Food safe finishing is a very controversial topic. Many woodturners feel that any finish is food-safe after it has completely cured and all the driers have evaporated and the finish is cured. This can take a long time for some materials. The basic rule of thumb that I have heard is that when you cannot detect any smell from the finish, it is ready for use. There are many finishes available; for example, Raw or Polymerized Tung Oil, Danish Oil, Beeswax, etc. The choice is yours. The finish I used for this project is Wipe-on Polyurethane.
 
Basic Design
This fruit platter will have an outside diameter of 12" and a thickness of 1 ¾".

The top face of the rim will be 1 ½" wide and will be enhanced with a single bead at its inside edge. I like to make a sketch of the intended rim and edge profile.

The outside/bottom profile will have a modified ogee shape extending from the outside edge of the rim tapered at the base. The outside diameter of the base will be 6". A design rule of thumb is that the base should be approximately one-half the outside diameter of the platter. The inside profile of the “bowl” section will be curved to complement the outside shape.
 

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Edge & Rim Profile Sketch – Sketching out the profile of the platter before you start leaves less room for errors down the road.
 
Steps to Make the Platter
Layout: The first step is to decide which side of the blank will be the top of the platter. It’s a good idea to have the grain direction going the same way that you will be cutting as much as possible. This can be difficult with highly figured woods but it can somewhat reduce tear-out.
 
Mounting the Blank: Locate the center of the top side of the blank; make a dimple and drill a 5/16" diameter x ¾" deep hole on a drill press. If you are using a hand drill, make sure the hole is perpendicular to the surface of the blank. Place the four-jaw chuck, with the 2" (50mm) jaws installed, on the lathe spindle and clamp in the Woodworm® screw. Mount the blank on the Woodworm® screw and make sure it is tightened securely against the face of the chuck jaws. If you do not have a chuck and want to use a faceplate, center it on the face side of the blank and fasten it securely with metal screws. When using a faceplate, I use metal screws rather than wood screws since they have a steep/ sharp thread configuration that holds better. I do not use drywall screws as they are brittle and can snap off.

Bring the tailstock with the live center up for support. It is a good safety practice to keep the tailstock in place as long as possible. You will have to move it back and forth as you make the cuts.

True up the edge and bottom face of the blank with a sharp ½" bowl gouge. This reduces vibration. Mark the outside diameter of the 6" base on the blank using a centering ruler and marking at 3" on each side of center.

Use a set of dividers to mark the 2 ¼" outside diameter of the chuck recess at the center of the bottom surface of the blank. This fits a Supernova® four-jaw chuck with 2" (50 mm) jaws in expansion mode. Your dimensions may be different. Make sure that the lathe is running at a slow speed and only the left point of the dividers contacts the wood or you could have a “snappy” surprise.
 

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Blank Mounted Between Centers – With the blank mounted on the lathe, bring the tailstock with the live center up to the platter to add support.
 

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Marking the Chuck Recess – Depending on what size recess your chuck requires, mark the dimension on the bottom of the platter.
 
Shaping the Bottom: Turn the outside diameter of the platter just proud of its finished size using a ½" bowl gouge. Form the 2 ¼" diameter by 3/16" deep chucking recess. This recess does not have to be deep. It is surprising how well a shallow recess will hold the piece provided you take light cuts. I used a Bedan scraper to cut the recess and refine its inside edge with a ¾" skew laying flat on the tool rest. You can use a 3/16" parting tool or any appropriate scraper to make your recess. Make sure there is a small flat area at the outside edge of the bottom of the recess for the tips of the chuck jaws to seat against.

Roughly shape the bottom side of the platter with a ½" bowl gouge. Here’s where your profile drawing becomes useful. Make cuts with the grain of the wood from the center of the blank to the outside edge. Form the 6" diameter base. The bottom of the base needs to have a slight concave shape to allow the platter to sit on a surface without rocking. Leave enough wood at the rim area to be able to form the 1 ½" wide rim. You can create a slight undercut for a finger grip in the back side of the rim, which will make the platter easier to pick up. Measure and mark the 1 ¾" overall height of the platter on the outside edge of the rim. I use two steel rulers to do this; one laying flat across the base and the other measuring across the edge.

Finish turning the bottom side of the platter. You may find it useful to use a cutting and sanding compound, or some beeswax, to soften the grain of the wood. Use a 1" side-ground scraper to remove the tool marks if needed. Refine the inside of the recess and decorate as desired; that is, concentric rings, a slight convex dome, etc.

Sand these surfaces starting with a grit size that will remove all the tool marks and progress through the grit sizes to at least 800 so you can end up with a very smooth finish. Note that each grit size in the progression should not be more than 50 percent finer that the previous one or you will leave scratch marks.

The chuck recess will become the inside of the base and needs to be completed now since it will not be accessible for further work on the lathe unless you use a vacuum chuck. If you intend to identify or sign the piece, you should do it now so the finish will be applied over it.
 

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Refining the Chuck Recess Inside Edge – Use a skew to fi ne tune the size of the recess to fit your chuck.
 

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Half Way There – With the bottom side done, the platter is half complete.
 
Apply the finish of your choice: I used Nitro-Cellulose sealer thinned 50/50 with lacquer thinner to seal the surface. I let that dry, then I applied the first of five coats of Wipe-on Polyurethane with the lathe turning at a very low speed (100 rpm). I let each coat dry for about 4–6 hours before applying the next. I used #0000 steel wool to smooth the surface between coats.

After applying the last coat and letting it dry, remove the platter from the Woodworm® screw and set it aside for a day or so to let the finish cure.
 
Shaping the Rim and the Inside
Reverse and remount the platter in the chuck using the 2" (50 mm) jaws in expansion mode. Expand the jaws carefully into the recess. Don’t over-tighten the chuck because you will risk splitting the base ring. Bring the tailstock with the live center up for support for as long as is practical.

True up the face of the platter and finalize the outside diameter with a ½" bowl gouge. Mark the rim thickness on the edge of the rim and shape it to its finished thickness. This project has a ⅜" thick, plain flat rim with one bead on the inside edge. However, if your design has decorative elements, make sure you leave sufficient material to be able to form them. With the lathe stopped, lay out the edge and rim profile according to your sketch. Mark the 1 ½" top width of the rim on the face surface of the platter.

Shape the rim surfaces taking light cuts with sharp tools. Make the top surface of the flat rim with a slight taper towards the center of the platter. Doing this makes the rim look more horizontal when it is being used. I tried it and it works!

Using a ½" bowl gouge with the flute at 90° to the lathe bed, cut a sharp incision to begin the shaping of the inside edge of the rim. This edge will be decorated with a bead later. Taking very light cuts, start shaping the first two inches of the inside “bowl” surface of the platter. Make the cuts from the inside edge of the rim towards the center. As you’re shaping, create an undercut at the rim to make a soft shadow which will give the illusion of depth to the finished platter. I refined the undercut with a ½" side-radius scraper. The center area of the inside will be removed later. This wood mass will provide support when the rim decorations are shaped.

If you want to leave the inside edge of the rim plain, it’s a good idea to soften the sharp edge with a little sanding cloth, but leave it crisp. However, I like to create a bead on the inside edge of the rim as a transition element from the surface of the rim to the bowl part of the platter. To do this, I created a special little scraper from a ¼" HSS jobber drill bit. I placed two of the flute points of the drill bit at a 45° angle against the surface of a grinding wheel and ground it down until the drill flute formed the shape of a small U-shaped scraper. I glued the drill bit scraper in a small handle and taped over all but the last ½" of the flutes with a few layers of masking tape. This prevented the sharp flute edges from scoring my tool rest. Some turners fill the flutes with automotive body filler instead of using the tape.

To make the bead I reduced the lathe speed to around 500 RPM and held the scraper at a sharp reverse rake angle sloping down from the inside edge of the tool rest and slowly applied it to the inside edge of the platter rim. I gently rotated the scraper around the lip until a ¼" bead was formed. I refined the little grooves with a ¾" skew and, voila, a quick bead. Be careful not to advance the scraper too quickly – tear-out or catches can occur. This bead design creates a bead that is flush with the surface of the rim and the undercut lip area. This is a good idea, since it will be harder to damage the bead during the platter’s use. I like the look of it too. This procedure works best on hard, close-grained woods. You can create the bead with a purchased beading tool, a detail gouge or a skew but this drill bit scraper works well for me, and for a few dollars you can make a whole set of different sized tools.

Complete the shaping of the inside of the platter with a ½" bowl gouge. Check the thickness of the walls with your thumb and finger and use a set of outside callipers to verify the actual thickness frequently. Make the inside profile a smooth, fair curve that compliments the outside shape. Be careful not to make the area above the recess in the bottom too thin. You can use a 1" side-radius scraper to smooth the surface if you need to. Sand and finish the inside surface the same way you did the outside earlier. Be careful not to square off the bead, especially if you are using a power sanding system. Remember to sand inside the grooves beside the bead. After applying the finish of your choice, remove the platter from the chuck and let the finish cure.

And there you have it – a fruit platter you can be proud of. Since you signed the bottom before you applied the finish in the recess, it’s ready to use and impress your guests at your next party.
 

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Reverse To Complete – Flip the turning over and re-mount with the tailstock in place.
 

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Start with the Rim – Start with shaping the rim and move towards the center.
 

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Form the Bead – With a modified drill bit, carefully shape the two sides of the bead
 

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A Small Detail – The inclusion of the bead adds a little style to the platter
 
Four-Jaw Scroll Chucks
A four-jaw chuck has been a mainstay tool for turners for a long time.

It’s a fast and generally secure method of fastening a piece of wood to the lathe. However, it has to be used correctly. A chuck can be used either in spigot mode, where the chuck clamps externally around the tenon, or in expansion mode, where the jaws are expanded into a recess that is cut in the blank. Some chuck spigots and recesses require a taper to be cut on the contact surface, while some require a straight-sided surface. Each chuck manufacturer specifies the minimum and maximum dimensions and the profile for the spigot tenon or expansion recess for their brand of chucks. The blank must be prepared according to these specifications to hold it safely. If these instructions are not followed, the blank can fly off the lathe causing personal injury, equipment or blank damage or both.

Chucks are usually supplied with one or two different sized sets of jaws, with other sizes available. This fruit platter project requires a 2" jaw set. There are quite a few chucks of different sizes available from the manufacturers listed here.

The Supernova® four jaw chuck is made by Teknatool of Australia. teknatool.com
OneWay Manufacturing in Stratford, ON make their chucks in Canada. oneway.ca
Vicmarc Machinery PTY Ltd in Australia also makes a line of excellent chucks. vicmarc.com
 

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ALLAN CUSWORTH
Allan Cusworth