Canadian Woodworking

15-minute sand timer

Author: Paul Ross
Published: June July 2002

This 15-minute sand timer incorporates a little faceplate turning with some spindle work.

Both are relatively simple to do, however, some fairly accurate measurement is required when turning the spindles. With this particular piece, I used hard maple for the top and bottom and Padauk for the spindles, to provide contrast.


To prepare the top and bottom, cut two pieces of hard maple ½” thick with a diameter of 3”. Then glue a waste block on to one side. This allows the piece to be grabbed by the chuck. To mount the waste block, sand a flat surface on the waste block and a flat surface on the maple. Then apply some “Cynoacrylite” gap-filling consistency glue to the waste block and spray accelerator on the maple.

Next, clamp the two together and it will be ready in seconds. The reason for using this glue is twofold. It’s fast and its tensile strength is extremely strong. However, its shock resistance is very weak. That means that you can turn, holding the piece on the waste block and when you want to release the piece, you just have to tap it with a chisel and the waste block falls off. This is very effective for turning small pieces, such as the spindles in this project.

Both top and bottom are done the same way. The first cut, as shown in photo #1 below, is called the outside cut. This brings it true. Cut it down until it is approximately 2 ⅞”. Remember, you want to get the bottom and top the same diameter. For this I used a little ⅜” bowl gouge with the flute facing the direction of the cut. I just took a few cuts, watching the top of the profile so as to produce a horizontal surface.

Photo #2 shows the rest across the face. With the same gouge, take a facing cut to produce a flat, clean surface. Aim for the best possible finish with the gouge. This limits finishing cuts with the scraper. As shown in photo #3, use a ¾” square end scraper, to scrape the surface flat. This is now the inside of the bottom (or the top) piece.

Now cut a little dimple to accept the little bubble of glass at the end of the timer. This must be a custom fit. Allow for a little bit of silicone to cushion the timer (photo #4). Now put your rest back to the outside and, with either a parting tool or a 9-in-1 tool, cut a couple of beads for a decorative finish on the outside. Sand starting at 120, and proceed through 180, 240, 400 “J-flex” paper. I used EEE compound, which is a fine Tripoli in a paste. This takes out the 400 sanding marks and prepares the surface for whatever finish you apply.

Mark with a pencil, in from the edge, about 5/16”. This is the radius in which the 3 holes are drilled to accommodate the spindle tenons. With an indexing ring, divide by 3. On the lathe I use (One-Way 1018’) the indexing ring has 24 positions, so 24 divided by 3 equals 8. So every 8 positions, I lock the ring and drill the holes, using a hand drill (photo #5). The larger “One-Way 2436”, has 48 positions. That, divided by 3, would mean that you would drill every 16 positions. First turn the top and the bottom, on the inside. This way if, after turning the spindles, you need to make the little dimples in the middle larger, they will easily remount back into the chuck.

Turning the spindles.

As shown in photo #6, rough down to a cylinder, using a skew. This is a fairly small piece and the wood is a little oily and easy to cut, therefore, this can easily be done with a skew from square to round. Size the tenons with a small 1/8” parting tool (photo #7). At this point it is critical that the distance from the tenons be exactly the same on all three. You want to ensure that they are spaced to just cradle the sand timer. To measure this, take a pair of calipers and measure the exact length of the sand timer from end to end (NOT including the little glass bubbles at the ends). Now that you have the exact length of the body of the sand timer, add about 1/16”. This is the distance in between the shoulders of the tenons.

Turn a couple of beads, on either end, on the spindle. Taper it thinner in the middle. Bead as shown, or use your own design. Sand and finish. For a finish, I used a friction polish, which is fast and comes to a nice high gloss.

Now that you have top and bottom turned, spindles completed and you have checked that everything fits perfectly, it’s time to pop off the waste blocks and flip both top and bottom so that you can turn the ends. There are many ways of doing this. I chose to put it in a vacuum chuck and just turn the ends slightly concave. Scrape the ends after cutting with a gouge (photo #8).

Next comes the assembly of the timer. Put a little dab of silicone in the one end and let it set. This develops into a rubbery consistency. When you are ready to assemble, put another little dab in the dimple and glue (yellow carpenter’s glue) in each of the holes in the top and bottom. Place the three spindles in the bottom, set the sand timer in place and then, carefully, align the top. Gently, clamp the timer until the glue is set.

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