Canadian Woodworking

Ball box

Author: Paul Ross
Published: August September 2005

This ‘ball box’ offers an excellent opportunity to develop and practice your hollow turning, as the body wall is the same thickness at all points.

This ‘ball box’ offers an excellent opportunity to develop and practice your hollow turning, as the body wall is the same thickness at all points. By adding a lid and finial it has been made into an attractive box. The contrasting woods, as well as the delicate shape of the body and lid are very important to the look of this piece.

I chose a piece of spalted maple for the body. It was light enough to highlight the shape yet rich with black streaks to set off the piece. For the lid I chose African blackwood and holly, which provide a striking contrast.

Turn cylinder with gouge

Size the spigot 

Shape the top

Establish bottom of box 

Mark diameter of lid 

Hollow out body

Glue holly to blackwood

Turn the lid

Shape the finial

Roughing out Cylinder

First, mount a square 4″ block between centers and turn it down to an even cylinder. Use a roughing out gouge with the flute up to knock the corners off. Then roll the gouge over on its side to produce a smoother cut. By using more of the metal of the gouge, you will produce a smoother cut. By ensuring that the flute always trails, you can make use of both sides of the gouge. (You’ve done all that work to grind the whole gouge, why not use it?)

Turn the Spigot

Now turn a spigot to hold the piece in a chuck. I do this with a ⅜” beading parting tool and use calipers to size the spigot. Shape the front first, so that you can then judge the length of the body. Next, the bottom of the box is determined with a ⅛” parting tool. This will be your reference point to which you can shape the bottom. I leave the shoulder for the chuck jaws to sit on. Doing so is very important to ensure maximum “grab” from the chuck which is essential when hollowing out the inside.

Shape the Ball

Now shape the bottom to the reference point. Try to shape as flowing a shape as possible. Remember this is a ball box not an oval box.

Mount the piece in a chuck by grabbing onto the spigot. With this type of mounting you have tremendous holding power. Set a pair of dividers for the finished diameter of the lid and transfer this measurement to the body. I use a handheld system for hollowing out the inside of the box, being careful not to disturb the inside diameter of the opening.

Sand and finish to you liking. I used melamine for my finish because it is a very durable finish that can stand up to being handled. Alternatively, to turn the bottom I could have held the piece on a dowel in a chuck, or in a vacuum chuck and cut the waste off using a ½” skew.

Lid and Finial

I doweled the holly onto the blackwood instead of gluing them together. Doing so gives a much stronger joint, especially for a lid, which will be taken on and off.

A piece this small can be easily turned round in a few passes with a 3/8” bowl gouge. Shape the lid and finial, blending them together.

Fit the lid with a sharp parting tool on the side of the blackwood. First, use calipers to get the fit close. Then, keep fitting the lid to the box until you obtain the correct fit.

For the underside of the lid, take the jaws off your chuck and screw on a rubber bung from a set of “jumbo” jaws. That will gently grab the finial of the lid and expose the underside. Keep in mind that without the metal jaws on the chuck there is no safety pin in place. Without that pin there is the possibility of the chuck being opened up too far and the base jaws flying out. The chances of that are slim, if you just grab the little finial, as the jaws would not be opened very far.

Finally, sand and apply a finish of your choosing.

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