Canadian Woodworking

Four centre vase

Author: Paul Ross
Published: February March 2002

Don’t let the title of this project frighten you. It’s actually quite simple.

Basically, you start on true centre, then turn on three off-set centres, and then back to true centre. The sizes and shapes can be varied.

For your first attempt at this, start with a relatively small piece of wood, about 2” x 2” square by 4” long. The proportions of the vases can be easily increased or decreased according to your taste.


Find the centre on each end of the block and, with a roughing out gouge, turn it down to a cylinder. Practice smooth cuts at this point, as you will need this technique when it comes to turning it off-set.

Take the piece out of the lathe and on one end, divide the 360 degree circle into three equal parts (i.e. 120 degrees each). At each point on the outside circle, draw a line into the centre. Looking at the end, there should now be three equal shapes, like three pieces of a pie. Mark ⅜” in from the edge of the cylinder along each line. You now have three off-set centres. Put the piece back in the lathe on true centre. Now use the tool-rest as a guide and draw a pencil line from each of the three centres along the outside of the cylinder and down to the other end (photo #1).

Take the piece out of the lathe. Draw into the centre (on the end that is not marked) from the lines you have made. Now mark ⅜” in from the edge of the cylinder on each line. You now have the opposite end of each centre.

On one end (headstock) number each centre 1, 2 and 3. This way, if you have to put it back into that centre, you will already have it numbered for easy reference. Put the piece in centre 1.

Note: I use a ‘Steb’ centre with a small head. These are spring loaded and have many teeth, which always bite in at the same centre. This is ideal for production turning. It is also handy for going back on centre.

It is now off-set. You will only be cutting ⅓ of the cylinder (ie. the far side of the centre). Cut the off-set portion of the vase with a roughing out gouge (photo #3).

It is very important that you take clean and light cuts. This portion must be hand sanded, and by taking clean cuts, you can avoid as much sanding as possible. It will appear to be bouncing at this point. The bounce will lessen as you remove more wood. Periodically, stop the lathe and check that you’ve come to both lines running parallel to the cut. When you’ve come right up to each line with the cut, you are done that section.

Now repeat this procedure with centres 2 and 3. When this is complete, put the piece back into true centre and, with a ½” spindle gouge, shape the neck to your design. Cut the ends clean with the point of a skew (photo #4).

Then make a ‘v’ cut into the triangle shaped bottom (photo #5). This will avoid splitting when you use your parting tool to create a spigot on this end. This is a good point at which to sand. Use your choice of grit, depending on the finish you want.

Mount the piece into a chuck. Grab the spigot on the bottom and drill for either a plastic or glass vial. If you intend to use the piece as a dry bud vase then use a Jacob’s chuck and drill bit in the tailstock (photo #6).

Finally, turn the spigot off the bottom and turn the bottom to conclusion. You do this by mounting a jam spigot into the chuck the same diameter as the hole you have drilled into the neck. Push the piece onto this spigot and leave the tailstock up for support for a short time. Then finish the bottom by removing the tailstock and turning the last little ‘pip’ (photo #7).

Always take your time. The key is not to be too aggressive. A cut which is too heavy could knock the piece out of centre. Remember, the bigger the piece that you turn offset, the slower you want the lathe to go. Use common sense and safety first.

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