A honey dipper is a great turning project for new turners. It gives you a great opportunity to practice spindle turning techniques with the blank mounted between centers on your wood-turning lathe. It is also a good project for practicing your skills using a skew.
Since this is a useable utensil, the wood selected to make it must be non-toxic and it must not add any unwanted taste when it is used. Two such woods are birch, and maple. There are others but a study on that issue is beyond the scope of this article. The finish you use must also be food safe. I appropriately used beeswax for this project.
Make your mark
Once the blank is rounded off, mark some key areas to guide you.
Getting your groove on
If you are comfortable, use a skew to make the grooves at the end of your blank.
Another way to groove
Using a 1/16" parting tool will yield similar results if the skew is not for you.
Turn down the handle
Use long flowing cuts to shape the handle – using your fingers behind the piece to help stabilize it.
Turn the handle end
This simple flared-out end helps hold the dipper securely in your hand and adds a nice decorative touch.
A honey dipper is made by making some deep grooves at one end of a round piece of wood, and creating a smooth, curved handle on the other. Decorative touches such as beads, coves, burned-in or captive rings, etc., can be added as desired. This project will yield a finished honey dipper about 1 ¼” in diameter by 8″ in overall length. The grooved section will be about 2″ long and the handle will be about 6″ long to get into those deep jars of honey. These dimensions can be modified as long as the basic proportions are maintained.
I used a billet of straight-grained dry maple 1 ½” x 1 ½” x 9″ long with no inclusions. This will help prevent the utensil from breaking during use and not allow unwanted holes to trap honey. I did not draw a plan for this project since it is not a complicated design; turning it “free style” is a much more practical method, in my opinion.
Preparing the Blank
Inspect the billet and choose which end will have the grooves. Sometimes the grain pattern will dictate which direction looks the best. Locate and dimple the centers of both ends of the blank. With a 4-prong, or spring type spur center in the headstock, and a live center in the tailstock, mount the blank between the lathe’s centers. Place the end where the grooves will be located at the headstock end. This is not critical but I feel it is a little safer this way.
Round off the blank using a spindle-roughing gouge. The outside diameter (OD) should be a little larger than the finished OD of the honey dipper to allow for finishing cuts and sanding later.
Laying Out the Dimensions
Mark the locations of the ends of the project. Then mark where the end of the grooved section will start becoming the handle and finally, mark the location of the smallest diameter of the handle. These dimensions are not critical but will provide a sight line when you start to cut into the blank. As you progress and have made a few honey dippers, these marks will probably not be necessary.
Turning the Project
Now let’s start making some wood chips fly! Reduce the OD of the grooved section to its finished size with a sharp ½” spindle roughing gouge. There are two ways to make the grooves. The first method uses a 1/16″ narrow parting tool. Leave ¼” space from mark at the headstock end of the piece and make seven grooves ¼” apart and about ⅜” to ½” deep. Keep the bottoms of the grooves the same depth; the finished honey dipper will look better this way. The other method uses a ¾” skew to cut the seven grooves. Use whichever tool you are the most comfortable with. Perhaps you could make your first one with a parting tool and progress to a skew as you get more familiar. The pictures taken for this article show the results from both methods of cutting the grooves.
Create a rounded shape at the grooved end and follow the same curve towards the handle. Shape the handle with long flowing cuts with a spindle gouge, or a skew, to yield a gentle curve with its narrowest OD about two-thirds up from the end of the handle. You may need to place your finger behind the handle as you cut to steady the little bit of vibration you can get as you turn it down to the desired diameter. You can also add decorative beads, coves, and rings etc., as desired. If you want to add burned-in rings make small starter grooves with the point of a skew to guide the burning wire. I feel that decorations and embellishments should not get over complicated. Sometimes a simple design just looks better.
Round off both ends of the piece leaving a ¼” diameter joining tenon.
Sand the honey dipper with sanding cloth starting with 180 grit, or whatever grit is needed to remove your tool marks. Progress through the grit sizes to 320 grit. Do not sand too smooth; the beeswax finish will apply better if the surface is not shiny.
Applying the Finish
Apply beeswax to the piece by rubbing the block of wax against it, or if you are using a paste form of beeswax, use a piece of paper towel. Use a piece of clean paper towel to melt and burnish the wax into a low lustre finish.
Completing the Honey Dipper
Reduce the tenons at the ends to about 1/16″ diameter. Do not part the piece completely off the lathe. Sometimes the little nub end will twist out and leave an annoying little hole that is not attractive. Remove the honey dipper from the lathe and cut the little nub ends off with a sharp knife. I have used my skew to do this very carefully.
Rub a little sanding cloth over the ends and put on some beeswax and your honey dipper is finished. Now all that’s left is to brew up some tea and add a generous drizzle of fresh honey.