Canadian Woodworking

Square dish

Author: Paul Ross
Published: October November 2003

Most people think of bowls as being round. In all fairness, they usually are. However, sometimes it’s fun and interesting to try turning something new.

This square dish, with a patina rim, is definitely not your standard dish, but you’ll see below that there are no special machines or tools needed to create it. All you really need is just a few turning techniques, and the confidence to apply them to something a little different. In fact, you’ll discover that turning a square dish is really exactly the same as turning a round one, as far as the techniques are concerned. This attractive small dish is the perfect place to drop your car keys and change, although I am sure you will find many uses for it.

This dish is approximately 8″ in diameter and was turned from maple. The rim was also turned from maple and then blackened with patina. Patina is a liquid wax which, when applied creates a dark coloured finish through oxidation. Interestingly “patina” is also a Medieval Latin word for a shallow dish or bowl, so both interpretations apply equally to describe this dish.

Square Off the Piece of Maple

To start, square off an 8″x 8″ x 1″ piece of Maple on your table saw to get nice right angles. Onto the four edges, glue on waste blocks of wood. This can be any type of wood, preferably the same consistency as the piece being turned. That way, there is not a big difference when cutting the waste block.

Draw a Circle

Draw a round circle where you will cut out the bowl blank. That gives you a round piece of wood in order to start shaping the dish. If you were to turn a square dish without the process of adding waste blocks you would have the danger of four corners rotating and possibly catching. With the waste blocks on, you can proceed safely (photo 1).

Take an Outside Cut

Take an outside cut, with a ½” bowl gouge. Cut just until you are at the four corners of the square piece (photo 2).

With this done, you can now move the rest across the face and proceed with the facing cut, traveling from outside to centre (photo 3). Whenever you can, use your body behind the gouge to absorb any vibration.

Make a Spigot

With the bottom surface of the bowl blank straight and clean, you are ready to make a spigot, which you will eventually grab the bottom of the dish with the chuck. Cut a spigot approximately 1 ½” in diameter using a ⅛” parting tool. Make about two cuts, side-by-side, the second in order to give the tool a little clearance while deepening the cut (photo 4).

Remove Waste Material

Next, remove the waste material from around the spigot, from the outside to the edge of the spigot. You can do this using several facing cuts. Be careful when coming close to the spigot: if you’re still pushing the tool and the tool falls into the space that was produced by the parting tool, the tool could jump and advance forward into the spigot, wrecking the spigot. A better way to approach this situation is to push the tool from the outside, towards the spigot and when the tool is approximately ⅛” away from the spigot, simply lift the handle of the tool and the tip of the tool where it is cutting will fall into the void. In other words, you have more control by lifting than you do by pushing.

Shape the Underside

Now you are ready to shape the underside of the dish. Because of the shape of the dish, you have to take half of it from the outside, into the centre (photo 5).

Next, shape from the centre out (photo 6 – left). Once you have completed cutting this “arch” under the bottom of the dish, you will lightly scrape any tool marks from the surface (photo 7 – right). Now sand, starting at 120 grit, and working through 180, 240, and 400.

Clean Off Surface with Facing Cut

Take the piece off the screw chuck and flip it into the #1 jaws of a One-way Stronghold Chuck. First, take a facing cut to clean off the surface and then shape from outside to the centre and from the top of the rim to the outside, following the same profile as the bottom of the dish. Use your hand on the back of the dish for support (photo 8).

When you’ve finished shaping, lightly scrape with a ¾” roundnose scraper and then sand, placing your hand behind the dish for support (photo 9).

It is very important at this point, on the rim, that you prepare the wood properly. In other words: no sanding lines. The reason being when you patina this with black Special Effects Wax, it picks up absolutely every scratch mark (photo 10). I can’t emphasize how important it is to have your wood prepared properly.

Define the Rim and Bowl

Now you have to define the rim from the bowl of the dish. Do this with a spear point scraper which cuts a small groove. Do this right at the edge where the black meets the bowl of the dish (photo 11).
Shape the dish in the middle, using a ⅜” bowl gouge (photo 12).
Scrape and sand, being careful not to sand the rim. Flip the dish and cut a small bead on the foot (photo 13).
To complete your square bowl, cut off the waste wood and lightly sand the edges (photo 14).
Although there are many methods to turn a square dish, this one is by far the safest and most effective one I know.

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