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AW Extra 10/4/12 - Wooden Plate


Turning Plates

Got an offcut from a beautifully figured board? Turn it into a plate! Standard 3⁄4-in. wood and a shop-made chuck are all you need.

By Steve Blenk

The trick is to figure out how to hold such a thin piece of wood on the lathe. It’s so thin, there’s hardly anything to grab onto. Here’s a safe and simple system for turning a plate from thin wood.

All you’ll need is a small face plate, a medium-sized bowl gouge (3⁄8-in. to 1⁄2-in.), a round-nose scraper, some masking tape and a large, thick chunk of wood for the chuck.

A plate blank that’s 9- to 10-in. wide works best. It can be glued-up or cut from a wide board, just as long as one side is flat and smooth. You’ll need that flat surface in order to glue the plate blank onto a mounting block.

To make the blank, cut off a square piece from the wide board and cut it into a rough circle with a bandsaw. Draw a 3-in. circle in the center of the blank’s smooth side. Then make a 3-in.-dia. mounting block from a piece of 1-in.-thick wood that’s been surfaced on both sides. Screw the mounting block onto a small face plate. Now follow the photo sequence and create your own stunning plate.

Click any image to view a larger version.

1. Glue the mounting block onto the plate blank. Use medium- to thickviscosity cyanoacrylate (CA) glue. It dries quickly, so you’ll be ready to turn in two to three minutes.

Adjust your lathe to run at its lowest speed.Then mount the face plate on the lathe and true up the face and edge of the blank with a bowl gouge.

2. Round the plate’s rim with the bowl gouge turned on its side. This prevents the gouge from catching and is called a “closed cut.” Move in the direction of the arrow and swing the handle of the gouge around the corner. Ride the bevel of the gouge on the plate, keeping the cut very light.

3. Flatten the face of the plate.Work from the outside to the center. Keep the bevel of the gouge rubbing against the plate to make this shearing cut.

Because you are working with thin material, use light shearing cuts, especially around the rim.You can place your hand behind the rim to reduce vibration.

4. Cut a cove to define the rim. Drop the handle of the gouge below the level of the tool rest so the gouge won’t catch. Keep the bevel riding on the plate.

Next dish out the center of the plate with shearing cuts. Measure the depth of the plate before you cut too deep.

If you’re careful you should be able to make a very smooth surface across the entire face of the plate with the gouge.You can move right on to sanding. But if you’ve had some trouble and there are tool marks you can’t get out, reach for a scraper.

5. Scrape the face of the plate with light cuts for a smooth surface.Move from the center out to the edge. Raise the handle of a round-nose scraper above the level of the tool rest so its cutting edge won’t grab.










Burnish a scraper’s edge at a 90-degree angle. Grind the scraper first at 60 degrees, then remove the wire edge with a sharpening stone. Burnish with a single pass, using hard pressure (see Sources, below.

6. Remove most of the waste from the back side of the plate. Move the bowl gouge from the center out to the edge.Take the rim down to its final thickness. Again, you can support the rim with your hand to reduce vibration.

Sand the face of the plate and apply a finish as it spins on the lathe. Sand and finish the outer edge of the back side as well.Then remove the face plate from the lathe.

7. Make a rim chuck to hold the face side of the plate.Make the chuck from a wide piece of hardwood.The wood should be at least 11⁄2-in. thick or make the chuck from two 3⁄4-in.-thick pieces of marine plywood that are glued together. (Marine plywood is free of annoying voids.)

Turn a recess into the face of the chuck.The plate should fit snugly within it, but you can insert paper shims if it’s a little loose. (You can re-use the chuck for smaller plates by turning another recess.) Drill a hole through the chuck so you can pop out the plate with finger pressure.

Once the plate is mounted, snug up the tailstock to the mounting block to hold the plate securely in the chuck.

8. Reduce the mounting block to a 1⁄2-in.-dia. stub tenon with the bowl gouge.Then shape the plate’s base and complete the underside of the rim. Sand and finish the back while it’s still supported by the tailstock.

9. Tape the plate into the rim chuck. Use plenty of wide masking tape. Adjust the lathe to run at its lowest speed.Then back off the tailstock and cut off the stub tenon with the bowl gouge.

Use light cuts so you don’t dislodge the plate. Sand and apply finish to the rest of the plate’s bottom. Remove the tape as soon as possible so it doesn’t leave any marks.

Commercial Rim Chucks

If making a wooden rim chuck for every plate you turn seems like too much work, try a commercial adjustable rim chuck. A turn of the wrench simultaneously moves four aluminum jaws in and out to firmly anchor your plate. Eight rubber buttons screwed into tapped holes in the jaws hold the edge of the plate.

Pictured at the right is a set of Jumbo Jaws mounted on a Oneway Stronghold Chuck. They can hold a plate from 23⁄4- to 11-in. diameter.

Fig. A: Cross Section of Typical Plates

Try these classic shapes for starters or copy any piece of china that you like.The thickness of your wood plate shouldn’t be less than 3⁄16 in.


(Note: Product availability and costs are subject to change since original publication date.)

Packard Woodworks, 800-683-8876, Plate Finish. If your plate will have food served on it, use Behlen’s Salad Bowl Finish. It’s a quick drying food-safe varnish,125701, 1 pint.


Hock Handmade Knives, 888-282-5233, Unhandled 3⁄8-in. Burnisher, #BR375.

Lee Valley Tools, 800-871-8158, Veritas Scraper Burnisher  #05K35.01.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker February 2000, issue #78.



CONTA wrote re: Wooden Plate
on 03-15-2009 4:25 PM

I made!!

John Whittier wrote re: Wooden Plate
on 03-28-2009 9:44 AM

If you use the blue masking tape there should be no residue to worry about.   Nice plate , beautiful wood.

devereux wrote re: Wooden Plate
on 04-19-2009 4:36 PM

Looks good to me . The spalted wood is especially nice. I ahve used this type of chuck before and they work great.

woodworker94 wrote re: Wooden Plate
on 06-03-2009 10:03 PM

Gee. To have cut-off waste like that... I've tried the above methods and they work. Just wish I were that good

Blenk2 wrote re: Wooden Plate
on 09-07-2009 12:56 AM

It's unfortunate that nowhere in this article do you mention the original author: the person who turned the spalted plate pictured and whose hands are photographed creating the piece is my late husband, Steve Blenk. Just for the record.