Lee Valley & Veritas
Woodworking Newsletter
  Volume 8, Issue 5 - May 2014    
Rustic Elegance
A rustic yet elegant trivet
A rustic yet elegant trivet made out of box elder
Tools and Supplies
  • 4" diameter limb (Choose a wood with striking differences between heartwood and sapwood; I chose box elder for the red streaks.)
  • Rip saw (or band saw)
  • 3/8" bowl gouge
  • 1/2" square-nose scraper
  • Lathe with at least a 10" swing
  • Live center with a reverse cone center for the lathe tailstock
  • 4-prong drive center
  • Scroll chuck
  • 6" (or greater) jointer
  • Hand plane
  • Mini scraper
  • Assortment of sandpaper
  • Walnut oil or finish of your choice
  • Pipe clamps
Prepare and Turn the Trivet
Select a 4" diameter limb that has a 1-1/2" to 2" diameter side branch. Trim the side branch down to a 1" stub. Saw down the middle of your 4" limb, splitting the side branch. Saw down 6" below the top of the side branch.
  Trimming the limb
Trimming the limb
Use a miter box or a chop saw to cut off the limb just above the side branch and again 6" down. You should end up with two half limbs, about 4" wide by 6" long. Joint the sawn faces flat, then joint 1" off the edge that doesn't have the side branch stub. (Put the sawn face against the jointer fence.) You should have 1-1/2" to 1-3/4" of flat surface on the edges of the half limbs.   The two jointed half limbs
The two jointed half limbs
Lay the half limbs face down, jointed edge to jointed edge. Ensure that the two halves make a 6" width. If they are too wide, joint a little more off the edges until you have the desired width. Spread glue on the jointed edges and clamp together. Be careful to keep the ends even and the faces aligned. Allow the glue to dry.   Gluing together the jointed half limbs
Gluing together the jointed half limbs
Joint the sawn faces to form a flat surface. If the trivet blank is too wide for the jointer, use a hand plane. Next joint the bark side to form a surface parallel to the sawn faces. This surface needs to be just flat enough to allow you to hold the blank against the drive center with a reverse cone center in the tailstock.   Jointing the bark side
Jointing the bark side
Use an awl to punch a small hole at the center of the sawn face. This will be on the glue line only if you jointed the same amount from the edge of each half limb. Mount the blank on the lathe with the punched hole lined up with the pin in the drive center, and the blank held flat and engaged in the drive center by the reverse cone center in the tailstock (photo below). Use a 1/2", flat-nose scraper to turn a shallow spigot for the scroll chuck. My chuck would just accept a tenon cut as close as possible to the diameter of my reverse cone.   Marking a small hole at the center
Marking a small hole at the center
Notes for less experienced turners: First, keep your lathe speed at slow to medium for all operations on this project. Second, the spinning blank will form an apparent disc, but this disc will have voids between the corners as they rotate past your cutting tool. Keep a steady downward pressure on the gouge to help prevent it from "falling" into one of the voids. Once you get the feel of it, this is not a difficult cut.   Mounting the blank on the lathe
Mounting the blank on the lathe
Remove the blank and replace the drive center with the scroll chuck. Insert the spigot into the chuck and make sure the blank is well seated before tightening the chuck.

The sawn face is now exposed; it will form the bottom side of the trivet. Use a sharp gouge to make a series of shallow cuts across the blank, starting at the center and cutting to the outside until you are cleaning all four corners. Use a square-nose scraper to turn an appropriately sized spigot for your scroll chuck.
  The exposed sawn face forms the bottom
The exposed sawn face forms the bottom
Using the gouge, start a series of shallow cuts with the first one beginning near the spigot; cut toward the center. Your next pass will begin farther out and cut a little deeper into the blank. Your final cut will begin a little inside the outer part of the corners and will describe a profile that dishes into the body of the blank and then levels off. Where this cut intersects with the edges of the blank, it will form shallow arches (photo below).

Cut the spigot short enough so that the feet of the trivet (i.e. the corners) stand proud by at least 1/8". That left my spigot 5/16" tall, sufficient to get a good grip with the scroll chuck.

Sand the underside using a roll of cloth-backed sandpaper. Using caution, hold the roll at an angle such that the trivet corners won't grab it as they go spinning past. Depending on the finish you left behind after using the gouge, start sanding at 180 grit (or perhaps 220) and work incrementally to your finest grit. If you have a large sanding disc, hold it against the feet as the blank spins. This will make them smooth and ensure your trivet sits flat.
Cutting toward the center
Cutting toward the center
Shallow arches
Shallow arches
Remove the trivet from the scroll chuck and mount the underside tenon in the chuck. The top side is now ready to be cut.

Again use the gouge and a series of shallow cuts to form the top profile. Start your cut about half way out from the center and work from the inside to the outside. Bring your cut around the legs to round off the corners. Follow the profile of the bottom to produce an even thickness.
  Forming the top profile
Forming the top profile
Next, cut a shallow depression in the center of the top, leaving the high ring near the edges. Use the gouge and work from the outside in. With the lathe turned off, check your progress by holding a straight edge against the face.   Progress check
Progress check
If necessary, you can use a mini scraper to clean up any tool marks you may have left behind. With the lathe shut off, scrape in the direction of the grain. Make the scraper from a single-edged razor blade by grinding a radius-edged curve on the edge and then burnish a hook.

You are now ready to sand the top and edges of your trivet. Start with the finest grit that your technique, or the grain, will allow. Again, roll the sandpaper and hold it at an angle to avoid being caught by the rotating corners. Progress incrementally to your finest paper. Sand the edges with the lathe shut off.

Walnut oil makes a good finish for this project. It is non-toxic, durable, dries or hardens quickly (compared to linseed oil), and can be easily renewed or repaired. With the lathe off, apply the oil to the top and bottom of the trivet using a soft, absorbent cloth. The first coat of oil may soak into the wood, but subsequent coats will build a finish. To get more of a gloss, apply more coats of oil. Allow the oil to dry between coats.

You are now ready for dinner guests. If you are a wood turner, they will be used to seeing "homespun" items in your house. But there is nothing homespun about this trivet. Its elegance lies in the beauty and grace of its form. It will take any occasion in its stride.
Text and photos by Ellis Hein

Ellis Hein is the author of The Woodturner's Project Book, Linden Publishing Company, 2008. His articles on woodworking have appeared in Woodturning Design, Woodturning, Woodworker's Journal, the Lee Valley Newsletter, and in Woodturns ezine. Hein, with his wife and two children, lives near Casper, Wyoming. He has been turning for nearly 50 years, ever since he began turning Shaker-style pegs in his father's woodshop. He blogs about turning at http://woodturnedart.wordpress.com. You can contact him at woodturnedart@vcn.com.
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