Sequence for Turning an Inlaid Box
This is from a hand-out given by Kip Christensen before the demonstration at
Brigham Young University, 6 March 2001. That evening, Kip showed a dozen
extremely fine boxes ranging from small fingernail- to fist-size and ornamented
with great variety including horn and ivory. A finely-detailed ebony box the
size of a thumb was passed around so perfect that one might have thought it out
of a fine plastic mold.
He demonstrated chatter techniques in which a light tool cantilevered out from
holder "chattered" against the piece on the lathe leaving evenly-spaced checks
in the inlay.
Kip described his roughing techniques, the length of his storage time and how
to store prepared billets.
In addition to the original hand-out information which I have copied here, I
have added the comments I remember made during the demonstration. However, by
no means are all useful comments made during the demonstration reported here.
Kip's box project was a fist-sized box out of myrtle with a dark wood inlay and
simple rounding as decorations. He finished the inside of the box with a lemon
oil-based wax and a different oil and wax finish on the outside. The difference
being in his mind that the inside of the boxwhich will spend its life
mostly closedmust smell inoffensive or even nice.
Preparing the Box Blank
- 1. Start with a 3" to 4" square billet 12"-15" long.
- 2. Mount billet between centers and turn to a cylinder.
- 3. Turn ends of cylinder so they are clean and square with sides.
- 4. Lay out lid and base by making ¼"-deep kerfs with narrow
- 5. Mark how lid and base match.
- 6. Separate lid and base by cross-cutting on a bandsaw. The kerf will
help keep the cut true.
- 7. Mount bottom of base in three-jaw chuck; hollow out center leaving
walls 3/8" to ½".
- 8. Hollow inside of lid.
- 9. Stand blank on edge and allow to dry in living environment for
several weeks or months. Standing blank on edge keeps it drying
evenly whereas setting it flat on an end will leave more moisture
in area near underlying surface.
- 10. Sand bottom of base flat and glue to a 2"-thick waste block.
Preparing the Inlay
- 1. Slice inlay stock approximately ¼"-thick on bandsaw.
- 2. Cut into square or round wafers large enough to turn round later and
still yield desired inlay diameter.
- 3. Sand bottom of inlay flat on disc or belt sander.
- 4. Remove drive center or chuck on lathe to expose end of arbor. Place
double-sided tape over end. Wrap masking tape around arbor to
better anchor end-tape.
- 5. Center inlay against tape with sanded side in contact with tape.
Bring tailstock up against inlay with light pressure.
- 6. Turn inlay round creating a 90° angle between edge and bottom of
- 7. Remove inlay and store.
- 8. It is a good idea to turn out hundreds of inlays of different sizes
and colors from which to choose when turning boxes.
Turning the Box
- 1. Mount screw-center faceplate to waste block and box base.
- 2. Mount base on lathe, bring outside to round, true up end.
- 3. Turn spigot on end to receive lid.
- 4. Shape outside of box and scoop out inside of base.
- 5. Remove faceplate from lathe and mount three-jaw chuck.
- 6. Mount lid in three-jaw chuck and turn a shoulder on lid to fit spigot
on base. Leave a slight bevel on shoulder to act as an indicator of
approaching match to base spigot. When the base spigot begins to
fit inside of bevel, slow down and be careful. Make fit tight, but
not too tight. Usually, this fit will tighten rather than loosen
- 7. Finish turning inside of lid.
- 8. Sand inside of lid.
- 9. Apply finish to inside of lid.
- 10. Mount faceplate and base on lathe with lid fitted on bottom.
- 11. True top of lid and cut recess to fit inlay. Use the bevel trick.
- 12. Apply glue to edge and edge-only of bottom and tap inlay into recess
with mallet. Too much glue will have an impact on drying rates
between the inlay area and the rest of the lid. If a double inlay
is desired, repeat steps 11 & 12 using a smaller inlay in the
- 13. With the lid in place on the base, shape the lid. If the lid is too
lose, wrap the base spigot with masking tape.
- 14. Sand inside of base.
- 15. Apply finish to inside of base.
- 16. Sand outside of lid and base.
- 17. Apply finish to outside of lid and base.
- 18. Part base off waste block.
- 19. Turn spigot on waste block to fit inside of base. Mount base with
- 20. Turn bottom of base.
- 21. Sand bottom of base.
- 22. Apply finish to bottom of base.
- 23. Remove and admire.