Turning Wood: Wooden Plates

Turning Wood: Wooden Plates

Beautiful tableware from scrap boards.

By Alan Lacer

One of my woodworking friends
defines offcuts as boards that are too
short to be useful, but too good to
throw away. That explains why he
always has a big stack of unused
short boards. As a woodturner, I view
those offcuts as prime material: Short,
thin boards are perfect for making
plates, platters and saucers. The turning
process is fairly simple, because
all three objects are really just shallow
bowls. You don’t need a big lathe,
either, because these objects don’t
have much mass. The only tricky part
is mounting the blank so you can
turn both sides, and I’ll show you a
method that simplifies the process.


Use almost any board

Almost any offcut or short board will
work, or is at least worth trying, as
long as it is free of checks (cracks)
and pith (the material at the very
center of the tree). The board should
also be relatively dry—plates made
from wet wood are much more likely
to warp. Any traditional hardwood
used in furniture making is suitable.
Maple, cherry, oak (especially quartersawn
or riftsawn), walnut, hickory,
butternut, birch, and beech are all
good choices. Cypress, cedar and
pine work well, too. These projects
are also a good way to test the turning
qualities of exotic woods, or local
woods that you’ve cut yourself.

The plate’s diameter depends on the width (or length) of the board, of
course, but it’s ultimately limited
only by your lathe’s capacity. For
starters, I recommend turning a plate
with a diameter between 7″ and 10″.
As the plate will be hollowed into
the board’s face grain, the board’s
thickness is another consideration.
Hardwood lumber is available in a
variety of roughsawn thicknesses—
1″, 1-1/4″ and 1-1/2″ thick boards all
make good plate material. If you
plan to turn a small saucer (6″ dia. or
less), you might even use a board as
thin as 1/2″.


Mount the blank

Plates tend to be on the thin side, so
mounting the blank is the first challenge.
This story shows my favorite
mounting method, which uses special
double-faced tape. However, you
should use this method only after
you have turned a number of bowls
and have developed a sound technique
with bowl gouges.

The best strategy is to turn one
side of the plate and then remount
it to turn the other side. I prefer to
turn the back of the plate first, so I
start by mounting the blank “backwards,”
with its front face oriented
toward the headstock (Photo 1). I
use the double-faced tape later,
when I remount the blank.

The tape must have a superstrong
grip (see Sources, below).
Do not substitute garden-variety
tape from the hardware store, or
even carpet tape. For the tape to
adhere properly, the blank must be
flat, clean, unfinished, dry and absent
of oily resins. If the wood is oily or
resinous (teak, cocobolo, or bocote,
for example), scrub the surface with
lacquer thinner or acetone.


Turn the back side

1. Start by truing up the blank’s
edge (Photo 2).

2. Next, true up the blank’s back
side and determine the size of its
base (Photos 3 and 4). The center
area must be absolutely flat.

3. Shape the back side of the plate
(Photo 5). This shape should roughly
mirror the shape you have in mind for
the plate’s open (front) side.

4. Draw a circle on the base to
mark the faceplate’s next location, so
when you reverse the blank, it will
remain accurately centered (Photo 6).

5. Remove the blank; then
remove the faceplate. Make sure
that the faceplate is absolutely clean
of rust and residue by wiping or
scrubbing it with lacquer thinner.
Cover the faceplate with the doublefaced
tape and mount it on the outside
of the blank (Photo 7).

6. Remount the blank on the
lathe—its open side now faces the
tailstock. Use a block of wood and the
tailstock center to clamp the
blank/faceplate assembly (Photo 8).

7. Complete the back side of the
rim by power sanding, using a drill
and a 5″ cushioned disc (Photo 9
and Sources). Power sanding is a
fast and effective way to true up
any slight irregularities.


Turn the open side

8. Determine the shape of the rim:
bead, flare, rolled edge or just a gentle
transition into the bottom of the plate.
If you intend to do a bead, lay it out
with a parting tool (Photo 10), and
finish the shape with a detail/spindle
gouge (Photo 11). Then complete the
rim (Photos 12 and 13).

9. Use the bowl gouge to shape
the plate’s interior (Photo 14). Work
from the rim towards the center in
stages, one section at a time. The goal
is to complete the turning for each
section as you go. Consider the wall
thickness as you create the transition
from the rim to the bottom of the
plate. Cut in decisively—it’s difficult to
go back and rework this shape later,
due to the lack of support. Leave the
tailstock in position until only a 2″ dia.
section remains at the center (Photo
15). Remove the tailstock and peel
down this remaining section.

10. The bottom of the plate’s interior
is usually flat or curves gently to
the center. Remember that you often have very little thickness to work
with on these projects, so don’t overdo
the hollowing—leave the bottom
of the plate at least 3/16″ thick. I normally
shape the bottom with the
bowl gouge, followed by very light
scraping with a square-ended scraper
(Photo 16). Sanding completes the
process. I prefer to sand this side of
the plate by hand, especially if it has
beads and other fine details.


Apply the Finish

11. Removing the plate from the
taped faceplate can be challenging,
because of the strong bond. The key
is a steady, even pull for 20 to 30 seconds
(Photo 17). If the project has
turned out to be on the thin side,
work some mineral spirits or naphtha
into the area of the tape and wait a
few minutes. Then try the slow and
steady pull—don’t force it.

12. Clean the bottom with mineral
spirits or naphtha; then sand lightly
by hand.

13. For functional objects that will
be well cared for, I like to use foodsafe
oil finishes, such as pure tung
oil, walnut oil or mineral oil (Photo
18). Tung and walnut oils will eventually
dry; mineral oil never dries. For
stain resistance, I suggest using a
film-type finish, such as a wiping varnish.
Plan to apply at least four coats.
Once they’ve fully cured, these finishes
are food safe.


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

Packard Woodworks, packardwoodworks.com, 800-683-8876, High Strength Double-
Faced Tape, 1″ width, #121091; 2″ width, #121092.

The Sanding Glove, thesandingglove.com, 757-665-4597, 5″ Disc Holder, #SM5M; 12-Piece Sanding Disc
Assortment, #275-AST-5″.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker August/September 2009, issue #143.

Purchase this back issue.

Click any image to view a larger version.

1. Prepare the bandsawn blank for
turning. The back of the plate will be
turned first, so fasten a faceplate on
the front of the blank. The screw holes
will disappear later, when the front (or
“open”) side of the plate is shaped.

2. Use a bowl gouge to true up the
edge of the blank and make it round.
Avoid splintering the blank’s faces by
working the edge from both sides.
Start at the outside and move to the

3. Flatten the back side of the blank.
Work from the center to the outside.
Start with the bowl gouge; then switch
to a square-ended scraper to level the

4. Use a straightedge to check the leveled
surface. The center area must be
absolutely flat, so you can successfully
remount the faceplate when it’s time
to turn the plate’s open side.

5. Use the bowl gouge to shape the
back side of the rim. Work from small
to large diameter. As you shape the
outside, consider your intentions for
the inside shape.

6. Mark a circle slightly larger than the
faceplate on the spinning blank. Then
remove the blank from the lathe, and
the faceplate from the blank.

7. Install the faceplate on the outside of
the blank, using the centered circle and
high strength double-faced tape (see
Sources, page 30). Trim the tape to
match the faceplate.

8. Remount the blank. Then use the tailstock
and a block to clamp the taped
joint. The block isn’t glued; it’s used to
distribute the clamping pressure. Allow
at least one hour for the tape’s bond to
fully strengthen.

9. Sand the back of the rim using a
cushioned disc mounted in a drill.
Before sanding, remove the clamp
block and reposition the tailstock so it
continues to support the plate.

10. Always work from the outside edge
towards the middle when shaping the
open side of the blank. Start by creating
the rim. It can be flat, curved or
detailed. Here, cutting in with a parting
tool roughs out a bead.

11. Roll the bead using a detail/spindle
gouge. Complete each half of the
bead’s rounded shape separately, by
starting at the center and working to
the edge.

12. Remove waste beyond the rim, using
the bowl gouge. Plunge down and
toward the center. This step provides
clearance, so you can complete the rim.

13. Complete the rim. It can be tapered
or flat and wide or narrow, depending
on your taste and the shape you’ve created
on the outside of the plate.

14. Establish the plate’s depth. Cut in
decisively from the edge of the rim,
plunging down and towards the

15. Remove the waste at the center,
using the opposite side of the gouge
and working in the opposite direction.
Plunge in and down to full depth. Back
off the tailstock to complete the job.

16. Make a light, cleaning cut with the
bowl gouge to blend the transition
between the previous two cuts. Switch
to a square-ended scraper to level the
surface. Then finish sand this side of
the plate.

17. Remove the plate from the faceplate
with a slow, steady pull. Remove any
tape or residue that remains with mineral
spirits. Finish sand the back side of
the plate by hand.

18. Apply your chosen finish. This is pure
tung oil.