I recently made a Tilt-Top Table that features a turned post. Since many folks don’t own a lathe, I decided to come up with an alternative way to construct a post. I found inspiration in an episode of Woodworks from season 4. David Marks made this awesome lamp stand with a spiral post. With David’s permission, I’m going to show you a variation of the technique that I learned from him. While Season 4 of Woodworks isn’t available just yet, you can buy Seasons 1, 2 and 3 right now at DJMarks.com. Both downloads and DVDs are available. And if you aren’t familiar with Woodworks, you seriously need to pick up a season or two!
My original goal was to simply show you the spiral carving technique. But it’s always more fun to actually make something useful, so I quickly shoe-horned the spiral pattern into a small candle stand. Aside from the spiral itself, construction of this candle stand is quite simple. So let’s dive in.
Prepare the Blank
The post blank starts at 2″W x 2″T x 8″L. While I give you specific numbers for laying out the spiral pattern, keep in mind that you might want to change these numbers to suit your tastes. You can have more spirals by diving the blank length by a larger number. Or you can have fewer spirals by dividing by a smaller number. You might also play with the start and stop point of the spiral, allowing it to transition back to square. It’s completely up to you.
To bring the blank as close to a cylinder as possible, I use a large 1″ roundover bit taking multiple passes and sneaking the bit up a little bit at a time. If you take too big of a bite, the workpiece may tear out or kick back. Keep in mind with each pass, you are essentially removing your reference material for safe routing. This is why we can’t bring the blank into a full cylindrical shape. When finished, there should be at least a 1/4″ wide flat area on each side.
Using the method described in the video, lay out the spiral to your liking. Blue tape or even electrical tape works quite well for connecting the dots of the spiral pattern. Once the spiral is completely traced onto the blank, it’s time to sculpt.
Sculpting the Spiral
To sculpt the spiral, I’m using a Makita electric die grinder. The model linked to is the new version of the one I’m using. The die grinder accepts 1/4″ shanks and the bit I’m using is a 1″ carbide ball mill (or burr). Traditionally, this bit has been difficult to track down (as stated in the video). But I did a little digging and I found something comparable here.
Using the die grinder, remove the stock between the lines slowly. The action is a lot like erasing with a pencil. Work your way down being careful to keep the lines intact. I like to work down in stages. During the first stage, I might only remove stock to 1/8″ depth at the very center of the spiral, but I’ll do this over the entire post. Stage two widens the “trough” while also making it deeper. The process continues until the spiral is at full depth (about 3/16″) and full width. By working the spiral down in stages, I have the advantage of course-correction when required.
Refine the Spiral
Once the spiral is roughed out with the die grinder, I switch to a fine rasp for the finishing touches. The rasp not only smooths out the rough surface left by the carbide burr, it also helps finesse the final details. Using sandpaper wrapped around a round contoured sanding pad (or a dowel) I smooth the surface up to 220-320 grit.
The base and top of the candle stand are made up of small wooden disks. The top disk is 1/2″ thick x 3 1/2″ diameter. The bottom is actually a stack of two discs: one at 1/2″ thick x 3 1/2″ diameter and one at 1/4″ thick x 3″ diameter. The post is attached to the base and top via a small length of 1/2″ diameter dowel stock. 3 1/2″
The finish is pretty basic: wiping varnish. I started with Minwax Satin Poly and diluted it about 50% with mineral spirits. I then wiped on a total of three coats over the course of a day and a half. Before the final coat, I sanded the surface with 1000 grit wet-dry paper. The final coat goes on smooth and pretty much stays that way.
This was a bit of a rushed design and I’m really not in love with the end result. But it works for now and it’s still a perfectly usable candle stand. If I were to make another one, the first thing I would change is the diameter of the base. It should probably be 1/2″ wider to help give the piece proper visual balance.