William & Mary Bible Box Completed

I finally finished my reproduction of the William & Mary bible box I have been working on. If you missed the previous posts about it, you can check them all out, including pictures of the original, here: William & Mary Bible Box Posts.

To give you the short version, this project was a group build with my woodworking club, the Central Jersey Woodworker’s Association. I co-mentored the build with our club president, and each group member built their own box. We met as a group four times, once a month from January through April, to discuss key steps in the build process. Then each member went back to their own shop to complete that phase of the build. For certain specialty tasks, like the veneering and turning, we did those at the mentor’s (Frank’s) shop so that everyone wouldn’t have to invest in specialty tools that they may not have. Overall it was a really fun project.

My biggest take-aways:

  • Veneer work is fun stuff! Everyone should try it.
  • Turning small items on the pole lathe is a bit of a challenge. One needs to be sure to leave an extra 4 to 6″ where the drive cord wraps around for turning small things like the feet for this box. For long items like Windsor chair legs, it’s not a big deal. You can just turn the leg end for end in the lathe and continue to go at it. For turning small stuff though, having extra length is the way to go. I didn’t have that here (the blanks were designed to fit Frank’s Jet lathe) and I struggled a bit with the turning (not just because of the short blanks, but that’s a post for another day).
  • The parting tool isn’t a lot of fun to use on a pole lathe. The skew works much better.
  • The tool rest on my lathe flexes too much. This was the first time I’ve done any serious turning for a piece of furniture on my lathe. Previously it had been only practice pieces and rough turned items for the shop, such as the handles for my tool chest. I hadn’t noticed the flex in the tool rest with those turnings, but it reared its ugly head while turning the feet for this box. So I’ll need to remake the tool rest before I do any more turning. If you make this lathe for yourself, do yourself a favor and use a stiff hardwood for the tool rest and not construction grade lumber. The hem/fir I used just flexes way too much to make a solid tool rest.

Tonight is our club’s annual member showcase meeting where the club members bring in projects to display and talk about. It will also be the unveiling of our group’s finished bible boxes. If you’re in the area, you should stop by. You can get the address from the club’s web site, linked above. There’s no cost for your first meeting, so you have nothing to lose. It’s sure to be a great meeting with lots of really great work on display.





10 thoughts on “William & Mary Bible Box Completed

  1. Really gorgeous work Bob. Definitely a kick in the pants for me to try my hand at some veneering. Thanks for the blog!

  2. That’s something you can be proud of. Congratulations!

    Maybe I missed it in a blog post, but I’d like to know some more about your pole lathe. I’ve been thinking of building a lathe myself, possibly from Roy Underhill’s plans, but some of the information I’ve found indicates that a pole lathe is better used for green wood, and that dried hardwood is better left to a flywheel lathe or something similar that has more momentum behind it. As someone who has experience with pole lathes, what are your thoughts on this?

    • My pole lathe is the one from Roy’s book. The feet on this box were turned from kiln dried walnut on that lathe. You can use dry wood on a pole lathe. It just takes a bit lighter touch. But you don’t turn on a pole lathe like you do on a powered lathe I’m finding. The momentum thing is a myth. Flywheel lathes actually have far less power than a pole lathe. Pole lathes have tremendous power. What they lack is speed. Flywheel lathes turn at much higher rpms than a pole lathe, with a big decrease in power. You can really hog material on a pole lathe if you have a lot of material to remove quickly. You need to have a light touch on a flywheel lathe as bearing down on the turning will simply cause the belt to slip.

      Turning dry wood (or any wood for that matter) on a pole lathe requires sharp tools more than anything else. If you have power lathe experience or watch a video about turning on a power lathe, or take a class on turning (which will most definitely use a power lathe), you almost need to forget everything you know. Turning on a pole lathe is very different from a power lathe in my experience. Just about the only constant between the two is that the bevel of the tool should always rub (i.e. you “ride the bevel” or the tool will dig in).

      Power lathe turners typically use high speed steel tools and sharpen only using a fine grinding wheel on a high speed grinder. They rely on the speed of their lathes to make the cuts from their rough edged tools cleaner. Pole lathe turners on the other hand typically use carbon steel tools (like your normal chisels and plane irons) and they hone them on stones to hair shaving sharp, just like all of their other hand tool edges. The sharp tool ensures a clean cut across the grain at the slow speeds of the pole lathe. If you start getting tearing and a rough surface on the pole lathe, it is because the tools need sharpening, not because the lathe is turning slower. Pole lathe turnings can be completed right from the cutting tool if the edge is sharp. There is no sanding necessary when a good pole lathe turner turns a piece. The surface left by the tool is smooth and polished. I’m not there yet, so I sand…a lot.

      There are several tools that power lathe turners use that don’t work well on the pole lathe. Scrapers are the first. Pole lathes just don’t have the speed needed to get a decent surface from scraping. The other are parting tools. I use a parting tool on my pole lathe, but I always score the outside edges of where I’m parting with the point of the skew first before parting. The parting tool tends to tear out large chips on the pole lathe otherwise. Good pole lathe turners don’t use parting tools, they use only the skew to part. I’m not a good turner (pole lathe or otherwise), so I still use a parting tool, for now.

      For a pole lathe turner, slicing cuts with very sharp tools are the aim. So chisels and sharp, short beveled gouges are the tools of choice for spindle turning. Hook knives, which are pretty specific to pole lathe turners, are used for turning bowls, as opposed to the bowl gouges used by power lathe turners. The pole lathe turner’s best friend and worst enemy is the skew chisel. A good pole lathe turner can do almost everything with the skew. It’s a difficult tool to learn to use well though. The only thing that the skew can’t do easily is very tight radius coves. A small gouge is used for those cuts. Again, I’m not a good turner, so I use a bunch of different tools. I actually like a 2″ wide straight chisel for turning the initial cylinder. I’ll use a large (1-1/4″) roughing gouge to get a rough oversized cylinder (after planing, hewing or drawknifing the square stock to an octagon), but then switch to the 2″ straight chisel to “plane” the surface smooth and even. Then it’s mostly skew work to add the beads and coves. I cheat a bit and use the parting tool here and there as I’m not very good at using the skew yet. I also will reach for a standard bench chisel or out-cannel bench gouge from time to time. I do really want to improve my skew use though so I can do more with it.

      So don’t be afraid of the pole lathe. I have a friend at the museum where I occasionally volunteer who has been turning dry wood on a pole lathe his entire career (30 years, 40 years, I’m not even sure). He makes high end reproduction 17th and 18th century furniture. Think flame finials and William & Mary turnings and quarter columns and such. His turnings are cleaner than any turning I’ve ever seen from a power lathe and he doesn’t sand them at all. His work is simply amazing. I really need to spend some time working on my own pole lathe skills with him.

  3. Bob your Bible Box turned out really nice, great job and you be proud of your accomplishment. Thanks for sharing !


  4. I’m looking forward to posts about your lathe. I have been making some toolhandles on our metalworking lathe, with an old gouche. Not a real succes, needed lots of sandpaper to rescue the piece, but it started my curiosity for pole lathes.

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