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Segmented Wood Turning

What It Is And How To Get Started

If you've already got some experience with woodworking and you're looking for an ambitious new skill to cultivate, segmented wood turning is an excellent place to look. This is a craft which requires precision and patience, and the results you can achieve are remarkably beautiful. This basic overview will let you know what you can expect.

turned bowl

The Basic Idea

Segmented turning is typically used to create bowls, vases, and other vessels. Rather than being turned from a single piece of wood, segmented pieces are first assembled out of dozens or even hundreds of much smaller components. By choosing the smaller pieces with care and assembling them properly, you can create dazzling geometric patterns of interlocking and contrasting woods in your finished piece.

Because the smaller parts which make up a segmented vessel are glued together before the actual turning process, you need thorough gluing skills to produce a sturdy finished piece. You'll also have to exercise care and caution turning the turning process itself in order to turn a very complex polygonal shape into a smooth and attractive vessel.

Plan Carefully

This is one type of woodworking that simply cannot be done "on the fly." The copious amounts of coordination required demand that you give the planning stage plenty of attention. For your first segmented pieces, you'll probably want to start by following published plans. Later you can use software tools to help plan your own projects.

Before purchasing any materials, you need a comprehensive list of all the parts you'll require. This has to be extremely detailed; when you're starting out look for plans that give you complete dimensions (or even silhouettes) for every piece you need.

Prepare Your Pieces

In order to build up your piece, you're going to cut individual segments and glue them together into rings. These rings are in turn glued together to create the rough form that you'll turn to create the finished piece. Precision is critical here. Each piece needs to closely match the dimensions you're looking for.

Gluing your rings together requires extensive clamping in order to achieve the strength you'll need during the turning process. Smaller rings may be secured by a ring clamp around their exterior, but larger and more fragile pieces may need to be assembled in sections and then joined up as a whole. You'll want to sand your work as you progress to improve the fit of both individual pieces and rings.

Assembling The Larger Whole

For simple pieces, you will probably be able to put all of your rings together before you start turning. More advanced pieces are often built up a few rings at a time and turned in stages. Regardless of which method you use, it's vital not to rush the assembly process. Each ring you add to your piece has to be allowed to set thoroughly before you turn it. The base of your piece will need to be attached to a waste block so that you have a place to mount it on your lathe.


Turning Your Piece

While you're already aware that safety is important in all forms of woodworking, turning segmented pieces demands the most thorough precautions. Always use a full face shield when you're doing segmented turning; the process can send large chunks of debris flying. This is also why you need to take extreme care with your gluing; you don't want individual segments popping out on the lathe!

The turning process itself should be handled in stages. In the rough turning stage, start with the exterior of the piece and then move to the interior. Don't worry about the final contour too much until you've removed all of the corners and flat surfaces. Remember that you need to leave the upper ring flat if your plan calls for attaching more rings, though!

You'll refine the shape of the vessel with scrapers. Some tear-out is inevitable, especially around the joints between segments. In order to fix this and finalize the shape of your piece, you'll finish off the process with an extensive series of sanding passes. Once you're satisfied with the surface of your piece, you're ready to apply your chosen finish. Keep your vessel mounted on its waste block; you may want to pop it back on the lathe for more sanding between finish coats.

As you can probably tell, segmented turning is a very time-consuming and detail-oriented process. The results easily justify the amount of effort involved, though. There is simply no other way to produce pieces with the kind of dazzling geometric effects that are achieved through segmented turning.


About The Author:

Ted Leger is a woodworking enthusiast who turned his hobby into a passion. You can find more woodworking tips and advice from him at his woodworking blog,