Introduction: Dual-Axis Turned Wood Solitaire

About: Engineer by trade, amateur woodworker and author in the off-hours. Most commonly, I build flag boxes for retiring military members and occasionally gifts and furniture when the opportunities arise. Outside of …

Valentine’s Day is around the corner and everyone knows homemade gifts are the best. Okay, maybe not always but they’re good to add icing to the cake. While this little gem isn’t quite the same as its real counterpart, it’s a wonderfully perplexing bit of lathe work.

Looking at the finished product, it’s hard to determine the series of steps that go into its construction but with a little planning it’s fairly simple. Most of the work is performed on a lathe with a 4-jawed chuck, along with a bandsaw and Dremel for the finishing work.

That said, this has been an experiment. I had no idea if it would work and it took me a few tries but I think it was worth the trouble.

-Final ring w/ my great-grandfather's vernier calipers (still come in handy for stuff like this)
-Final prototype ring on my band

*Final photographs courtesy of my wife @ Pixl-Photography

Step 1: First Axis

Start with a turning blank of dense hardwood, preferably with a grain structure that you’d be able to trace through the piece once it’s complete. Mine were built from Burmese Blackwood. About 1.5” square and 4” or so long will be enough. Use a pencil to trace the general shape of the product you’re looking for. Size the gemstone at the end, followed by the fitting and a circle for the band. This will be turned as a sphere and carved away later.

*Important: check the maximum size of the outside of the band you’d like to use. Close your lathe chuck as if it was mounted and measure the spacing between the jaws. This is the maximum size of the gemstone.

Attach the blank to the lathe, turn it to a cylinder, and start from the gem end. Use a square scraper or skew to cut the shape of the stone and size it correctly to fit the chuck. Continue down the blank and with a skew or beading tool, cut a rounded profile that will become the setting.

-Size comparison on 4-jaw chuck with detail jaws
-Pattern mapped onto blank
-Starting to turn the stone/band

Step 2: The Sphere

I won’t pretend to be an expert on turning spheres. If you want to explore this in depth, check out David Springett’s book “Woodturning Wizardry.” My method was to set my calipers to the maximum round diameter I wanted, and carve away material to each side with a skew, making sure the calipers could continually pass around the object. For this project, you don’t need to be perfect but it does help in the second axis portion.

Get down to a 1/8” tenon on the back and sand the entire project as high as you can go. I started at 400 and went to 2000.

Move to a bandsaw and cut away the outside of the band. If you haven’t broken the tenon, use the square block for stability. If you have, clamp the stone in place with a clamp. I started at an angle outside the setting and arced to the base, leaving about ¼” in width at the end. From here, you should have an object that nearly resembles a ring.

-Building the sphere
-Paring off the base/sanding
-Bandsawing sides away

Step 3: Second Axis

Back to the lathe… Wrap the band with padded double-sided tape if needed and clamp it in the chuck, with the stone held between two of the jaws. It was getting too cold in my workshop so the glue failed and I went on without it. That left a few more scratches so I wouldn't recommend it.

At this point, all pressure should be distributed around the band and not hitting the stone. Use a tiny gouge and pare away the inside of the band. Once you’re left with a fairly deep divot, flip the piece over and finish it off from the back. Use a skew to widen the opening and round it over to each finished edge.

At this point, use a very light touch as you go along so you don’t loosen the ring. You could also begin with a sharp drill bit held in the tail stock.

-Ring chucked on second axis for center milling

Step 4: Breakage

Or maybe you go a little too fast and crack the whole thing apart… that’s fine too; they make cyanoacrylate glue for a reason. Glue it back together, use it for practice, and try again. It’s all part of the woodturning experience.

After breaking the prototype, I was able to buff most of the ring back to a shine, but there were still too many cracks and dents to make a final product.

-Split ring
-Glued back together
-Battle-damaged prototype

Step 5: Final Touches

You should now have a ring with a rounded hole. Use a sanding drum on a Dremel, carve away any additional material that is out of place and size the ring to fit. I made sure to remove all of the marks from the bandsaw on the edge.

If you want the top to look less like a chess piece, use the flat top of a cutting wheel and apply even pressure around the stone to create the facets. I also used my tail stock in the lathe to steady the assembly, so I had a small tenon on top that I needed to grind off and polish away.

Sand everything as finely as you are able with the tool and by hand so the interior and exterior match. Attach a buffing wheel to the Dremel and polish/wax the ring as far as you’d like. I used a coating of Renaissance Wax to give the entire piece a warm glow.

And that’s it! Surprise your special someone! I’m debating the look of the project if the stone was swapped for another color (maybe Bloodwood or Padauk) and whether that’d be worth losing the grain structure. If you want to try it, I’d like to see your results.

-Milling with Dremel
-Final products

Rings Challenge

First Prize in the
Rings Challenge

Small Spaces Contest

Participated in the
Small Spaces Contest

On a Budget Contest

Participated in the
On a Budget Contest