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Doc Green’s Woodturning Site

Cake Stand from a Board

A Project: Part 1

Where bread is essential, at least for some folks, a cake is not. You could probably live a long happy life without ever eating cake. But cake is often served, and especially on occasions like birthdays and weddings, for example. A cake is something special and cakes are often artfully decorated. They deserve to be displayed prominently on a special stand – a cake stand.

In this article I describe a method for making a cake stand. It is made from dimensioned lumber and therefore does not require large turning blanks. The downside of this method is that you have to glue up a disk for the top surface and then glue several disks together to form a stack which becomes the base and pedestal.  

Overall, this project takes lots of steps but each step is fairly simple. The turning involved is not difficult. The only step that might be a little tedious is flattening the top surface, but if you take your time and work patiently, you can get it as flat as you wish.  

The one aspect of this endeavor that I have not investigated is finding a cover for the cake, if a cover should be desired. As I understand it, the cake is placed on a plate, the plate goes on the stand, and then the cover goes over the cake and rests on the top surface of the stand. This means that the dimensions of the stand, plate, and cover must be compatible.  

Here’s my story. I was given the dimensions by a designer: top surface 11.75” in diameter with a thin lip; height from 4.25” to 4.5”. Everything else was up to me. I was told not to worry about the plate or cover.

So, before you launch into this project, perhaps you should check with your designer about the dimensions of the top surface, plate, and cover. It should be a simple matter to adjust the dimensions as necessary. Have fun, and send me a photo of the end result, preferably with a cake!  

Getting Started: prepare the disks

I built my prototype using clear pine of some sort from the local big box “lumberyard.”  It was 3/4” thick with clean square edges. The following is based on this material.  

You will need disks of the following diameters:  12.25”, 6”, 5.25”, 4.5”, 3”, and 2.5”.  

Glue up the stock and then use a bandsaw to saw out the disks. Leave the disks a little large at this point. You can do the final dimensioning on the lathe.

The Top Surface (the platter)

1.  Prepare a waste block with an appropriate tenon. This will be attached to the top surface of the 12.25” disk.

2.  Jam the 12.25” disk against a large backing plate or a flat disk held in a scroll chuck. Turn the rim to round, but not to the final dimensions. Remove the disk from the lathe.

3. Measure the outside diameter of the waste block. Use a compass to draw a circle on the disk and then glue the waste block inside this circle.    

4.  Jam the 5.25” disk against a flat plate and true up the rim. If you have a chuck that can grip a tenon 3.25” in diameter (Oneway Stronghold, or similar), form a tenon that size on the exposed corner of the disk. This will allow the disk to be reversed in the chuck.

If you do not have such a chuck, go to the section Screw Chuck Option farther down for a workaround that uses a screw chuck. If you go that route, you will be directed back to Step ***10 below.  

5.  Reverse the 5.25” disk in a scroll chuck and flatten the exposed face.  This will become the glue surface for attaching the disk to the bottom of the platter.  Remove the disk from the lathe.  

6.  Mount the large disk in a scroll chuck using the waste block attached to it in Step 3 above.  Clean up and flatten the exposed face as necessary in anticipation of attaching the 5.25” disk.

7.  Attach the 5.25” disk to the bottom of the platter. My suggestion is to use a wood glue (Titebond, for example) as opposed to epoxy so the glue joint will be less visible. Use the tailstock to center the disk and apply clamping pressure. After the glue has cured, check to see that the tenon on the 5.25” disk still runs true. Correct it if it does not.

8.  Use a Forstner bit to drill a 1” diameter hole 1/4” deep at the center of the disk. Clean up and flatten the area around the hole.

9.  Reverse the platter in a scroll chuck, using the tenon on the 5.25” disk.

***10. True and shape the rim, turning it to the final dimension of 11.75”. Cut the angle on the rim.  Remove the waste block and flatten the entire face of the disk. Check it with a straightedge.  Sand it briefly with coarse sandpaper to clean up the surface.

Hollow and flatten the top surface.

Now the fun begins. The top surface of the platter must be hollowed out, but only to a depth of about 1/4”. Further, the resulting surface should be perfectly flat.  

There are two challenges here. The first is not to get the hollow too deep. The second is getting the surface flat. The following procedure addresses both of these issues.

11.  Use a sharp parting tool to cut a series of narrow grooves 7/32” deep across the face of the platter. These will serve as “depth gauges” while doing the hollowing. The grooves should be slightly less than 1/4” because some material will be removed during the sanding process. Take your time and work carefully when cutting these grooves. If a groove is wrong, the platter will be wrong.

12. Begin the hollowing by removing the waste wood between the grooves. Be particularly careful not to remove too much wood and form shallow coves between the grooves. Shape the lip at the rim, keeping in mind that some material will be lost during sanding.  

The photo at right shows the disk after the hollowing is complete but before any sanding. The dark lines represent high spots. The lines were made by holding a bakelite box against the spinning surface. (See the article “Rolling Pin ...Part 1” for the details.)

13. Flatten the surface using sanding blocks. That is, wrap sandpaper around a small block so that a flat section of abrasive is applied to the wood. By doing this, the peaks of the high spots will be removed without making the valleys deeper. Do this with the lathe running at a low RPM.

Check the surface with a straightedge to see that a dome does not develop at the center.  A dome is easy to remove by using a sanding pad on a drill. Just don’t overdo it or you can dig a hole where the dome used to be. Do the final shaping of the lip at the rim.

Once the surface is flat and all tool marks are gone, do the finish sanding. That is, go through the grits as for any other piece. Sanding blocks are not required for this part as long as you keep the sandpaper moving and don’t dwell too long at one particular spot.  

14. It is a good idea at this point to shape the underside of the platter that is near the edge, below the rim. This will avoid having to make any cuts near the edge when the piece is reversed to shape the bottom profile. Sometimes a piece does not run perfectly true when you reverse it.

15.  Remove the piece from the lathe. Prepare a flat-plate jam chuck, which can be a disk held in a scroll chuck or a disk mounted on a faceplate or screw chuck. Place a thin piece of foam or other soft material over the disk and then, after reversing the platter, jam it against the disk.  

16.  Shape the bottom profile of the platter. Note the stiffener ring that is left in the hope that it will prevent warping of the top surface. You can do a bit of preliminary shaping of the 5.25” disk, but don’t take it too far. The final profile will be created after the platter and base are joined together.

This is the end of the instructions for Part 1. However, scroll on down for the screw chuck option.


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Screw Chuck Option

Step 4 above involves jamming the 5.25” disk against a flat plate and truing up the rim. The next instruction is to turn a 3.25” tenon on the disk so the disk can be reversed.  But that procedure won’t work if you don’t have a chuck that large.  Here is an alternative procedure.

A1.  After the rim of the 5.25” disk is trued up, remove the disk from the lathe. Flatten the side with the unmarked center by rubbing the disk back and forth across a sheet of coarse sandpaper taped to a flat surface. This is to prepare a glue surface for attaching the disk to the platter.

A2. Mount the large disk (platter) in a scroll chuck using the waste block attached to it in Step 3 above. Clean up and flatten the exposed face as necessary in anticipation of attaching the 5.25” disk.

A3.  Attach the 5.25” disk to the bottom of the platter. Use the tailstock to center the disk and to apply clamping pressure. Give the glue plenty of time to cure.  

A4.  Use a Forstner bit to drill a 1” diameter hole 1/4” deep at the center of the disk.  Clean up and flatten the area around the hole.

A5.  At this point, we must make arrangements to use a screw chuck to reverse the assembly that is now on the lathe, namely the platter with the 5.25” disk attached.  The screw will go into the center of the hole you just drilled in Step A4 above, and the face of the 5.25” disk will seat against the bearing surface of the screw chuck.  However, the details depend upon the type of screw chuck you have. Here are three possibilities:

Woodworm screw insert.  Most chucks come with an insert that can be installed in the chuck to convert it to a screw chuck. Oneway calls theirs a “Woodworm.”  If you have one, now is the time to hunt it up and put it to use.  

When the Woodworm is installed in the jaws of a Oneway Talon or a Supernova2, the screw extends 3/4” beyond the chuck jaws.  This is good because the screw will then extend into the platter assembly only to the glue joint between the 5.25” disk and the bottom of the larger disk.  

To prepare for the Woodworm, use a 3/8” Forstner bit mounted in a Jacobs chuck on the tailstock to drill a pilot hole at the center of the 1” diameter hole you drilled in Step A4 above. Drill this hole to a depth of 7/8” measured from the surface of the 5.25” disk. This will give 1/8” space at the end of the Woodworm, assuming your Woodworm extends 3/4” beyond the chuck jaws. Don’t drill deeper than 7/8”.  

Remove the platter assembly and install the Woodworm in your chuck. Turn the platter around and screw it onto the Woodworm. Tighten it just enough to seat the face of the 5.25” disk against the front of the chuck jaws.  

Now go back up to Step ***10 above and carry on from there.

Use a screw chuck you have in your collection of tools.  If you have a real screw chuck whether shop made or purchased, all you have to do is see that it is appropriate for this task and then put it to use.

First, the screw should be a minimum of 7/32” in diameter and should extend beyond the bearing surface at least 5/8” but not more than 3/4”.  If the screw is too long, you might use a thin disk as a spacer between the bearing surface and the face of the 5.25” disk. Second, the diameter of the bearing surface should be at least 2.5” in diameter, preferably larger.  

Drill a suitable pilot hole for the screw of the screw chuck at the center of the 1” hole you drilled in Step A4.  

Remove the platter assembly from the lathe, turn it around, and then remount it on the screw chuck. Now go back up to Step ***10.

No screw chuck is available.  In this case there is no option other than to make one.  Fortunately, it’s not hard to do. For detailed instructions, see the article on screw chucks on this website.

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