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Doc Green’s Woodturning Site

A Very Small Wooden Faceplate

A Project

I once needed to turn several small disks about 2” in diameter that were used as decorative add-ons for a flatwork project. I needed a way to hold them on the lathe that would be quick, easy, and reliable.  

Because the back of the disk would not show, my first thought was to use a screw chuck.  However, the bearing surface would have a rather small diameter and the screw could not penetrate the disk more than about 3/8” at the most. None of my screw chucks were suitable, for one reason or another, so I began to consider other options.  

What I came up with amounts to a glue block that uses screws instead of glue to hold the workpiece. Because it uses no glue, calling it a glue block didn’t seem quite right, so for lack of a better term, I call it a faceplate. But it’s a rather unusual faceplate. It mounts in a scroll chuck and it doesn’t look like a traditional faceplate.  

The idea is to form a tenon to be gripped by the chuck jaws and then drill holes for the screws inside the diameter of the tenon. Access holes are drilled part-way through the “faceplate” in order to use screws that were shorter than its thickness. As with a traditional faceplate, it is attached to the blank to be turned and the assembly is then mounted on the lathe, in this case, in the chuck.

So what advantages does this little gem offer?  First, there is no glue to fuss with as there would be with an ordinary glue block, and removing the finished piece is as simple as removing four short screws. While double-sided tape could be used instead of screws, I find that dealing with the double-sticky tape is both fiddly and time consuming. Further, no pilot hole has to be drilled as would be required for an ordinary screw chuck, and there is no risk of accidentally drilling all the way through the disk.  

Making the “Faceplate”

1. Begin by placing a spindle blank about 2” long between centers. True it up and turn it to a diameter of 2”. Form a shallow tenon on each end.

2. Mount the blank in a scroll chuck. Square up the exposed end.  Reverse the blank and use a parting tool to trim the blank to an overall length of 1 7/8”.  (It does not matter if all or part of the exposed tenon is turned away in this process.) Square up the exposed end.  Remove the blank from the chuck.

3. Use a compass to draw a 1 1/4” circle on the end of the blank that has the tenon.  Mark four points equally spaced around this circle to locate the holes that provide access to the smaller holes for the screws.

4. Use a drill press to drill the access holes. I used a 13/32” bit for this because the extension on my power screwdriver is 3/8” in diameter.  Drill the holes to a depth of 1 3/8”.  

5. Use a smaller drill bit to continue the holes through the blank. I use #6 particle board screws 1” long as “faceplate screws” and used a #24 bit to drill the holes.  

6. Check to see how much the screws extend out f rom the face of the blank. I aimed for an extension of about 3/8”. Go back and drill the access holes deeper if you want more extension, or simply use longer screws.  

7.  Return the blank to the chuck and turn the outer profile. I turned the bearing surface to a diameter of 1.75”. The smallest diameter is about 1.25”.  

8. As an aid for centering the faceplate on a disk, I installed a sharp pin (short section of a finish nail) at the center of the bearing surface. I used a 3 penny finish nail and drilled a hole that accepts the pin with a snug fit.

Using the Faceplate

Almost always the center of the rough-cut blanks for the disks will be marked by the compass or template I use to outline the disks. I place the sharp pin on the center point and then press the pin into the wood. The bit of my power screwdriver is magnetized so it’s a simple matter to place a screw on the bit, lower the screw through the access hole, and then drive the screw into the disk. I then mount the assembly in a scroll chuck and I’m good to go.  

A Modification

A different design based on the same idea uses a face-grain blank that is only 3/4” thick. It is somewhat easier to make because the holes can be drilled with a hand-held drill instead of a drill press. With this design, however, there is less clearance between the workpiece and the jaws of the chuck, so take heed.

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