Candle Stand and the Sliding Dovetail
Riving/Turning/The Column | The Top/Legs | Without a Lathe | Sliding Dovetails | Finishing  | Related Videos
The Woodwright's Companion: Exploring Traditional Woodcraft By Roy Underhill

Riving, Turning & The Column

The first split goes right through the center.The first split goes right through the center. It snowed and snowed, the whole world over, snow swept the world from end to end. A candle burned on the table, A candle burned. Boris Pasternak, Dr. Zhivago (1958) One February a few years back, terrible ice storms savaged the county, taking down a lot of well-loved trees. One elderly neighbor in town lost a huge walnut tree that fell and crushed her garden shed. The loss must have upset her, as she and the tree had grown up together, but practical as ever, she had one of the neighborhood kids fetch me and offered me the wood in exchange for cleaning up the mess and making her a little something from it. There were some fine logs in the tree, but we both knew that no sawmill would touch it for fear of the costly damage the buried nails and sundry spikes that often inhabit yard trees could do to their saws. It was a good deal for us both.

I get most of my good timber in trades of this sort. One of the best trades for walnut, cherry, or good maple logs is an arrangement that begins, "Let me have that dead tree and I'll make you a candle stand out of it." These classic and useful tables can be made in just a few hours by hand and foot power, so both parties do well in the bargain.

The basic candle stand consists of six parts—three legs, a pedestal, and the top and its supporting block. The stand that I make is in the Queen Anne style, with cabriole legs (meaning they are shaped like the leg of a leaping goat) and a lathe-turned, classical vase-shaped pedestal or column (for instructions on making a candle stand without using a lathe, see page 110). The connection between the legs and the column is formed by sliding dovetail joints. These joints are a neat trick: the legs slide up into the column from the bottom in a clever puzzle


Somewhere inside that tree is your candle stand; you just need to get it out. The largest piece of the stand is of course the top and must come from the largest part of the tree. Using the utmost care, split the largest log in half directly through the pith. A froe is helpful to keep the split straight, as any misdirected cracks could ruin the top. Split the better half again to yield a somewhat thicker board than you will need. This extra thickness will allow you to plane out the cupping bend to the bark side of the top that will inevitably occur with seasoning.

Now thoughtfully rive out the blanks for the legs, column, and block, again leaving them larger than the final dimensions. Take care to exclude any pith or doty sapwood from any of your pieces. Bring them a bit closer to the appropriate size with hatchet and drawknife and set them aside for a few days. In very dry weather the thick column stock is prone to severe checking, so keep an eye on it and move it to a more humid environment if problems develop. The leg blanks seldom give such trouble.


When turning a large disc like the top of a candle stand on a lathe, the usual procedure is to affix the blank to a metal faceplate which can be directly mounted on the lathe in place of the drive center. This arrangement, somewhat like a horizontal version of a potter's wheel, gives you clear access to the workpiece. The headstock bearings on my treadle lathe are not set up to take this sort of load, however, so I do all such turning "between centers," first turning the column to its finished shape and then using it as a mandrel to hold the block and top in the lathe as they are turned. One would have to use the same procedure when doing such turning on a spring-pole lathe, where a rope wrapped around the workpiece provides the drive. It works quite well.

The Column

The base of the column must be against the drive center of the lathe.The base of the column must be against the drive center of the lathe. The column must be of sufficient diameter to contain the joints for the three legs, but beyond that the design is constrained only by your taste. The use of the lathe already assures a certain symmetry, your eye being the final judge of the boldness or weakness of curve and countercurve. The top cylinder perhaps looks best when it is equal in diameter to the bottom one. Another mechanical consideration is to leave a slight collar on the bottom cylinder to delineate the upper limit of the leg joints. The column must be oriented on the lathe with its base to the drive center and not the other way around, for reasons that you will see as you go on. The top of the column must be turned to end in the 1-inch-diameter tenon that will hold the block that in turn will hold the top. Do any spin finishing that you intend to do to the column now, while it is still turning true. It may want to wobble if you wait.

When the column is done to your liking, turn your hand to the block and the top. On the inch-thick piece riven out for it, lay out the block with a compass, about 5 inches in diameter. Bore the 1-inch-diameter hole through the center and saw out the circumference as accurately as possible. Set this block on the tenon turned on the column and reset the whole works in the lathe. Scrapers with well-turned edges may be your best choice for the flat-grain turning required here. Turn the block ever so slightly concave on what will be its upper side. Diminish its thickness to the edges on its underside.



"The Woodwright's Companion: Exploring Traditional Woodcraft" By Roy Underhill
© 2012 The University of North Carolina Press

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