The Making of a Cremation Urn

An Unfortunate Task

This year I had the unfortunate task of making a cremation urn for my father. He was a survivor of more than twelve years from his cancer diagnosis. There were a lot of good years in that time but in the end we could see things closing in and the call was not unexpected.

When my mother picked us up at the airport we were not even out to the car yet before she asked me about making a cremation urn. I had already been thinking about it so it only made sense to say yes. This was a bit of a challenge for me though. I had never made a cremation urn before or even been very interested in making large hollow forms. While we were still in Ottawa I began researching . I ordered Turning Hollow Forms: Techniques and Projects and read through that. Then I researched different hollowing systems and searched out images of urns on Google to get ideas .

Wood for the Urn

While I was researching the techniques and tools to be used I also started thinking about what wood to use. In my parents backyard I found a couple of sections from large branches of trees that had been cut down in recent years.


The first section was from a large maple that was their street tree for all the years that they lived in the house. My father used to track the growth of this tree and to this day there is still a chart of its growth in one of the sheds. It had been cut down a year earlier after the street side of the tree died off. The other section of wood was from a large butternut tree in the backyard. My parents had planted this tree many years ago. I remember when we were growing up there was always a clothesline tied between this tree and one of the other trees in the yard and we played many a game of badminton with the clothesline as the net. I was able to cut two suitable blanks from each section and shipped those home to work with.

Getting Knowledgeable Advise

By the time I got home I was thoroughly confused by the number of different hollowing systems available. There were also some specific considerations about urns that I had questions about. I made contact with Larry Stevenson, who I knew through the Greater Vancouver Woodturners Guild. We don’t know each other well but he was kind enough to invite me over to his shop. We went through some of the different tool options for hollowing. He also showed me some examples of the urns that he makes and discussed some of the considerations that I would need to account for.


Larry is a big advocate of using your head to solve problems rather than just throwing money at them. While we did discuss some of the hollowing systems available for purchase he also showed me some of the tools that he has made for himself. In the end I wound up borrowing a spare set of tools he had made that would work for the first stages of the hollowing and ideas for how to make my own tool for the deeper sections. The tool I made for deep hollowing basically consists of a length of 3/4″ tool steel set into a long handle. The other end of the steel rod has a hole drilled into the end for a high speed steel cutter held in place by a grub screw. Cheap and simple to make but really quite effective.

Hollowing Practice

With tools, wood and advise in place it was time to for some practice. Deep hollowing and thread chasing were two skills that I felt I needed to work on before trying to make the actual urn. I started with a couple of hollow forms using some wood that just happened to be on hand.

The first piece was going well until I messed up the opening. Since it was a practice piece I decided to cut it in half to see how uniform I had managed to get the wall thickness. Overall I was pretty happy with what I found.

Taking that experience I tried another piece that was a bit larger. The shape turned out to be not very good but it served the purpose of practising some deep hollowing.

Thread Chasing Practice

The other skill I needed was chasing threads. I had considered getting some brass insert threads for the purpose. After doing some research though I decided they were too expensive and would put constraints on the design. I purchased the Sorby 16 tpi thread chasing tools and started practising. Normally thread chasing is done with very hard, close grained woods such as boxwood and ebony. I wanted to try using softer woods though and decided to experiment with maple that had been stabilized with resin to make it harder. It was not really that difficult to do but definitely need a bit of practise to get the feel. My first successful threads were in a box so small that maybe(?) you could fit a coin inside.

After that I began making a series of small boxes. In addition to being good practice for thread chasing they have turned out to make good birthday presents for a few people.

Roughing out the Urns

Once I was satisfied that I had a enough practice I began working with the wood from my parents property. Since I was working with green wood I decided to rough out an urn from each of the four blanks that I had cut. That way I would be able to go with the one that dried the best later on. Incidentally this was about the time that I upgraded to a new lathe. This was one of the first pieces that I turned on it. 

We were aiming to have the internment on his birthday so that gave me about three months to let the roughed out blanks dry before I had to choose one and get it finished. As it turned out it was the butternut pieces, on the left side in the picture, that dried the best. That tree had been cut down longer and it seems to have been drier to start with as a result. I had initially been concerned about the condition of the wood but while the sapwood was quite punky the heartwood turned out to be in great condition. Once it was dried we selected the butternut blank with the shape we liked best.

Finishing the Urn

 I put the roughed out urn we had chosen back on the lathe and trued up the outside. Then I finished hollowing out the inside the final depth and wall thickness. For the top I chose a piece of walnut that I had on hand. I stained the top with a mixture of steel wool and vinegar to get a nice contrast with the urn.


In the end I finished it on time and I am pleased with the end product. I still have the three left over rough outs but for now I think they will stay unfinished. At the moment I have no desire to either finish or dispose of them.  Hiding them away somewhere and forgetting about them for a while seems like a good plan. A number of people have suggested that I could sell cremation urns for a good price but I would rather not for now. Perhaps a referral to Larry Stevenson is a good thank you for his assistance. He really does do wonderful work.



2019 Market Schedule


Update: I now have my fall and Christmas market schedule finalized. I will be doing a couple of weeks with The Eastside Flea  in east Vancouver and three weeks with the Shipyards market in North Vancouver.

I have some of my markets booked for 2019. As usual I will update the schedule as I book additional markets.

At this moment I have my usual markets booked with Shipyards night market on Friday nights in North Vancouver and the Saturday Summer Sessions that are also in North Vancouver on Saturday nights.

Both of these markets take place in the North Vancouver Shipyards that is a block east from Lonsdale Quay, tucked in behind the Tap & Barrel restaurant and the Pinnacle hotel. It sounds like the new facilities that they have been constructing in the Lot 5 area will finally be opening this summer so that is something to look forward to.



  • May 3, 10, 17 – Shipyards Night market
  • June 14 & 21 – Shipyards Night market
  • July 5 – Shipyards Night Market
  • July 6 – Saturday Summer Sessions
  • July 19 – Shipyards Night Market
  • July 20 – Saturday Summer Sessions
  • August 2 – Shipyards Night Market
  • July 27 – Saturday Summer Sessions – Updated
  • August 16 & 30 – Shipyards Night Market
  • September 13 & 27 – Shipyards Night Market

Turning a Go board and a Chess set

Inspiration to make a Go board and Chess set

This year for my nieces birthdays I decided to make one of them a Go board and the other a Chess set. It all started when a friend of mine asked me if I could make a Go board. This was at about the same time that I was trying to come up with some ideas for birthday gifts. It sparked the idea of making one of the them a Go board and then a Chess set for the other. 

Making the Go board

Being a turner I wanted to find some way to incorporate turning into the board. I came up with the idea of gluing the four pieces for the frame together and turning them to profile the outside. Then separating them to make the frame. 

First I glued together the pieces of wood for the frame. Sandwiching kraft paper in-between the pieces so they could be easily separated later.

Then I put the pieces on the lathe and turned the profile I wanted for it.

Turned frame pieces still on the lathe.

Once it was done I was able to easily separate the pieces along the paper glue joints. Then I used the profiled pieces to make a frame for the board.

When I made the actual playing surface for the go board I did that by cutting and gluing strips of maple and walnut in the thicknesses needed for the game. Unfortunately this resulted in a fairly fragile board surface with number of end grain to side grain glue joints required. I solved this by gluing it onto a hardboard backer to reinforce everything.

Once I had the basic pieces made there was a fair bit of work to fit and join everything together until the board was completed.

It folds in half with storage in the bottom for the playing pieces.

Keeping the turned pieces of the frame aligned so they match up when the board is closed turned out to be quite a challenge.

Once I had the board made I wanted to buy the playing pieces since there are quite a few needed. Unfortunately it seems that I made the board a bit smaller than a standard playing surface. I could not find anything that would work off the shelf. In the end I did wind up turning all of the playing pieces as well.

Making a Chess set

After making the Go board for one niece it was time to make a Chess set for the other niece. I started by drawing a few different template ideas for the chess pieces. Then I showed them to my wife and went with the ones that she liked the best.

Darkening wood with steel wood and vinegar

One thing I wanted this time was to get a darker colour on the walnut to make more of a contrast with the maple wood. I decided to experiment with a mixture of steel wood dissolved in vinegar. The mixture reacts with the tannin in the wood and turns it dark. After some experimentation I found that it worked well. I had hoped to be able to wipe it over the whole board and have it react more strongly with the walnut than the maple. Unfortunately the maple reacted too strongly so that would not work. When I did apply it to the board I had to do some careful masking to get it on the walnut while avoiding the maple.

Turning the pieces

Turning the pieces was a bit tedious but mostly fairly standard spindle turning. I made all of the same kind of piece together. I used the templates to keep them all as similar as possible. With the kings I turned the pieces first. Then I cut away the sides of the cross with a small handsaw before sanding on the lathe.

The one piece that was more challenging was the knight. For those pieces I cut out the basic profile on the bandsaw. Then I took them to the lathe to turn the base. Doing it in that order gave a flat surface to support the pieces on while I was cutting the knight profile. After that I did a bit more shaping using a carving knife, rasp and sandpaper. They wound up being recognizable but a bit basic is shape. Given my level of carving expertise I am satisfied with that. Once all of the pieces were made I drilled out the bottoms and glued in pieces of steel rod to give them a bit of weight.

After that I made the chess board in much the same manner as I made the Go board.






Oval Tray With Sides

Oval tray birthday idea

With my mothers birthday approaching I got a tip from my dad. He suggested that she would like a tray with sides. It should be about 12 inches by 15 inches and made with some interesting wood. That criteria left a number of ways to approach it. With just having gotten my lathe running after two months out of action though I was determined to incorporate some turning.

The Design

I started by picking out a likely looking burl from a small stash that I have. I cut two slabs out it with a chainsaw. One slab I cut into a circle on the bandsaw and then turned a shallow flat bottomed tray. The other slab I cut on the bandsaw so that the sides matched the angle and widest diameter of the shallow tray. I then cut the sides off at about the thickness of the tray sides. The middle portion I re-sawed on the bandsaw to match the thickness of the turned tray and glued the sides back on. I then cut the turned tray in half and glued the bandsawed portion in-between the two halves. Since I was gluing end grain to end grain I used dowels and epoxy glue to give it some extra strength.

After that it was a matter of using various hand tools to fine tune the shape of the bandsawed section and blend it with the turned sections on the ends.

Problems with Resin

One thing that turned out to be a challenge was the nature of the wood. It was fairly weathered before I started working on it. I chose the burl based on the size, shape and that it felt fairly dense. It turned out to also be very resinous and had a strong pungent odour. I had  to do most of the sanding outside while wearing a dust mask and the paper clogged very quickly. Eventually I was got it finished though and a couple of coats of shellac did a good job of sealing in the resin and smell. A few coats of wipe on poly over that should make for a durable finish.

Nova 3000 Lathe upgrade

Oh no – the lathe is broken

Recently I was forced into making a lathe upgrade to my trusty Nova 3000 lathe. This is a lathe that has served me well. I bought it second-hand for the grand total of $500 about eight years ago. Since then I have turned countless items on it. Everything from pens to goblets to large bowls. Actually pushing the limits on large bowls is probably what got me into trouble.

The problem arose while I was working on a small bowl. Suddenly the bowl stopped spinning even though the motor was still running. At first I thought it was a broken belt. As I checked things out though I realized that the shaft on the motor was broken. What I was working at the time certainly did not cause that. I believe it must have been wear and tear that built up over time.

Repair Options

Checking around it became apparent that the motor was beyond repair. I would have to get a new motor in order to get the lathe working again. Looking into motors I realized that just replacing it with a similar motor was going to be expensive and complicated by the 3/4″ shaft size on the original which seems to be fairly uncommon. An intriguing option turned out to be a motor that Teknatool sells as an upgrade to the Nova 1624 lathe. The Nova 1624 is what they replaced the Nova 3000 with several years ago and it is a very similar lathe. This motor has their DVR technology that includes electronic variable speed, reverse and a few more options. A call to customer service gave me the information that the upgrade motor could be made to work with my Nova 3000 lathe. Shipping from the USA and the exchange rate with the US dollar however convinced me to try and source it locally. As it turned out our local dealer was back-ordered but I was able to order it on Amazon with free shipping included.


Once the motor arrived a few more complications became apparent. One problem was that the flange for mounting the motor has a different bolt pattern than the new motor. There were indentations on the motor that matched the pattern on the flange so I solved the problem by drilling and tapping threads to mount the flange and it worked well enough.

The next problem was that the shaft on the new motor is 7/8″ in diameter compared to 3/4″ on the Nova 3000 so my old pulley did not fit.

I tried boring out the mounting hole on the pulley but wound up making a mess of it and ruining the pulley. Eventually I had to contact Teknatool customer service again. They recommended replacing the pulley, key (for the shaft) and flange with the ones from the 1624 lathe. Since I had already mounted the motor on my old flange we decided that I only needed the pulley and and key. When those arrived I attempted to mount the pulley myself but it was quite a tight fit. I got stuck with the pulley only halfway on the motor. A visit to a local machine solved that problem. They were able to put it on a hydraulic press to get it the rest of the way on. After that it was a pretty simple matter of just putting things back the same way I took them off.

Success – the lathe is working!

I have been playing with it for few days now and I am pretty happy with how it works. Being able to change the speed with a twist of the knob instead of having to change the belt position every time is a huge improvement. It also has reverse which seems to be handy while sanding pieces on the lathe. I should probably get some grub screws for my chucks to help secure them when running in reverse. There are also a number of preset buttons that allow for quickly setting a particular speed.

One little irritation is that I use an auto switch for my dust collector. It turns on the collector when it senses current from one of the tools being switched on. Unfortunately the control panel on the lathe draws enough power, even when the lathe is not actually running, to activate the dust collector. Switching it off and on manually is something I’ll have to get used to. Overall though I’m pretty happy with it. I expect that a larger and heavier lathe is in my future at some point but with this working there is no need to rush.