Turning a cake platter by Philip McLeod

(My apologies to those who are Imperially challenged).

This story starts about 1 year ago. My youngest son, Rowan McLeod, (a member of Eastern Region) is best friends with Jareth Norman. Unfortunately Jareth’s Grandfather died and he was given the job of cleaning out the house at that time.

In the process of this work he came across a plank of pine timber. The timber was 81/4 inches wide, 2 inches thick and about 7 Feet long. The timber was very rough sawn. Jareth, through Rowan knew I was a woodturner and asked me if I would like the timber. Of course, I said yes.

Fast forward to 3 months ago. Jareth is now engaged to a young lady, “Frances Attard”. They came to me and asked if I could turn an 18 inch Cake Plate for their Wedding Cake to sit on.

Now, I have NEVER turned anything that big, though I know the theory of how to go about it. So I said that I would try. Rather than rush in, (only had enough timber for 1 go, so it would have to be right the first time), I decided to think about it a bit. Jareth then asked if I still had the timber from his Grandfather’s house. He said it would be really nice if some of it could be used in the plate. The timber was still standing where I had put it into storage. I therefore decided to put as much of the timber as I could into the plate.

From the sizes above it is easy to see that this was going to be a laminating job. So I put the timber through my Thicknesser to get it square and the thickness down to a more manageable thickness. Next, glued and clamped the 3 pieces together and glued and clamped them to a piece of 3mm Melamine, (this step stops the glued edges from flying apart when turning, I have had this happen on several occasions with clocks). Very frightening!

Once all the glue was set I drew the biggest circle I could on the back side of the job. For this I used an Awl, string and pencil. I actually got a 20 inch circle out of the timber. I then cut the circle on the bandsaw, and used a Forstner Bit to cut a recess for the Expanding Jaws chuck to hold the job on the lathe.

I own a Hafco Woodmaster WL18 Lathe. This lathe features variable speed while running, and a rotating Headstock. It suddenly became obvious to me that the standard tool rest on the outrigger was not going to let me get to the centre of the job. I therefore, decided to deal with that problem later.

So, with the Headstock rotated 90 degrees to the lathe bed and the speed as slow as I could possibly get it I started to turn the platter to round. Once it was round I found that it was in fact 19 inches in diameter, I decided to leave that for the time being and start to turn the face of the plate. This was no problem for about the first 8 inches, (6 inches of tool rest and another 2 inches by manoeuvring the tool). However, the last 3 inches I could not get. With the time left to me I could not source a longer tool rest and I discarded the idea of clamping a piece of steel to the existing tool rest as too dangerous. So, I found the roughest grade of sand paper I could and went to work sanding it all down to flat. It worked!

I contacted Jareth and Frances and asked them if 19 inch diameter would be OK, or did they really want 18 inches. They came and decided that 19 would be better. A win.

The legs were always going to be a problem for me. They originally requested 8 legs. Anyone who has tried to turn 2 identical items knows how difficult it is. To turn 4, or 8 is a whole new problem. By this stage I only had about 3 weeks left to complete the job and I had no more suitable timber. Therefore I bought 4 legs commercially, mounted each leg in the lathe, modified the shape to what I wanted and sanded them to a smooth finish. They were then glued and screwed into the platter and the whole thing received 2 coats of Estapol.

The happy couple were very happy with the finished item and used it at the Wedding Reception. I later found out the when Frances got the platter home she decided to contact the people doing the cake and got them to add 2 extra layers to the cake.

turned cake platter
The Platter when first finished, 19 inches.


Complete with the Cake on their Wedding Day.

In conclusion if you are asked to do something a little out of your comfort zone I would say have a go. It is surprising what you might achieve.

Turn a 19 inch cake platter
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