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Make your woodwork stand out

With a little effort and time, ordinary woodwork can become exceptional. Clifford Roberts and Andries Eygelaar demonstrate the art of segmented woodturning.

Project guide

Difficulty: Basic

Estimated time: 2 Days

Cost: Under R200

Tools of the trade

To tackle this project you’ll need basic woodworking tools and consumables such as sandpaper and cold wood glue. You’ll also need turning chisels, outside callipers and a woodturning lathe.


Decorative woodwork is one of the carpentry techniques that truly sets the craftsman apart.


Expert decoration goes beyond the mere practicality of a design. It indicates the care with which a piece is made.


The rarity of this technique, such as insets and segmented woodturning, in furniture and wooden items has more to do with the time it takes to make them than with the difficulty of the task.


Most woodworkers don’t even consider making them because it simply looks too complicated. In fact, as with all great things, all that is required is a little patience.


The best thing about this technique is that once you’ve mastered the basics, the skill has endless applications.


In our case, we needed a decorative balustrade head. The making of this piece is relatively simple and illustrates one of the uses of segmented woodturning.


It involves assembling wood of various shades to create a block that is then shaped on a lathe.


The result is a balustrade head with striking, multicoloured patterns. The techniques employed here can also be used to create decorative inlays.



Step 1: To make the balustrade head, we used dark imbuia and yellowwood. Not only do they offer the contrast that we required by highlighting the patterns, but they’re both hardwoods, which are easier to turn on the lathe.


The size of the project also meant we could use offcuts, which brought down the cost – not calculating for time spent in the workshop - considerably.


Step 2: The head, including the extended 50mm shaft to anchor it into the top of the balustrade, measured 170mm. A block of imbuia this length formed the centrepiece.


It is essential that the centrepiece is precisely square. Any deviation in angle or thickness, especially on small projects, will immediately show up against the symmetry of the final piece – keep this in mind.


Step 3: We then cut four lengths of yellowwood, the width of the imbuia centrepiece. Their thickness will depend on your own design, but whatever that measurement is, make sure to allow an extra millimetre or two for sanding down.


Step 4: Glue the yellowwood to each side of the centrepiece and wait for it to dry. The result is a rectangular block of wood with four corners missing. These need to be filled.


In our case, we wanted to create extra complexity, so instead of simply gluing a small square length of imbuia into each corner, we assembled a combination of the two wood types.


Step 5: At this scale it’s a good idea to keep some old bicycle tubing handy. Strips of tubing can be used to strap up your construction while you wait for it to dry.


If your project is too large for tubing, use panel pins instead. You’ll need to make sure that the wood strips for the corners are symmetrical.


We cut imbuia strips roughly to size and then, using a scrap block as a clamped guide, we were able to sand each strip to precision.


Step 6: Once complete, the strips were glued to the yellowwood corner pieces and allowed to dry. We then glued this construction into the final assembly, again waiting for the glue to dry before continuing.


The sides of the block are then sanded smooth. The process of adding layers of alternating shades of wood to the centrepiece can go on for as many as you wish, depending on your requirements. For our balustrade head, we only required three.


Step 7: Once the block is ready, it’s time to move to the lathe. We traced a circle onto the block as a guide for what would become the widest part of the balustrade head. The final shape of the piece was created using a variety of turning chisels.


Step 8: The shaft extending from the head is made by determining the width of the anchoring cavity in the balustrade itself, setting outside callipers to the required measurement and progressively trimming away to size.


Step 9: A wonderful aspect of this segmented woodturning technique is the opportunity it allows for experimentation at very low cost. Varying sizes of wood, shades and symmetry will produce diverse changes in patterns.


Step 10: Once you’ve completed your piece, be sure to use a varnish that accentuates the colour and grain of the wood. We found a clear lacquer suitable for ours.

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