The Woodworker|June 2020

Need a home for your odds and ends? Then try turning one of Dave Roberts’ Whatnots
Dave Roberts

What could I do, I thought, with the reclaimed mahogany leftover from making the merchant’s table (see WW Apr)? The timber dated back to the early 19th century, and so it seemed appropriate to make another piece from that period. But what? Or rather, whatnot. This unusual piece of furniture first appeared around then and, as its name implies, it was made to cater for bits and pieces of no single description. I thought one would be perfect for all the odds and ends I have lying around!

The 12mm-thick leaf of mahogany I was using for the shelves had a very slight bow in it and was also badly marked, meaning that turning it satisfactorily would be difficult – the shelves would be too thin, for a start. Instead, I decided to cut the shelves out on a bandsaw and sand them by hand, bringing them down to about 10mm thick; just right for this whatnot. Rest assured, though, I haven’t given up turning quite yet! The columns and finials were turned from the same reclaimed mahogany and really was a pleasure. One thing I love about vintage mahogany is that it’s always bone dry, meaning that it turns well and takes an excellent finish.

The columns

I started with the whatnot’s columns, eight of which have 12mm holes in one end and spigots in the other, while one column, which goes at the top and at the back of the piece, has holes in both ends. As there isn’t a single screw in sight with this piece, the spigot joints have to fit really tight, and so diligent use of Vernier callipers is needed throughout. The widest point on the columns and the finials is 22mm, so you want to start with the timber at least 25mm. A table saw will make short work of cutting the material to size. Use a push stick when cutting the columns to length, not forgetting to leave enough timber for the spigots. If you’re worried you might make a mistake later, cut an extra one. The holes for the ends are 12mm in diameter and 25mm deep. It’s much easier to drill them before turning, as this will ensure that they are dead centre. I also find doing it on the lathe is the best method for getting them dead straight. Put the lathe on a low speed, then fit the Jacobs chuck into the headstock, drilling a 6mm hole and finishing it off with a 12mm drill. Put the timber onto the drill and support the other end with the tailstock. Hold the timber while you wind the tailstock in, and make sure that you don’t drill too deep.


6mm Jacobs chuck

12mm drill

Combination chuck

Spindle roughing gouge

12mm skew chisel

Parting tool

Detail gouge

6mm gouge


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June 2020