[Maker’s Note] Camphor Wood Saucer (Lathe Work)

by Yun-Han Lin


We used camphor wood branches that came from the trees on the sidewalk when it was trimmed. Fresh branches are often humid, so it is best to leave them for at least half a year. Thicker branches or trunks should be covered with white glue on the end faces so that they would not dry up and crack.

Step 1: Design

The saucers people find in shops usually come in groups of five. With the same idea for our project, we decided that it was best that we drew the design and planned out the entire process in advance, so that the end products are consistent in shape.

Step 2: Picking Materials

Tree trunks are natural materials, which often come in all kinds of shape, so it is better to choose one that is as straight as possible.

Step 3: Rounding

We started with trimming off the bark to a level where the branch was cylindrical with the intended thickness. Since the saucer was designed to be 60mm in diameter, it is better to trim it to about 61mm first, so that there was room for adjustment.

Step 4: Marking

As we had a rough shape, we used pencils to mark the dents or parts to cut the branch into pieces. I, personally, prefer to mark the part to be dented black so that I know exactly where to cut in.

Step 5: Adjustment & Sawing

The part in the diameter of 45mm served as the base for fixing on the lathe, and the size should be able to fit in the fixture. When I first learned to use the lathe, I often trimmed the base too thin by accident. Because of this, the fixture was not able to hold it, and there was no way to trim the sloping side for the saucer with that.

The gray part was the part on both ends that were to be discarded. Besides, the both ends were too close to the fixture, which made it hard for trimming.

After trimming, the rough base could be cut apart with the saucer. I prefer to rotate the saucer on the lathe while sawing the base thin before the base is cut off.

Next, there were separate saucers in a rough shape, and the next step was to trim them one by one for details.

Step 6: Fine-tuning

Left: Fix the saucer on the lathe with a fixture. The good news is that it could be fixed from simply one side, which makes it easy to hollow the bowls.

Middle: Use tools with right angles or straight lines to make sure the prototype fits the design, before you round the right angles. It is easier this way to ensure the end products are consistent in shape. Do not forget to leave 1mm on each side, in case for any adjustment.

Right: Trim the curves and fine-tune surfaces inch by inch.

Step 7: Final Adjustment

1st from the left: Smooth the surface with white sandpaper that comes in 120, 240, and 320 grit respectively. After this, the sawdust can be used to polish the surface.

2nd from the left: Cut off the sauce piece.

1st and 2nd from the right: The sawn section can be smoothed to adjust the height of the pieces.


Although it looks easy to operate a lathe, as videos on YouTube often show experienced carpenters operating lathes with ease. The truth is that many tips are often not shown or explained in detail. Due to insufficient experience, I often spend quite some time planning before I start working on a project. It is hoped that by recording and sharing our thinking process, design drawings, and flowcharts for each use of lathe, beginners can familiarize themselves with such a tool easier and faster.



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